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Frothy Business

Ross Williams

The most trying decisions have often led to the greatest rewards for marketer and entrepreneur Ross Williams. The former General Manager of Kraft's Hong Kong and Macau team spent five years with the multinational through the early part of the 2000s before deciding to remain in Hong Kong and start his own company. Mr Williams explains how he built Brandwerk.

How did you come up with the idea of Brandwerk?
Up the side of a mountain a few years ago, I was on a cycling tour of Austria, enjoying some time on vacation from Hong Kong. We stopped at a bar on the side of the road, high in the Alps. It had been a brilliant day – sunny, blue skies – and the waiter poured me a Stiegl Goldbrau lager beer. It was a moment of sheer magic. I knew I wanted to be involved with the brand then and there.

The beer was that good?
Yes, it was, and has been for over 520 years! But there was a great story behind the product too. The brewery has been family-owned since 1492, which means they have a great tradition and a strong vision for the future of the brand. It’s a great-tasting natural product and something a little different to what most consumers in Hong Kong might be used to. The brewery has been very supportive in bringing the beer to Hong Kong and we’re very happy to be working with them.

How have you expanded the company since?
Stiegl is one of the mainstays of our business, but we’re also the official distributors for Portugal’s Super Bock beer; a range of exceptional sparking mineral waters from Europe, including Pedras from Portugal and Gasteiner from Austria, and some boutique New World wineries.

I think the international flavour of Hong Kong is one element that has helped us expand. There have always been significant European communities here and they’re dedicated to bringing some of the flavours of home to the city.

There’s also a level of support here that I think is uncommon anywhere else. That’s due in part to the city’s relatively compact size and its importance on the global stage. In our marketing efforts, we’ve received help from the Austrian Trade Commission, bar owners and restaurateurs, and from the highly developed trade show network here – we’ve exhibited a number of times at events at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

There’s an established system of supports at most levels in the food and beverage trade, but there’s also a relatively affluent community of consumers with an interest in trying new products, and tired of the old beer brands that are everywhere. The rise in popularity of good-quality craft beer has also been a significant trend in the trade.

Why did you decide to set up your company in Hong Kong?
I’ve always enjoyed living in Hong Kong and decided I would like to stay here longer term. That I could transition from a significant role with a leading multinational company into my own start-up concern with minimum fuss was great for me personally, and has been a cornerstone component of the success of my business.

What’s next for Brandwerk?
We are currently setting up in Taiwan and at the same time making the move to southern China. I’m in the process of setting up a distributorship for some of our beer brands in Taiwan. So we’re working towards making good on our brand promise of becoming a leading distributor in the Asia-Pacific region.

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