A young artisan distillery in Surrey has jumped the Brexit gun, flying the flag for British business opportunities in the new world order. Local Food Britain member Silent Pool Distillery, which launched its distinctive high-end, hand-crafted gin barely two years ago, has just broken into the American market, exporting to California. This deal bucks the gloomy forecasts and politicians’ warnings that Britain will be bottom of the list for international trade deals.
Silent Pool Distillers’ director, Ian McCulloch, is convinced that British companies have a massive post-Brexit opportunity to expand global exports. They just need to go out there and seize it. His strategy is based on two key factors: the powerful attraction of English history and cultural heritage and the direct power of face-to-face communication.
“We are a small English company, and 70% of companies in England are SMEs,” he said. “These are what drive innovation and our economy, it’s not just the big multinational corporates. We got on a plane and talked to people and it confirmed our belief that they like what Britain has to offer. There is no shortcut to connecting with people. You need to talk to them face to face. Then you will discover there is a positive disposition towards Britain.
“When we leave the EU, we need to focus on Britain’s strongest card, to export the best of British products, and Britain is now becoming much more visible from an export point of view. Whether it is in Singapore or China, Britain is more in the news, it’s up on the international radar, and more people across the world are thinking about Britain now than were previously.
“We could have just sat back and done nothing but we decided there was an opportunity and we were encouraged by conversations in America that there is a real hunger for products that are quintessentially English.”
Courage to invest
That confidence in the future drove the company to invest in a new still that has five times the capacity of their initial still. Two massive barns are currently being converted to accommodate its expansion plan. And with perfect timing, they won a double Gold Medal in this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, one of the world’s most influential spirits competitions.
The Silent Pool Distillers’ strong card in its export pitch is that quintessential Englishness surrounding a high qualify hand-made product and they put together a promotional video to help communicate that ethos. Fabulous photography of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Saxon churches in picture postcard villages, the Silent Pool in Albury with its legend, combined with the history of the Duke of Northumberland from Alnwick Castle who owns the Albury Estate, are all woven round the story of the ‘intricately realised’ gin, creating a magnificent tapestry of Englishness.
On their fact-finding trip to America, Ian and his co-founder James Shelbourne learned they needed to strike a deal with the individual US distributors who control access to American markets. Armed with the film and the striking Silent Pool branding, they engaged first with Wine Warehouse, the distributor for California, pitching on the basis of its Englishness, and they loved it. Wine Warehouse has a turnover of $700m + and is the pre-eminent high end wine and spirit distributor, with 240 sales staff across California.
“We gave them our factory gate price (FOB),” said Ian, “And although they will have to add on US taxes and shipping costs, which makes this an expensive gin compared to most, they believed that the whole package and provenance justified the pricing. They bought into the concept. The plan is to launch Silent Pool Gin to the top 200 in their portfolio of 2,400 accounts in areas like Beverley Hills, Malibu and San Francisco. That will take place later this summer.
“We did the same in Illinois and Chicago with BC Partners and will soon be heading to the East Coast. Our theme is what makes Britain different – our archetypal Englishness steeped in history. There are plenty of people that try and undermine Britain as an innovator and creator of great products that people want to buy, we have found that there is a strong market ready to be tapped. But the key point is that you have to get out of the office and talk to people face to face. “
- For more information on Silent Pool Gin, see Silent Pool Distillers, Albury
NEED TO KNOW:
The Silent Pool Distillers is an artisan distillery nestled under the North Downs in Albury, Surrey. It specialises in entirely hand-crafted spirits using a range of botanicals – fruits, flowers, spices, herbs – to capture the essence of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the bounty of English orchards, gardens and hedgerows. The still is powered by a wood fired boiler using logs from the Duke of Northumberland’s Albury Estate and water comes from the spring-fed Silent Pool. The pool itself, just below the distillery’s converted farm buildings, is the subject of a number of romantic medieval legends.