Unexpected Opportunities for Cooperation

German beer has not only established a top reputation in China, it is also considered part of German culture. Two MTP participants from the food industry had already been planning on introducing beer to the Chinese countryside even before the programme was underway. There are not many breweries that offer beer brewed from 100% natural spring water to be sold with a Chinese label, so October 2014 the MTP group from China visited the Westerwald Brewery in Hachenburg.

The brewery has been run as a family business for five generations – no small feat for such a competitive market. Jens Geimer, the brewery’s general manager described how a family business needs to keep findings new ways of doing things despite being obligated to uphold traditions. The brewery already took its first steps into the Chinese market four years ago as a small enterprise and has become very successful there.

The first taste tests convinced the participants of the quality of the product. Everyone especially enjoyed the “men’s handbag” – a five-litre miniature keg – that can be printed with company logos and used as a promotional gift. Its plastic handles were especially intriguing to Lu Ye. He reached straight for his tablet to show Geimer plastic parts he has produced for Audi and Volkswagen. Lu then proposed making plastic handles for the brewery and Geimer was enthusiastic: “If you are producing for Audi, you are not just somebody.” His immediate response was to request a tender for an order of 15,000 handles. These kinds of self-evident win-win situations are not that common. Lu had not been especially interested in this group appointment as a manufacturer of plastic components because he did not see any direct connection to the business of brewing beer. But that just made him more excited about how quickly companies from such different industries can find a way to cooperate productively.

A few days later Sarah Schorge, head of the export department, arrived in Cologne for further talks with Lu, Honghua Li and Yongping Nan. In the meantime Lu had talked with his colleagues back in China and prepared a concrete tender for the handles. Production could start in 2015. Li talked with Schorge about how she could market the Westerwald Brewery beer in the province of Liaoning. Nan is already involved in contract negotiations for importing 10,000 cans and 20,000 bottles of beer. This visit had produced real opportunities for cooperation for three Chinese participants – one that nobody had been expecting.

By Mareike Dröge and Johanna Lange
Carl Duisberg Centres, Cologne