BRUCE BILLSON: Welcome back to Week 2 of our FutureLearn course on new markets for SMEs. It’s brought to you by Deakin University. I’m Bruce Billson, and I’m happy to be on this learning journey with you. Week 1 was busy, but Week 2 is going to be even busier. We’re going to look at some case studies from SMEs that have identified and accessed new markets, and made that a central part of their business strategy going forward. We’re going to look at how SMEs and practitioners like yourself can develop the skills and competencies to identify those new markets to access them, and make them a success for your business.
And finally, any discussion about new markets has to involve the remarkable economy of China. We’re going to get some direct insights about how you can identify whether a new market in China is for you, and if so, how you go about accessing it. Together we’re going to learn a lot in this second week of the course. I’m looking forward to it, and thank you for joining me. Co-founder-CEO of Mornington Peninsula Brewery, Matt Bebe. So the idea to be an independent brewer offering specialised lines–
BRUCE BILLSON: What inspired you to think that was going to work, and this is what I want to do?
MATT BEBE: I think the background was already set for us. I mean, we had Red Hill Brewery, which had already opened up, and it had a great reputation. Then there were others, like Two Brothers and Mountain Goat. And we knew that there was sort of this niche where you could play, where you have very good core beers, but you also do what’s called specialty beers. And that’s sort of a different beer once a month, and take people on a journey– what is craft beer?
BRUCE BILLSON: So to tap the niche that you’ve identified, an area of great interest– even the majors are trying to look like they are interested in that space. How do you get into the minds, and the thoughts of your market? Thought to be a niche, but also growing quite some–
MATT BEBE: Well, it is growing quite significantly. I think it’s all about– A, all about the quality of the beer. And then it’s all about awareness. So we’re, I suppose, a brewery that– we don’t do a lot in the spotlight, and we would much prefer that someone tell someone else about Mornington, or tries it, or it’s their knock off after work. Or those sort of lines. But we’re sort of at the forefront of what is– what we believe is better beer, or craft beer– independent beer in Australia. We have a membership group we call the Brew Crew, and the Brew Crew come along on a Wednesday night.
They get invited once a month to try new beers or experience, you know, what it is to be an independent craft brewery. Behind the scenes, brewing days, all those sort of things.
BRUCE BILLSON: And your Brew Crew– are they important to the word of mouth referral that seems to be at the heart of your market channel?
MATT BEBE: Definitely. I mean, these people– we’ve got over, you know, 1,000 people in our Brew Crew now, and they, I hope, would follow what we do. Embrace what we do, and also then spread the word, as well. So we’re national as well, so we’ve got a national footprint. But we’ve also gone international as well. We’re the first Australian craft brewery in mainland China. Very, very proud. The prime minister came down and had a bit of a chat, so that’s something we’re very proud of. And that we’re not only a regional brewery with a name– Mornington Provincial Brewery– but we also foster that we are Australian, and we are producing what is better beer.
BRUCE BILLSON: And the storytelling is important internationally?
MATT BEBE: Yes. China has a very big appetite for Australia, but it’s also the story behind that. So we have found that what we feel is a sense of place, and it’s our region– even though we’ve got other brewers and, again, fostering a relationship. And that’s really, really important, but for the Chinese it’s also important of why you do it, how you do it. And really, don’t– we didn’t go into that market with our eyes wide open, and we were lucky enough to fall into a distributor or work with a distributor that really understood the market, and allowed us to look at our portfolio and say these beers will work.
And then I’ll go over, or our brewer will go over and, you know, do tap takeovers or tastings, and try and get the people to understand what Mornington is, and what the beer that– you know, we believe is very good beer.
BRUCE BILLSON: And how important was that partner on the ground, you distributor, and getting into market opportunities? Getting into taps?
MATT BEBE: We self-identified China as an opportunity. I think most people would. But what we then did, we approached a university to look at a feasibility study. They came back, and they wrote a report up. They actually took 16 cases of beer over to China.
BRUCE BILLSON: How many made it?
MATT BEBE: I think 12 might have made it. There might have been a couple of drinks, David Boon style. So they went over, and they gave us a report. They gave us a list of distributors, and we kind of worked through them and taught, how does it work? It really is a relationship. I mean, I’d call it a marriage, because that’s how you need to understand– they need to come over– so they come over to us, and we go over to them.
BRUCE BILLSON: Well, they’d want to meet you, though.
BRUCE BILLSON: Because that’s very important in that export piece into China. The founder– the people behind the business are known, and have a relationship with the markets and channels that they look to.
MATT BEBE: Yeah. So when we finally came across, you know, Liquid Solutions Asia, this group– he was an Australian. He’s an expat over there, and so he understood the market very, very well. He already had restaurants, bars– a wide distribution network, and he wanted Australian beer. So already we had a market, feasibly, over there.
BRUCE BILLSON: And a strategic approach to your exporting. It’s embedded in the business plan now.
MATT BEBE: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, so we talk about, I suppose, the international markets as one of our leaders. And so we have to invest and grow, so it’s a supportive nature as well.
BRUCE BILLSON: And travel.
MATT BEBE: And travel, yeah. So our head brewer is about to head over there in about two weeks’ time. And it’s really important to foster that relationship.
BRUCE BILLSON: You shared with me, in a moment you might have regretted, that you became an accidental exporter through someone trying your beverage in Australia.
MATT BEBE: I was at the bar, having a drink. It was a knock off, you know? And I think it was a Friday afternoon. And all I can remember is one of the bar– one of the barmen said to me, there’s a lady upstairs who’s from Singapore. She’s flown all the way down from Sydney to Melbourne to try the beer, because she tried it in Sydney and thought it was the best beer she’s ever had in the world. Came down in Melbourne, and met with me. We spoke about it, and then she said, can you give me a price list? And I think it was the following week we had, you know, two pallets going over to Singapore.
Into the necessary provisions, and a couple of other places that she owned. So it was a little bit surreal, but that’s how beer is.
BRUCE BILLSON: And you place yourself, I guess, in occasions and locations where you’re optimistic that someone who appreciates what you do is in that space. There was one example with your Singapore business woman. I see your presence in airport terminals, and the like. Is that part of your niche strategy, is to be part of those experiences?
MATT BEBE: Yeah. It’s more about trying to find– trying to find venues and places that appreciate it a, but it’s also there is a growth– really a growth industry of people, consumers, who now are starting to get it. Like my dad, for example, really only had a couple of choices from a beer point. And that was historical. Now look at my son, who’s 17 years of age. Not that he’s drinking, but he now has the ability when he’s 18 to really flourish, in that there are so many different craft breweries on the market. And so there’s choice, and that’s the benefit of what we do.
It’s not, you know– we’re still probably about 5% of the market from our independent craft brewery. I mean, we want to be 15% by, you know, 2025. But it’s really important that we nurture and foster what we truly believe is independent craft beer.
BRUCE BILLSON: Matt Bebe, thank you.
BRUCE BILLSON: Responsible niche marketing, responsible consumption of alcohol.
BRUCE BILLSON: Impressive story. Thank you for some time today.
MATT BEBE: Thanks, Bruce.