Wrexham Lager looks to scale up international distribution

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

Scale up: Wrexham Lager CEO (pictured) on how the brewery is growing internationally while supporting the on-trade
Scale up: Wrexham Lager CEO (pictured) on how the brewery is growing internationally while supporting the on-trade

Related tags Beer Brewing Wrexham

Wrexham Lager CEO James Wright has shared how Britain’s ‘oldest lager brewer’ plans to scale up its international distribution while supporting “vital” on-trade customers.

The CEO told the Morning Advertiser (MA)​ Wrexham Lager, which was founded in 1882 and claims to be Britain’s oldest lager maker, has already expanded in the off-trade across Europe, including in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, as well as in Canada, with plans to move further afield, in Australia and New Zealand, also underway.

But after joining the firm seven months ago, Wright, who has more than two decades experience in the industry, has big plans for rebranding Wrexham Lager to build its name both nationally and internationally in the on-trade with its history at the forefront.

He said: “Rate of sale is one of the biggest challenges for a lot of regional brands, especially within the category of lager, so having a clear vision and a category strategy for key drivers for that distribution and frequency of purchase is something we've been really building.

“We've got a lot of traction already and now we are starting to get national listings, which are coming very much on in Q2, from September onwards we’ve got some good listings coming up, which then drives into international distribution.”

Despite, supply chain issues and cost increases behind the scenes having been “very prohibitive” on international expansion, the CEO was positive about the brand’s future.

However, this is not the first time Wrexham Lager has set sail for foreign shores.

The 142-year-old brewery was originally founded by two German immigrants, Ivan Levinstein and Otto Isler, before being exported globally in the 1900’s, though commercial production then stopped in 2000 and ceased completely in 2002.

Correct infrastructure 

While the original brewery has since been demolished and replaced with a retail park, the original brewhouse remained and is a Grade II listed building.

South Clywd MP Martin Jones, who had previously been an employee of Wrexham Lager, later wanted to keep the brewery and its memory alive at his own expense.

Negotiating with Carlsberg for ownership, Jones procured the rights for £1 and set his sights on building the new brewery, which was subsequently take on by the Roberts family, who revived the business and still own it to this day.

Now, plans are in the making to build a bigger brewery with a view to increasing capacity to 200,000 hectolitres in the future to support its growth plans, Wright explained.

He continued: “We are making sure we invest in the right areas and making sure we have the right cash flow, especially on some of the international pieces that we're doing, to supply this [growth].

“We're hoping we'll have [the new brewery] across the line near the end of 2025, we’re trying to match everything together to make sure the brand can scale up without falling over and making sure we look at how we invest and drive the brand in the right markets.”

Though making sure not to get complacent and having a clear strategic and tactful plan were among some of the biggest challenges for growth, the CEO added.

“[You have to ask] ‘why are we doing it?’, it’s about having the correct infrastructure in place and then how to implement that.

“We have that authenticity through our history, which I think a lot of brands would love to have, and it's about how we activate that and create the story to generate interest for the brand"

“We are also being open with people about what we are trying to do and how we are tying to go about it.

“The challenge has been awareness and making sure we are not going ahead too quick”, he explained.

In addition, Wright detailed Wrexham Lager would be supporting on-trade customers throughout its growth journey, including bespoke strategic plans and POS material.

He said: “We work closely with customers and accounts to see how we sit within that business and how we can support it accordingly in the route to market.

“The on trade is vital to the business. All channels have a role to play, whether it's independent or bigger retailers and pub groups, it helps with visibility and awareness but also what's very important to us is how we engage with consumers and fit within someone's portfolio and the consumers repertoire.”

Wright also detailed the brand had benefitted from the popularity of the award-winning Welcome to Wrexham​ documentary on Disney+,​ which follows actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney on their journey as the new owners of Wrexham football club.

He continued: “We were featured on the program and that sprinkle of Hollywood has helped create awareness for the brand as we've had several mentions from certain characters.”

Furthermore, Wright said there were “real opportunities” to drive trade within the lager category by raising awareness of brands.

“There's real opportunity with how we activate some of those larger market drivers within the trade, be it the weather, sporting events or people wanting to know more about your products.

“We have that authenticity through our history, which I think a lot of brands would love to have, and it's about how we activate that and create the story to generate interest for the brand,” he told the MA.

Big shift 

The brand’s portfolio currently includes a 4% ABV Wrexham Lager, an export lager at 5% ABV and a recently re-introduced 4.6% Pilsner, all of which are based on its original recipes.

Wright continued: “One of the things that's very important is around the quality and consistency of the portfolio, for lager and conditioning we normally take about four weeks to do it, which is quite a point of difference to a lot of lagers.

“We make sure we're not using any chemicals used to speed up the process.”

Though the beer market is changing as consumers change the way they interact with the on-trade and seek out “better experiences” within the segment as well as no and low serves.

Wright added: “The split between on trade and off trade is changing. When I joined the industry, 80% of consumption of alcohol was done within on premise and now the split is in the low 40s.

“There has been a big shift between drinking out to drinking at home and the dominance of supermarkets.

“What's also become very interesting within the category is packaging formats and understanding the role of that.

“There's definitely a lot more focus and interest from consumers on the heritage and province and quality of brands as well, especially in the younger generation.”

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