Can you tell me a bit about how it all started with Behemoth Brewing?
Back in 2013, I began homebrewing in Wellington while working at ACC as a Legal Policy Analyst. But as any sane person would, I quickly got restless of the monotony that comes with the legal and public sector life, so I dropped the job and started working at a local brewpub. I went all out with my home brewing during this time and was head hunted by a wholesale homebrew company in Auckland (now called Bevie).
Pretty soon I was deeply involved with everything to do with the New Zealand beer community and eventually managed to secure Behemoth’s first contract brew at the Twisted Hop in Christchurch. That was seven and a half years ago. It’s been quite a journey since then.
Where do you see your business going? Was there a natural point in time where you saw overseas expansion as the next big step?
From where we stand, I reckon we still have plenty of room to grow in New Zealand. We’re currently the fourth largest craft brewing company in the domestic grocery market, and we’re also getting more into the hospitality side as well. As for exporting, we’ve dabbled a bit in Australia and the USA. We had a seasoned export manager come on board in 2017, which helped us expand from two export markets to 12 in a very short space of time.
While it’s still a relatively small part of our business, the last six months have been huge for us export-wise – which has been surprising given the pandemic. China has really come on stream along with orders from South East Asia becoming more frequent. We’re stoked to be expanding our footprint outside of our shores and will continue to do so with partners who share our love and appreciation of good craft beer.
What were the key decisions that you needed to make to extend Behemoth products offshore?
We needed to resource the export side of our business correctly. We have a dedicated export manager in the business, and without him it wouldn’t be possible. We also committed to invest in each market by travelling there and building the brand by wearing down the shoe leather and pressing flesh. One beer fan and one bar owner at a time.
Which international markets are you looking to expand to and why?
We’re looking to further expand our reach into Southeast Asia, as well as putting more resources into Australia. Encouragingly, we get approached about export markets all the time, but as much as we’d like to break into them all, we’ve been selective about where we put our time and energy to ensure we get the best results.
Were there any surprising challenges? Anything easier than expected?
Getting paid has been a challenge, so much so that we have had to cease trading with a couple of importers. We seem to have weeded out the bad ones, which is great. The easy part, it’s all easy, except when it’s difficult.
Considering how the pandemic is yet to be contained overseas, how are you future-proofing your business?
We’re lucky that our business is not dependent on exports – it’s more of the cream on top, for us. We produce a wide selection of innovative beers, being careful to not saturate any of our markets with massive amounts of stock, and our domestic grocery market has always been our stronghold so we weren’t affected too badly by COVID-19.
A large uptake in online sales has also been a huge help for us. Although we had two large export orders cancelled as the pandemic began to hit, we’ve bounced back in the months since. With all of this going on, I’m confident our business is diverse enough to tackle any challenges COVID-19 might continue to throw at us.
As a brewery and now, also as a hospitality business with the establishment of your brewery and restaurant Churly’s, how has COVID-19 affected you?
We opened up Churly’s two weeks before Auckland’s second lockdown in August. As it was a soft opening, we didn’t make a huge fuss about it but it went gangbusters. Shifting our service to takeaways-only and being limited to a 38 per cent capacity due to social distancing rules over the course of the next two months was really tough for us. However, now that we’re in post-lockdown we’ve started to get into a good rhythm again.
For Behemoth to have a place called home – that’s incredibly important to the brand (and to us as a team), and operating more hospitality venues is a huge stepping stone for our future growth. That said, over the next year or so we’ll lean towards the cautious side and take the opportunities as they present themselves before rushing into anything.
For businesses that are considering whether they are ready to expand, what would be your number one consideration or advice to share?
Get a good accountant and make sure you are ready for the hustle! Be bold but be sensible.
What’s next for you, and how can global Kiwis get involved?
Our focus is on our live capital raising as we look to start developing our new products over the next few years. We have also set our sights on a launch into the U.S. while accelerating our growth plans across the UK, Europe and Australasian markets.
With the capital raised, we will continue to put innovation at the heart of what we do, so we can continue our do-gooding by bringing more products that surprise and delight our customers at a time when it’s needed.
On a personal note, I’m leaving the UK soon with my wife and kids, and we are set to start our lives in New Zealand. I’m excited to be leading the team locally and of course, looking forward to regular work hours!
If global Kiwis are interested – they can check us out via Snowball Effect.