Chris Garden is a chemical engineering graduate turned distiller at London-based Sipsmith, a growing gin manufacturer with big ambitions in international markets. He talks to TM about the opportunities and barriers for an SME alcohol manufacturer selling to the world.
TM: Sipsmith is exporting to 15 countries with particularly strong sales in Australia; why do you think your products have been so successful there?
We are building the brand with a young team who have great experience of brand building from the bottom up. They don’t just sell it out and leave they actively engage the brand. It is very exciting to see them do it. We always try to find partners overseas that share our passion. We’ve run a host of both trade and consumer events that have been very effective and now have some exciting traction in a very important market.
Sipsmith was the first London gin distiller established for nearly 200 years when it opened in 2009.
Read more about the company and it’s unique production processes here.
TM: What are the main challenges facing a company like Sipsmith when it exports?
Principally it is control. The brand and what it stands for are very dear to us. If it gets into the wrong hands (so far so good!) then a brand can end up being misrepresented. Markets that are closer to us in proximity such as Europe are easier to manage as we can bring our customers to visit the distillery and see who we really are – that it can be very potent! Otherwise we face issues such as bureaucracy and red tape to enter countries which is never insurmountable but just chews up a great deal of time.
TM: British spirits and ales are experiencing a resurgence both domestically and abroad. Why do you think this is?
Whenever we have foreign visitors and Sam [Goldsworthy, co-founder] goes overseas there really is such strong feedback that Britain is where it is at right now. It’s very exciting. When you look at ale and gin specifically and the growth of both categories from the UK it’s actually a subset of these that is in growth rather than the category themselves: it’s all about craft.
Small batch, handcrafted products are selling far better than the mass produced easier to get stuff. Consumers are driving this as they’re fascinated with how things are made, what they’re made from, where, who and why. Marketers call it provenance but we think of it as authenticity. If you demonstrate you do it properly and transparently then that gives you a head start. And right now in Britain it is craft that is driving these two categories – long may it last.
TM: What’s Sipsmith’s export strategy from here out?
We’re always planning new things but the big issue for us at the moment is capacity. We simply do not have enough of it. We are unable currently to open new markets for fear of not being able to supply both the UK but also other partner countries to whom we currently supply. It is an exciting problem to have.