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Beergate: NZ diplomats serving foreign brews

Jan 19 / UPDATE: David Leishman is a former NZ trade commissioner who left the diplomatic corps to found a company that supplies grog to his former colleagues.

"My business idea to supply diplomatic missions came from my diplomatic experience," Leishman told NBR ONLINE.

"I realised how difficult it was in those days to get New Zealand wine, beer and non alcoholic beverages for both official and personal use in the embassies."

18 years later, GrowBiz International is going strong, supplying NZ wine and beer to our diplomatic missions around the world.

But craft beers are not part of the success story.

"I have tried on numerous occasions to supply craft beers, with little success," Leishman says.

"The simple reason: the craft brewers do not seem to see the promotional value, as their prices can be two or three times higher than the 'mainstream' beers (including Macs and Monteiths).

"Currently all costs of running overseas posts are under the magnifying glass, and beer costs, albeit it minimal, would be no exception.

"Maybe craft brewers wanting a share of this business might look at their prices first, before questioning the efforts of our diplomats."

Jan 18: Beer blogger Neil Miller filed an Official Information Act with John Allen, chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, asking for a list of every New Zealand beer brand served at each New Zealand embassy, high commission or consulate in 2010, 2011 and 2012. 

  • In 89 instances, New Zealand diplomatic posts served no New Zealand beer at all.
  • In 63 instances, they served only mainstream New Zealand beers.
  • In just four instances, the diplomatic posts served New Zealand craft beers. In 2012, the Hong Kong post served Harrington’s, in 2012 Los Angeles procured Moa and in 2011 and 2012 the Washington post also offered Moa. 

Mr Miller writes he can understand why our embassy in Saudi Arabia cannot serve a Kiwi craft beer. But what is stopping our diplomatic corps in Sydney and Canberra?

It gets worse
The situation is actually worse than Mr Miller paints.

Moa [NZX:MOA] marketing manager Sunil Unka told NBR ONLINE it was great our diplomatic missions in LA and Washington had served up his company's brew (more so because the craft beer market in North America is booming, as Time magazine relates here). 

But he notes it was only three or four times – "a rather small number of occasions in the context of the discussion".

Mr Unka would like to see the embassies and consulates serving more craft beer. Like every other New Zealand brewer, Moa has an obvious self-interest in the matter. But isn't that what our overseas missions should all be about: promoting local product?

While not every market is accessible, "our current major export markets are US, Australia and Asia, including China, so it is certainly a possibility in those locations," the Moa man says.

"It would be great to see the number of events serving NZ beer to increase and more specifically the New Zealand craft beer to increase significantly as we and our fellow craft brewers expand our international markets."

NBR approached Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Murray McCully for comment yesterday.

His office said it was aware of Mr Miller's research. The minister would respond to NBR (I'll post his comments when they come through. It seems he's been tied up with a visit by a chap from the UK or something). 

NBR has also asked the head of the diplomatic corp, Mr Allen, for his action plan. He was in a meeting when we called, but we're sure he'll make it a priority to respond today.

By beer o'clock would be good.

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Comments and questions

How about the craft beer companies pay for their own marketing?

"Like every other New Zealand brewer, Moa has an obvious self-interest in the matter. But isn't that what our overseas missions should all be about: promoting local product?"

Doesn't this say it all. It's what we should be paying our taxes for - promoting our business interests rather than wasting it lining the pockets of overseas companies.

Demanding the taxpayer waste money to fund a marketing campaign that should be paid for by the business itself is crony capitalism.

The NZ taxpayer pays regardless. It's simply a matter of whether we pay for foreign swill, domestic swill or domestic craft beer. Only the latter reflects well on NZ, and has any chance of providing a return on taxpayer investment.

Excuse me, it's not a marketing campaign. It's just buying NZ beer rather than the Heineken or Budweiser that they currently are.

Buying overpriced slop.

If the cost of buying NZ beer is cheaper than other brands and does not require additional taxpayer largess, it should happen. If NZ brewers want exposure in foreign markets, they should supply discounted products and not expect a taxpayer handout (this has happened, as noted elsewhere). There is enough corporate welfare and general sense of entitlement in this country already.

As the little Mexican girl says, "Why can't we have both?"

If you look at something like Air NZ, companies fight tooth and nail to be the Kiwi brands represented there. I'm sure NZ's diplomatic corps could work out some very mutually beneficial deals with NZ beer and wine suppliers.

I thought that was a boy?

