Niche alcohol products graduating to mainstream

Following the news that Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) has launched a low calorie ready-to-drink (RTD) vodka brand Actual Vodka Seltzer in Australia; Shagun Sachdeva, Consumer Insights Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view.

“In an era when consumers are gravitating towards lighter, less caloric, flavoured alcoholic drinks and creating opportunities for the manufacturers to look at innovation,” said Sachdeva. “With increasing number of consumers questioning the role of sugar in weight management, ‘better-for-you’ alcohol trend is graduating from niche status to a broader market sufficient in size and scope to interest the alcohol manufacturers.

“In line with this, CUB (subsidiary of Asahi Group Holdings) launched Actual Vodka Seltzer to remain relevant to consumers by using insightful innovation. Recently, Japan-based Asahi Group Holdings took over CUB from Anheuser-Busch InBev for around US$11bn. Asahi was on continuous buying spree and seems to be betting big on its overseas businesses to offload the debt burden along with gradually escaping a slow-growing and aging market in Japan.

“At a time when most companies are grappling with growing uncertainty over COVID-19 outbreak and economic uncertainty, Asahi seized the opportunity to further expand its overseas reach by launching Actual Vodka Seltzer in Australia. Similar to its Japanese rivals such as Kirin Holdings Co., Suntory Holdings and Sapporo Holdings, Asahi was facing a major down trend in the domestic market as youth with health-benefits knowledge are cutting down their drinking.

“CUB move to foray into alcoholic seltzer seems to be well-timed and strategically planned. Following the onset of COVID-19, consumers have brought about a drastic change in their shopping behavior. They are opting for informed choices for themselves and letting the better-for-you aspect guide their purchase decision.

“The key attributes of Actual Vodka Seltzer – its cleaner image due to 100% natural ingredients claim, low calorie content and low sugar levels, appeal to the Australians who are conscious of what they are drinking.

“GlobalData’s Covid-19 Week 5 (April 21-26) consumer survey reveals that around 37 per cent of Australians expect tips on personal well-being from brands and around 30 per cent of them expect health credentials of product and effectiveness of ingredients from brands. The survey also highlights that 48 per cent of Australians buy alcoholic beverages from middle to premium price range during the pandemic.

“Out of 37% of Australians expecting tips on personal well-being from brands, 43% are millenials. CUB seems to be on right track with well researched market where the company understands that millennials in the Asia-Pacific are seeking lighter, more refreshing styles of alcoholic drinks, more than the regional average, so targeting these consumers with ‘better-for-you’ attributes in alcoholic beverages, is perhaps a profitable option.”


SouthTrade International takes 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka into its portfolio

 Continuing its vision to build a premium and strong local craft portfolio, SouthTrade International will have exclusive distribution of Australian craft spirit brand 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka, from the 1st of October 2018.

This follows the announcement that Think Spirits will be taking over the distribution of Stolichnaya Vodka trademark in Australia.

Founder of 666 Vodka, Dean Lucas, said SouthTrade International was a business with fantastic energy and momentum as evidenced by recent brand additions.

“We are thrilled to be joining the SouthTrade family and what we consider to be the leading Australian craft portfolio. With the SouthTrade team’s knowledge, expertise and highly complementary portfolio, we plan to expand 666 Vodka with the next evolution of the brand inclusive of new packaging and product innovations,” said Lucas.

READ: American bourbon and vodka coming to Australia

“The 666 Vodka brand transitions to SouthTrade after a period of strong growth over the last 12 months,” he said.

SouthTrade International managing director Ray Noble said joining future icon brands of Mr. Black, Starward Whisky and Adelaide Hills Distillery, SouthTrade was excited to expand and strengthen its local craft spirits portfolio with 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka.

“[It] marries with SouthTrade’s vision of driving long-term success for premium local craft brands across Australia. While this is a fantastic opportunity for both companies, we would also like to acknowledge the great work Think Spirits has undertaken on the brand to maintain a leading position within the Australian premium vodka category,” said Noble.

“Established in 2007 and committed to sustainability, we were drawn to the brand’s authenticity using local ingredients and capturing the purity of the surrounding environment of Cape Grim and North West Tasmania,” he said.

Stockists of 666 Vodka include Dan Murphy’s, First Choice and Vintage Cellars.

Sheep, cheese, vodka and sustainability in Tasmania

Hartshorn Distillery, winner of the Beverage of the Year at the 2017 Food & Beverage Industry Awards, uses a cheese making waste product to create alcoholic beverages. Matthew McDonald writes.

