Phenom businesswoman Shannon Long, 24, has quickly made a respectable impression in the worldwide beer industry. Many people recognize her as host of the television show Pure Brews America, though her fame there is only part of the bigger picture. Long is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Brew Export, a company based in Michigan that works with breweries across the United States to export their beer to foreign countries.
Her business success has been earned through hard work and dedication. Long graduated from Michigan State University in December of 2014 with two degrees through the university’s renowned programs, one in International Relations from James Madison College and one in Marketing from Eli Broad College of Business. While in school she served as the President of the MSU Marketing Association as well as Vice President of the MSU Entrepreneurship Association. She also worked for the Food Export Association of the Midwest, the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s International Marketing program, and CH Robinson Worldwide Logistics, solidifying her knowledge of how to move a product through the channels of trade.
Long points to her Senior Capstone project as fuel for the decision to create Brew Export. In the final semester “I had a professor walk in on the first day and say ‘take one product and export it to one market.’ All of the other people in the class were picking things like peanut butter to Germany or the water bottles with the filters in them to Africa.” She thought those were all fine and good, but not for her. She said “screw that, I’m doing beer, and I’m going to do Founders craft beer to Singapore.” The subject was based on her growing appreciation of the craft culture. “I was deadset and gathering tons of information. I was way more excited about this thesis than everyone else and I went all out and ended up getting the highest grade in the class,” she added.
There were several job offers available for her to earn $50-60,000 a year right out of college but that “wouldn’t have been fun, that wouldn’t have been exciting, and it wouldn’t have been ‘me’, I couldn’t do it,” she said. Within weeks of graduating she entered The Hatching business pitch competition in Lansing and won. That convinced her to form the Limited Liability Company in March of 2015 and begin the arduous task of establishing an alcohol export business. While the TV show development was happening simultaneously, she built the brand portfolio of breweries and fielded multitudes of international requests for her company’s services.
She obtained a TTB wholesalers license and approached the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for approval to operate. “It took them 9 months to license my business. I didn’t get licensed until May of 2016. They had never heard of an export company, even anything of the concept that I was planning on doing,” Long said. Many meetings were required as both sides worked toward a definitive description of the business and researched applicable laws. Without a set precedence to follow “they were literally making up the rules in front of me, essentially,” she said.
According to Long, there aren’t a lot of companies in her line of work. “No one’s doing it quite like I’m doing it, that’s for sure. A lot of people will just sell the beer, kind of in a broker situation,” she said. “They’ve got some extra beer so they just move it. I’m only aware of four other people in the entire United States doing anything close to what I’m doing,” she asserted. Importers could theoretically work directly with the breweries but that’s potentially overwhelming for the brewery. “What Brew Export and I really try to offer is the increased sales, you’re growing your international sales without the increased overhead of hiring internally an international salesperson,” she added.
Long created detailed Standard Operating Procedure checklists for each country and fine-tunes them to suit individual shipments. Approximately 25 pages of documentation are required per transaction, including a notarized Certificate of Origin sent ahead by mail. If the pallets being used aren’t plastic they must be fumigated and certified pest-free. Each product requires a label declaring it as an export, as well as having the ABV stated and the date it was packaged. A Bill of Lading describes the shipment’s contents. Upon arrival in the receiving country another label is added with their mandatory information similar to the United States Surgeon General warning. These legal details are among the reasons a brewery may not want to take on the responsibility of exporting themselves.
Brew Export’s first shipment went out in June of 2016 containing beer from Back Forty Beer Company of Gadsden, Alabama. Since then over a quarter of a million bottles have made their way across the Pacific Ocean. By the end of this year the company aims to be actively exporting to France, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. They’re projected to ship 3.5 to 4 million bottles from more than 15 American breweries in 2017, the company’s first full year of operation.
In late September of this year, a truck hauling a refrigerated shipping container loaded with pallets of Michigan brewed goodness from Arcadia Ales, Dark Horse Brewing Company, and Greenbush Brewing Company left the warehouse dock at Arcadia’s Kalamazoo facility on its way to Asia alongside more product from Back Forty. The container carried 32,832 bottles and 40 one-way kegs. In an ambitious 5 day push including this shipment, the company sent an impressive 115,776 bottles and 129 kegs total. Long said so far her shipments have been maxed out by weight rather than container space because canned beer doesn’t sell well yet in Asia so they have to send glass bottles in spite of their relative heaviness.
Throughout the beer’s lengthy journey it is constantly kept at an ideal 4.4 degrees Celsius (approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit) to ensure freshness of the product. Brew Export’s commitment to fully supporting their clients includes assistance in selling the beer once it reaches its destination. They use trusted subcontractor employees to do so, but when the September shipment finally arrived in China in mid-November, Long herself was there with a group of American industry people to receive it and participate in events showcasing the exported brews in Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei, Taiwan planned for every day of the trip.
Long said she chose to export to China first because she sees the country is ready to move high volumes of American beer. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far. “They’re the largest beer drinking country on the planet and they love our beer,” she said. Translating beer names from English to Chinese is a challenge though. Cultural meanings and subtle word play get lost in translation, meaning beers like Cheap Date and Jaw Jacker are renamed by a bilingual brand building team in an attempt to maintain some of their character. Back Forty beer names such as Naked Pig and Freckle Belly may have southern connotations that Long, as a Michigander, admits she probably wouldn’t understand. It’s an aspect of the job that changes with every shipment and keeps things interesting.
While she enjoys being involved in Pure Brews America and her presence on television will continue for the foreseeable future, Long admits “Brew Export is my baby at the end of the day, this is where my passion is, and my life goal.” Both projects play roles in helping the other succeed as opportunities often happily coincide. “My true north,” she added, “is to position American craft beer as the preeminent source for beer around the world. When you think Napa Valley you think of the best wine in the world, when you hear Michigan I want people to think it’s the best beer. Every thing I do points toward that.”
MittenBrew.com gives a special thank you to Arcadia Ales Kalamazoo for opening their facility to us during the loading of their shipment and allowing us the freedom to follow their staff so we could share the actual export process with you. Cheers!
Photography: Steph Harding