Premium beverages manufacturer CAPI has showcased the best of Melbourne’s hospitality scene to 10 of China’s top food and beverage influencers, as part of an innovative initiative to grow its export business.
CAPI has been exporting its range of soda, tonic and mineral waters to China for about 12 months, with more than 350,000 bottles being distributed across Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Tianjin in that time.
Established in 2012, the company exports to 12 countries, including South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Fiji and Singapore.
It has become one of Australia’s most award-winning beverage manufacturers, including the accolade of World’s Best Sparkling Beverage at the World Beverage Innovation Awards in 2017 for its yuzu soda.
Chief executive Emma Evans said the China export opportunity emerged after CAPI received a substantial number of inquiries from prospective distributors through its website.
However, Ms Evans said a 2015 trip to China, in which she and CAPI founder Pitzy Folk visited five cities, highlighted a need for engagement and education with Chinese consumers around its range of products.
“It was such an eye opener, not only in terms of opportunity but also in that every city was demanding something different and had different styles of venues, different palates, and different levels of skill in their mixology,” Ms Evans told Australia China Business Review.
“That really got us on the hunt for someone who could be our brand manager as well as our importer and didn’t just want to shift containers.
“We knew that we could do that because we were getting such a huge amount of inquiry, but we wanted to actually build the brand and be able have it known if you were talking to people in the market.”
Following the China trip, Ms Evans said CAPI partnered with Shanghai-based boutique beverages importer and distributor Craft Republic, which at the time had no non-alcoholic options in its portfolio of high-end spirits and liqueurs.
CAPI’s products were subsequently launched at Shanghai’s heralded rooftop bar Highline, at an invitation-only event where the city’s top bartenders could experiment with a wide range of spirits and CAPI’s mixers.
Ms Evans said the event was the genesis of CAPI’s China marketing initiatives, where instead of having the product stocked in supermarket fridges or shelves, it was available at high-end hospitality venues.
“We work predominantly well in the food or hospitality industry, whether that’s bars, restaurants, hotels, or coffee shops where you can actually tell a story and interact with someone who understands quality,” she said.
“From the get go, we were quite focused on the brand, protecting the brand, educating the market and upholding our Australian and Melbourne values whilst localising to China, but not getting sucked into the vortex by putting the products online and praying for the best.
“We really took on quite a methodical view of operating a business and a brand.
“The opportunity for premium products and craft is quite significant and the thirst is there, but only if it comes with the education and the support.
“I just don’t think you can simply export your products and just pray for the best.”
Ms Evans said the second phase of CAPI’s China expansion was to engage industry leaders with influence, who would ultimately become ambassadors for the brand.
She said CAPI invited 10 high-profile food and beverage experts from Shanghai, Chongqing, Hong Kong and Beijing to spend three days with the company in Melbourne, experiencing the city’s best restaurants, small bars and craft spirits producers.
Influencers who took part in the initiative included Michael Chen, founder of The Cannery in Shanghai; Marcia Ciocca, from Hope & Sesame in Guangzhou; Douglas Williams from B’s Beijing’s Muse Group; and Jacqui Lo, from Hong Kong’s Langham Palace Hotel.
“We felt that the more that Victoria or Melbourne was exposed to China that maybe we could get more products over there,” Ms Evans said.
“A portfolio from Australia can be quite a powerful message.”
Ms Evans said the event was such a success that CAPI would repeat it on an annual basis, while also develop similar initiatives for new export markets such as in California, Japan and Taiwan.
“CAPI is all about partnerships, collaboration and innovation; I went to China in June to hand deliver all of the invitations,” Ms Evans said.
“Many of the guests either own multiple venues or some of them even consult, which is a lot bigger in Asia than here.
“CAPI is going to be front of mind for them as they move forward, but also the connection and the contacts that we’ve built, relationships are more than just knowing someone.”