About 15 years ago, Ryan Hartshorn’s family moved from Queensland to southern Tasmania with the idea of establishing a dual wine and sheep-cheese-making business.

As Hartshorn, a director and owner of Grandvewe Cheeses and Hartshorn Distillery told Food & Beverage Industry News, given that nobody in the family had experience in these fields, the move was a gamble. His mother Diane Rae did much of the early work. Among other things, she travelled to Europe to learn from experienced cheese makers.

From the outset, sustainability was a key priority for the business. For example, the original idea involved the sheep doing the job of maintaining (eating) the vegetation between the vines. Unfortunately, the sheep weren’t disciplined enough to limit themselves to grass and destroyed the vines themselves. So the vineyard was abandoned in favour of just the cheesery.

Hartshorn Distillery's Ryan Hartshorn (centre) with his sister Nicole Gilliver (left) and his mother Diane Rae (right).
Hartshorn Distillery’s Ryan Hartshorn (centre) with his sister Nicole Gilliver (left) and his mother Diane Rae (right).



Then, three years ago, Hartshorn decided to take another gamble. “I started to get a bit sick of the cheese side of the business and wanted to have my own creation. I decided to learn how to distill. Essentially, I was trying to figure out how I could make a distillery relevant to a cheesery and how they could work together,” he said.

The obvious path would have been to make milk liquors, but Hartshorn wanted to try something different. He had heard about a business in Ireland using cow whey (a cheese making by-product) to make alcohol and decided to try something similar with sheep whey.

“I asked the Irish operation how to do it but they wouldn’t tell me,” he said. So he had to work it out for himself.

The process of using lactose (the complex sugar found in whey) to make alcohol is not simple because fermentation requires a basic (not complex) sugar.

The only way to transform the lactose into a basic sugar is to use enzymes to break down its protein molecules. Hartshorn read about some enzymes that might be able to do this. With the help of some food technologists in Melbourne, and by a long process of trial and error, he identified the right enzymes and then started to develop his products.

Today, Hartshorn Distillery makes Sheep Whey Gin, Sheep Whey Vodka (which took out the aforementioned award) and Vanilla Whey Liqueur. After three years of operation, the distillery has now overtaken the cheesery, accounting for about 60 per cent of the overall business.

Experience is crucial

Hartshorn emphasised the fact that, in his case, taking a risk and innovating was not easy. He advises others considering taking such a step to first make sure they have plenty of experience behind them.

“I don’t think I could have done this if I came straight from working for someone else. I’d worked in my business (the cheesery) for 12 or thirteen years before making this leap,” he said. “So I had a pretty good understanding of the market. I wasn’t in the alcohol industry but there are a lot of similar factors involved. I had an idea what the market wanted.

“Basically, if you want to innovate, you need to do your research. You need to make sure you know what’s out there and what’s not out there, then try and fill those gaps.”

There is another unique aspect to Hartshorn Distillery. All its bottles are hand-painted and one-of-a-kind. As Hartshorn explained, nobody has copied this. “Big companies can’t really do it because of the work involved,” he said.

The distillery has grown by an impressive 600 per cent in the last year and, while Hartshorn is currently focusing his energies on keeping on top of this demand, he conceded that he may have to soon start thinking about adding some new buildings to the operation.

“I’ll keep my range the same but I’ll keep changing the bottle design. I want to do more collector items,” said Hartshorn.

Whatever happens, sustainability will remain important to the business. “We’ve been trying to use our waste almost from the beginning. We do a few other little lesser-known products like making fudge from whey,” he said. “We also make some of our older sheep into a sausage that we sell through our cheesery. And we make a fruit paste that goes with our cheese made from the waste of wine making.”

For more information on the Awards, or to get involved for 2018, click here.

Hartshorn Distillery’s Ryan Hartshorn makes vodka and gin from sheep whey, a cheese making by-product.
Hartshorn Distillery’s Ryan Hartshorn makes vodka and gin from sheep whey, a cheese making by-product.


Why do Australians choose vodka?

It’s one of the world’s most popular spirits with more than 4 billion litres sold in 2012. But its popularity is now in decline.

While premium and flavoured vodkas have seen a surge in popularity, drinkers are increasingly moving to whisky for its apparent authenticity, as well as gin as it loses the label of a drink for ‘old people’.

Given vodka is a drink that’s supposed to have no taste, vodka companies must resort to less traditional methods to differentiate their brands.

New research by Associate Professor Catherine Prentice from Edith Cowan University has shed light on what helps Australian consumers make the decision to buy vodka.

Her research surveyed 350 Australians on their attitudes towards vodka in a variety of different subjects. It found we’re basically just suckers for marketing.


