By Daniel Hunter

A small Kent-based premium spirits firm expects to increase export sales by 30 per cent within the next year, after signing a new $300,000 deal with an American distributor with help from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) South East.

Old St Andrews (OSA) designs, bottle and distributes premium alcohol brands, including whisky and gin which now have such global appeal that the company make 90 per cent of its sales from overseas orders, with its turnover now more than £1m.

“We’ve just signed up our latest distributor in New Jersey as a direct result of an UKTI market visit last Autumn,” explains managing director Bob Gorton, “The first annual contract is worth $300,000 but we expect this figure to double as sales roll out across the States. Without meeting the distributor face-to-face we wouldn’t have been able to sign the deal.”

Working closely with UKTI South East International Trade Adviser (ITA) Terry Dunk, Bob has seen the business grow between 20-40 per cent annually, over the last four years, thanks to its export sales across many markets via more than 30 worldwide distributors.

Yet only four years ago the company was on the brink of bankruptcy before being bought out by Bob, who was then a local business adviser. He saw potential in the company, but decided the business needed a change of direction to target the high-end of the whisky and gin markets.

Describing OSA’s products, Bob said:

“The British brand is very much associated with credibility and quality, so our product very much caters to this, with our unusual golf ball-shaped bottle for our Scottish whisky product and our diamond-shaped gin bottles. These are very memorable products and stand out from the crowd.

“However, as a small business, we have very little time and money to market ourselves or test market our product, which is why going on various UKTI-led market visits has been invaluable to help us get to where we are today. We’ve found having face-to-face meetings abroad virtually guarantees business. You can target the right people and qualify their level of interest via initial emails and phone calls, before flying out to meet them to discuss the finer details and convince them of the product.

“Terry Dunk has been a great port of call for general advice, such as where to get help with funding and advice on the best UKTI product to suit us and the value of having an OMIS (Overseas Market Introductory Service) which basically does all the homework for you on a new market. Peter Warren, UKTI regional food and drink specialist, has also been a very useful contact for getting specialist advice on the drink industry, as he understands where the potential markets are for our product.”

And thanks to overseas sales, the company is now able to employ three full-time members of staff, as well as Bob, plus at the moment it has eight temps working at its West Kent factory.

OSA has also won small orders from countries ranging from Estonia to South Korea, highlighting the niche appeal of the product. The company is now looking at selling more within the BRIC countries ( Brazil, Russia, India and China) with assistance from UKTI, particularly with the help of China specialist, ITA Chris Lowsley who is providing advice and support on dealing with cultural, business and language differences.

“The main result of working with UKTI has been to grow our US market quicker than would otherwise have been possible, by helping us find our new distributor,” Bob said, “UKTI deserve recognition for this and we are very grateful for all the help we’ve had from the team, especially Terry, Peter and Chris.”

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