The NZ embassy in Saudi does serve very good beer. From memory, they stock a few NZ beers and were working on getting craft beer on board.

Interesting that they serve beer in a country in which, by law, alcohol is illegal. Classic Kiwi "need to get my drunk on."

Diplomatic Corps. They wouldn't know what beer is. Only top shelf when they escape having to mix with the hoi polloi.

Beer is commonly drunk in formal functions in Oz and NZ, but in at least UK. That's what you go down to the pub for, not to drink it on formal or semi-formal occasions. Nothing to do with being snobs, as #3 infers.

Aren't the diplomats on a cost-cutting exercise? Importing NZ craft beer as opposed to using local beer would be a lot more expensive.

And once you add in the meat, wine, cheese, etc, this would get very expensive.

However, if the brewers can prove they are doing it with meat, wine etc, then they have a good argument.

Nice thought though.

Diplomatic pouch probably means no duty so the only extra expense would be shipping. It is fair that the craft brewers should assist in the costs. But it seems minimal expense for promoting NZ craft beer which stands to do quite well in North America, Oz and Asia. Isn't one of the big concerns currently the difficult conditions for NZ exports in view of the strong NZD? And why not make it a package deal: craft beer, specialty cheeses and meats. Isn't that one important function of the diplomatic corps, supporting a strong trade mission? However, look closer to home. I can't buy more than the odd bottle of Moa in Kerikeri.

Quite true if the choice is between foreign beer and NZ beer generally, but if the decision is made to serve NZ beer then it doesn't cost any more to ship Epic or 3 Boys than it does Speights or Steinlager.

For some of the older readers they may recall the great Steinlager adverts of the 1990s - "They are drinking our beer here". Showing that people were drinking it in all sorts of places around the world. This was an accurate statement, but not because people were paying for it. Lion gave it to the NZ embassies.

Maybe Moa should do the same.

I think it's just the mindset. Foreign beers must be better or something like that.

I would say for the next few years we only appoint diplomats who have a taste for the excellent craft beers NZ brews.

Is this an issue for MFAT, or an issue with the marketing and product managers in the craft beer companies? Get your business plan sorted, promote, network and be pushy.

Had Monteiths (if you can classify it as NZ - NZ made is good enough for me), at a high commission pre-Christmas bash in Sydney. And the BNZ bought Wither Hills to a speech a couple of years ago in London.
Moa are just looking desperate...

What an absolute waste of resource it is that silly brewers can raise an official OIA request to ask if NZ beer was served at functions. That's mad. They would have wasted thousands of dollars in wages contacting each post. Dammit!

"Buy New Zealand-made" has long been an important mantra in this country, and it is of great interest to many to know whether we practice what we preach, both within NZ and overseas. This is perhaps even more important where we are advertising NZ to the world.
It seems you think this was a waste of time because you don't think much of the subject matter. That is reasonably small-minded.
This exercise will have made those people who can change things, take note. And that has to be good for all products made in this country - not just beer.

Buy NZ is not an important NZ policy or mindset (although it should be).

Just look at what the government did to the Dunedin rail workshops - kept Chinese workers busy while putting NZ workers on the dole and losing their skills abroad.

Crazy , and absolutely short sighted obedience to free market ideology.

I personally don't like many NZ beers and fined they are terribly expensive. If I am going to pay princely prices then it had better be a good one. I work hard for my money and see no reason why I should support a sub-standard product just because it is made in NZ. Free market, free choice and pass that Belgian ale while you're at it!

Not one of the comments suggests that our embassies should be cutting back on the consumption of alcohol.
Perhaps Government bodies should be taking a lead in controlling this blot on our society.

All our embassies and consulates should be stocking Miller Lite.

Why don't the brewers give the product to NZTE? I would have thought this is incredibly cost-effective product promotion.
BTW, NZ craft beers were served at a recent function I attended and I don't think anybody liked them. In striving to be distinctive the makers had produced stuff that verged on the undrinkable.

I agree with the comments of David Leishman. Like him, we tried unsuccessfully to get some of the craft brewers to participate in a major US F&B Expo in July, only to find total indifference to the opportunity. Dealing with them indicated a lack of international marketing nous. A Fiji brewer joined our group and secured a US market toehold.
From personal experience, I find the craft brewers have major quality issues and a lot of what they produce reminds me of the poor-quality home brews of my youth.
I suggest many of them have some way to go before they are ready to go international, let alone supply consistent quality brews to our diplomats and the public at large.

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