The research found branding was hugely important to drinkers’ attitude towards vodka in general, which brands they preferred and how often they would drink certain brands.

“Slick branding and advertising creates a vital point of difference and is a big part of the reason consumers have a positive attitude towards vodka,” Dr Prentice said.

Unsurprisingly, some brands do it better than others.

For example, Absolut Vodka has one of the most recognisable brands of any company in the world.


Vodka companies spend endless hours designing spirit bottles, logos and packaging. While they certainly affect drinkers’ choice of a vodka brand, they’re unlikely to choose vodka because of a fancy bottle if they set out to buy gin.

“To consumers packaging is regarded as a cue to a product’s quality,” Dr Prentice said.

“It directly affects the way consumers perceive the quality of products and their brand, and in some cases packaging has been more important than the product itself.

“The research showed elaborate packaging would only affect drinkers’ choice of which brand of vodka – it has no impact on whether they choose vodka over another drink.”

So those assault rifle and crystal skull bottles are even more of a gimmick than you thought they were.

Country of Origin

Unlike wine and whiskey, the country of origin of vodka makes little difference to drinkers’ preference. This is despite almost universal agreement by study participants that some countries produce better vodka.

“In Australia, most of our vodkas are imported. So while we know vodkas from Russia, Sweden, Poland or France can be good quality we don’t distinguish between them,” Dr Prentice said.

Social Media

Social media marketing appears to have a big influence on what brand of vodka was consumed. It also influences how frequently they’re likely to purchase the same brand.

“Social media has been acknowledged as being potentially the most powerful tool for marketing brands,” Dr Prentice said.

“When consumers see their friends posting positively about a product or brand, that’s a big influence for them to purchase the same brand.”

“Likewise when consumers are engaging with a brand on social media they’re very likely to remain loyal to that brand.”

In other words, once you’ve ‘liked’ a brand on Facebook you’re much more likely to buy it in the future.

The research was published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

Online alcohol design now here

Archie Rose Distilling is enabling you to create your own tailored spirits, right down to having your name on the label.

“This is something we’ve been working on for some time,” says founder and owner, Will Edwards. “Every day we are lucky enough too able to play with pure botanical distillates, unique malts and rare casks to create our spirits’ flavour profiles.”

Both Vodka and Gin can be designed on their website where you have to opportunity to create a unique flavour combination with a mix of the number of botanicals including Blood Orange, Orris Root and Dorrigo Pepperleaf. 

The whisky experience is a little bit different it allows you to personalise almost every aspect of your whisky including the option for you and four friends to assist in the actual making of your whisky on site.

IronBark Distillery already winning awards

 Ironbark Distillery has been recognised as the best gin distiller in the country after less than a year in the marketplace.

Ironbark took out Australian Gin Distillery of the Year at the 2015 Melbourne International Spirit Awards: its Ironbark Wattleseed Dry Gin was awarded a silver medal and Ironbark Dry Gin a Bronze.

The high-end spirit products created by Reg Papps are comparable to the best spirits in the world – with a uniquely Australian twist.

Combined with Australian-grown grain and specially sourced flavours, spirits are proofed with purified, sterilised, locally sourced water, filtered through carbon and bottled by hand in the distillery.

The Ironbark Distillery range began with two products in its range now they have six products in there range, featuring there award winning Wattleseed Dry Gin.

The Ironbark Distillery produces top-shelf moonshine vodka and gins and are stocked in Australia’s best restaurants and hotels.

Diageo loses its love of wine amid sale rumours

Alcohol giants Diageo, owners of Jonnie Walker and Ciroc vodka are looking to offload their wine division.

“Diageo fell out of love with wine following the great recession of 2008-09 when it saw that the category could not offer the returns it was looking for,” Jeremy Cunninton, senior Alcoholic Drinks Analyst at Euromonitor International.

Brands including Blossom Hill and Piat d’Or will likely be sold off to Australian wine maker Treasury Wine Estates.

The deal for Diageo to sign with Treasury has not be confirmed as of yet but if Diageo signs that dotted line they will join Treasury wine brands Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Lindermans and Matua.

“The main benefit for the buyer (Treasury Wine Estates) will be Diageo’s US wine assets with the premium and brands such as Sterling Vineyards, which will greatly improve Treasury Wine Estates generally low value US portfolio” Cunninton said.

The CEO of Diageo has been under some pressure to offload the wine sector of the company, as it is estimated to only make up around five per cent of the global revenues.

“The fact there is a sale now may in part be due to some pressure to sell, but it is more likely there was someone willing/able to offer a suitable price,” Cunninton said.