Yanjing’s Shu Guo Has a Head for Beer

With exclusive Yanjing brand rights for Western Canada and Ontario, Shu Guo is capitalizing on Canadians' propensity for the drink.

With exclusive Yanjing brand rights for Western Canada and Ontario, Shu Guo is capitalizing on Canadians’ propensity for the drink.

When Shu Guo arrived in Canada from China in 2001 to start Hi-bridge Consulting Corp., the tiny fireball of an entrepreneur didn’t expect to be washing dishes instead. However, realizing she wasn’t fluent enough to run her business in English, she put her plans on hold and started working in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. During the next year and a half, she moved from washing dishes to working at Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. (CTC) before deciding to pursue a master of arts in education at UBC. Already armed with an MBA from Shanghai, Guo was brimming with entrepreneurial spirit upon completion of her degree. Revisiting her original plan to run a consulting firm specializing in Asian imports, Guo decided to start importing non-alcoholic beer and hard alcohol. Then she was introduced to Yanjing beer through a friend. Though a teetotaller herself, she was impressed by the flavour of the Chinese rice beer and brought it on board as her main import product. Investing $100,000 of her own money and seven days a week into the company during the first year, Guo got Yanjing sales off the ground in B.C. In a recent boon to business, the popular rice beer has since been named the official beer of the Beijing Olympics. To meet B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch standards, which would ensure the sale of Yanjing in liquor stores across the province, Guo had to prove the beer would sell. “At the beginning, it was very hard; people didn’t know the beer,” Guo recalls. “We started setting up tastings so the cold beer and wine stores and restaurants would buy it.” Her hustle worked, and restaurants and cold beer and wine stores across B.C. started carrying Yanjing beer. Hi-bridge has exclusive rights to sell the beer in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Yukon. B.C. is currently Guo’s biggest market, ringing up sales of $22,000 a month. However, Guo expects the Ontario market to catch up and possibly eclipse B.C. in the near future. B.C. is a minuscule market compared to her homeland, but Guo notes that, fortunately for her, people in B.C. tend to drink a lot. “It’s a small market compared to China, but that’s not always a bad thing – there is less competition, so it makes a very good business environment,” she says. “People here are easier to deal with. In China people are friendly, but there are too many people.”