Local brewers move into global markets with sales in Europe

As has become legend of the American Expansionist Movement of the mid-19th century, newspaper man Horace Greeley famously declared ‘Go West young man!’ Now, a century-and-a-half later several Southwest Michigan breweries are heeding his advice while also going South and East, and, in due time, North as well.

In partnering with distributors in Minnesota and Ohio, Saugatuck Brewing Company has extended its distribution range into two more Great Lakes States (its beer is in Michigan and Illinois), and has recently moved into the European market, having already sent shipments to Denmark.

“We had been looking to expand into additional states for a while,” says Kerry O’Donohue, vice President of Saugatuck Brewing Company. "We expanded into Illinois, primarily the Chicago market, in September of 2012 and have been researching distributors for quite some time in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota as well. At this point we have contractual agreements with two distributors in Ohio and one in Minnesota."

Saugatuck Brewing will be working with Beverage Distributors to bring its beer to the greater Cleveland area, with Treu House of Munch in the Toledo area and Bernick’s to bring beer to Minnesota, a relationship which kicked off on the first of June.

Saugatuck Brewing Company, along with Bell’s Brewing Company, Arcadia Ales, Dark Horse Brewing Company and Greenbush Brewing Company make up the contingent of area breweries whose beer can be purchased outside Michigan.

Bell’s leads the pack with offerings in 20 states, having recently found a distributor in Craft Beer Guild Distributing of California that will bring its entire portfolio of brands to the San Diego area.

“It says a lot for the reputation for Michigan craft beer,” O’Donohue says. "Toledo is a perfect example; they are right across the border but are big fans of Michigan beer. And Cleveland, they’re well familiar with how many great breweries there are in Michigan. Michigan has such a great reputation for beer. it’s a plus for all of us as we’re expanding.”

And not just expanding within the United States. Saugatuck Brewing Company not only has begun shipping beer to Europe but also hopes to soon make its beer available in Canada and Mexico.

“We are in the early stages of exporting overseas,” O’Donohue says. "Our first distributor is in Denmark and they placed their first order with us a couple months ago. We’re just about to send a shipment out to Germany and to the U.K., the greater-London area."

For the past half year or so, O’Donohue has  been working to gain international exposure for Saugatuck’s brands and hopes to ramp up exports of the beer as soon as possible.

“We’re working on Canada; we just shipped some samples to Calgary, Alberta," O’Donohue says. "And next week I’m actually going to Mexico City for a government sponsored trade mission that was set up by the U.S. embassy. There will be a dozen or so American craft breweries meeting with Mexican distributors and importers. We’re trying to set that market up."

Though Saugatuck Brewing Company and other Southwest Michigan breweries would love to have a global presence, O’Donohue tempered expectations regarding how quickly expansion can take place.

“Realistically, Indiana will be next. It appears we’ll be there in the not too distant future,” he says.

Source: Kerry O’Donohue, Saugatuck Brewing Company
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