Export Fund loan helps Manchester drinks brand scale-up overseas expansion

Steph Buttery

A Manchester drinks business is planning further expansion following a £100,000 loan from the GM Export Fund, managed by GC Business Finance.

Founder Steph Buttery was inspired to create Chu Lo Drinks during a four month deployment to the Far East with the Royal Navy, when she left Japan impressed by the variety of Chu Hai sour drinks on offer. On her return she decided to make her own version of these Japanese classics.

With the ready-to-drink alcohol market already saturated, Steph developed a non-alcoholic sour fruit soft drink.

During the pandemic, Steph sought external finance from GC Business Finance (GCBF). Having worked with the Growth Company since the ideas stage, Steph had benefited from having a business coach and finance group to provide guidance through the early stages of starting her business.

The loan supported Chu Lo as it expanded to the Middle East. During a virtual international trade mission, Steph presented to six buyers, which resulted in five contracts.

Chu Lo now trades in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the USA and in parts of Europe. Its team of seven is continuing to seek expansion opportunities, with the business agreeing major contracts with HMV and Belong Gaming Arenas.

Chu Lo’s growth accelerated following Steph’s appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars show on BBC One. Getting through to the final, Steph saw a 500% increase in Chu Lo sales in the 30 days after the last episode aired.

Steph said: “There is nothing on the market like Chu Lo. We have a really specific target customer, primarily gamers, and are passionate about building a community of people who love our product.

“The loan received from GCBF helped us as we waited for our first funding round, but it was the support from Andy and the team that made all the difference. The response to my appearance on TV has been overwhelming, not just in the UK but across the world, and I’m so excited to see how Chu Lo continues to grow in the coming years.”

Andy Nichols, senior loan manager at GC Business Finance, said: “It’s been brilliant to work with a business like Chu Lo, which demonstrates real export potential and appeals to a very unique market.”