Beer club becomes international player


The small Turnhout brewer Het Nest is now also brewing beer in Brazil. The beer club is securing its position between the big boys thanks to the playing card company Cartamundi. (also see RTV video)

From next month Brazilians and other South Americans will also be able to buy Schuppenboer, KoekeDam, HertenHeer and PokerFace. These are not playing cards, but beers from Het Nest. The Turnhout brewery is launching cooperative ties with its Brazilian sector partner Cervejaria Premium Paulista.

It will be brewing five beers from Het Nest and marketing them across the whole of South America. The Belgians will be assisting the Brazilians with recipes and in word and deed, and will receive a payment for each bottle sold. With this cooperation they can measure the potential of their beers in Brazil without significant risk.

The two-year-young brewery Het Nest saw sales more than double last year, but with an 870,000 euro turnover and annual production of 4,000 hectolitres it is still operating on a quite small scale - the Westvleteren Trappist brewery brews some 6,000 hectolitres on an annual basis. ‘In the coming years we want to force production up to 9,000 hectolitres’, says director Bart Cuypers. This capacity is possible with the new brewery, that opened its doors in the shadow of the Miko coffee roaster in Turnhout in 2015.

The new construction cost just shy of 2 million euros. This is a large investment for a small brewery that saw the light of day 15 years ago, when eight friends in Turnhout met up every two weeks to taste their beer. ‘In 2004 we started brewing ourselves, in a garage’, says Cuypers. ‘In 2006 we won a Dutch beer price and decided to go professional. An independent brewer brewed our beer recipes.’


The beers were barely available in our own country because most of it was exported. The beers quickly gained popularity in Tokyo and Shanghai. There the card game poker is popular, and the marketing of Het Nest - each beer having the name and form of a playing card - worked there. ‘We also preferred the foreign market for practical reasons. Foreign customers must pay before delivery. In Belgium they only pay afterwards. And neither do we have to take back any empties.’

The home market was more important four years ago when Het Nest started to become professional. But without domestic recognition it was difficult to win investors and banks over. ‘We called upon local business owners Frederic De Vel and Frans Versmissen. We know everything about brewing, but we needed them to refine our business model.’ They also recruited twenty investors who financed the new brewery.

After two years the brewery became profitable, and half of the beer is sold in our own country. ‘This year we will book a 1 million euro turnover and will be moving towards an operational cash flow (EBITDA) of 27 per cent’, says Versmissen. ‘We do everything we can to save costs. Our brewery is highly automated.’

The Kempenaars are also attracting companies who want to have their beers brewed there for payment. ‘this accounts for 25 per cent of our turnover. The costs of such brews are fully paid by the owners of the recipe’, says Cuypers. This means Het Nest makes profits at times when the machines would normally be stopped.

That Het Nest is setting off for Brazil is more incidental. ‘We are operating in 15 countries in Asia and Europe, but not yet in South America. We had no contacts there’, says Cuypers. And that’s where Cartamundi brought change. The Turnhout playing card maker has a playing card joint venture in Brazil with the owner of Cervejaria Premium Paulista. The Brazilian brewers wanted to brew Belgian beers, and asked Frederic De Somer, co-owner of Cartamundi and an acquaintance of the brewers from Het Nest, if he knew a suitable party.

Import tax

The Brazilians want to offer Belgian beers because they are becoming increasingly popular in the country and in the rest of South America. De Halve Maan (Brugse Zot beer) already moved into Brazil earlier this year. ‘Special beers are growing in popularity in Brazil, despite the economic problems that are causing so many concerns for large multinationals such as AB InBev’, says Robson Tatimoto. The CEO of Cervejaria Premium Paulista is in the country this week for meetings with Cartamundi. ‘The Belgian beers we sell are expensive because of an import tax of 40 per cent. We can now get around this.’

In the coming year the Brazilians will brew approximately 1,800 hectolitres of Het Nest beer. ‘We hope to systematically push this quantity up.’

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