In the world of premium spirits and craft beverages, market disruption is never too far behind. This is most certainly the case for online beer, wine and liquor sales which saw a massive surge in demand during the pandemic lockdown when bars and pubs were forced to close.
According to data from IbisWorld, the online market for alcohol in Australia was worth A$1.8 billion (US$1.3 billion) in 2021. Its expected growth rate was pegged at 27.2 per cent for that same year. Meanwhile, over in the US, ecommerce sales of alcohol were measured to be worth US$8.8 billion in 2021, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
“Growing up in Liverpool, I’ve always had a connection to Western Sydney, so I’m extremely proud to represent this community in sharing our outstanding brands and products with the country.”
All of these lucrative numbers point to one thing: an explosion in online retail platforms cashing in on this new drinking trend. One of those companies based out of Australia is Australian Boutique Spirits (ABS), a family-owned Western Sydney distillery on the cusp of cracking the market with their latest direct-to-consumer platform, Bevmart.
As ABS nears the end of its pre-initial public offering capital raise, which is expected to reach A$10 million (US$7.4 million) via Australian and international private equity and select high-net-worth investors, another strategic partnership has materialised to complement their IPO on the ASX in the first quarter of 2022 – retired Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke.
“While celebrity connections allow brands to get exposure in new markets and reach more customers, my goal in partnering with Bevmart was to bring more than who I am. I have a personal investment in the company and believe in the product,” Clarke exclusively told The CEO Magazine.
Disrupting the business of beverage
Behind the celebrity status of Clarke, Raj Beri, who is the Founder of ABS and Bevmart, holds his own repertoire in the startup scene. Beri is a serial entrepreneur in the spirits industry, having founded Elegance Brands, a leading US direct-to-consumer beverage business which has raised in excess of A$30 million (US$22 million) in capital in 2020, along with Europa Group, CannHealth Group and others. This experience in the beverage industry is backed by a track record of bringing authentic, innovative and exciting products to markets both in Australia and the US, almost exclusively through the popular direct-to-consumer model. As a seasoned poker enthusiast, the staunch market competition doesn’t appear to phase him.
“My vision with Bevmart was to create a customer-focused marketplace for a suite of brands, either exclusively imported or manufactured by ABS, but with a direct focus on convenience and the customer journey,” Beri says.
“All brands current and future will be exclusive to ABS and positioned on our own marketplace, Bevmart, which ensures we can utilise our own tactics for customer engagement and retention at the same time building the respective brand equity in various lifestyle focused offerings.”
This means customers will get exclusive access to drinks such as rapper Drake’s Virginia Black Whiskey and Mod Sélection Champagne. It’s a smart move, which should set Beri’s business apart from others as it continues to roll out an impressive line-up of celebrities who are set to be revealed by Bevmart over the next six months to turbocharge their premium offering.
“I am a passionate Aussie and like to stay true to my roots having also grown up in Western Sydney. My family migrated to Australia with a few thousand dollars and four suitcases in the early 1990s.“
What’s more interesting is Beri’s eye for spotting gaps in the market in an industry controlled by some big names. How did he determine that there was an international market for Australian based spirits so early on with ABS?
“As a spirits collector, spirits judge and a big fan of craft small batch quality, I always believed ABS produced exceptional quality products. However, the struggle that most quality producers face is that they fail to take their craft offerings and create them into ‘brands’,” he says.
“ABS focuses on both craft liquid and building brand equity targeted with the respective consumer in mind. In my travels, as after moving to the US, I found that most US and global consumers had a very positive view of Australia and a desire to try craft Australian products, which led me to envision brands we could create at ABS and take them to the world.”
The most sentimental part of this successful business journey is Beri’s personal connection with Western Sydney, the location of Bevmart’s operations and a far cry from his current trappings of sunny Beverly Hills, California.
“I am a passionate Aussie and like to stay true to my roots having also grown up in Western Sydney. My family migrated to Australia with a few thousand dollars and four suitcases in the early 1990s. Australia provided us with some amazing life-changing opportunities and so by growing a family-owned business, employing fellow Australians and taking our brands to the world, we also contribute as a family to Australia’s economy as a whole.
“In the last 20 years, I have seen Australian manufacturing disappear in a lot of sectors, but in the alcohol sector, consumers like the story of ‘Brand Australia’ and are willing to pay a premium for quality, not to mention there is limited risk of losing such an industry to cheaper imports.”
With Clarke also being born and raised in working-class Western Sydney, the partnership was a natural fit for both parties.
“Growing up in Liverpool, I’ve always had a connection to Western Sydney, so I’m extremely proud to represent this community in sharing our outstanding brands and products with the country,” Clarke says.
The power of celebrity
The appeal of celebrity association is not a new concept in business marketing, but it’s clear that Beri and his team are taking a more carefully curated approach in a bid to expand Bevmart’s social footprint with highly influential figures.
“As ABS is a young company in its infancy, we need to be able to successfully bring awareness to our company and our suite of brands,” Beri explains.
“The partnership with Clarkey was a natural one; he was connected to me via a friend and, after a few discussions, he and I shared a lot of similar values which led to him becoming an investor and a brand ambassador for our brands. Clarkey’s celebrity [status] will allow for some great awareness to our company, but he is not the only celebrity we are in active discussions with – there are several others including an Oscar winner.”
Clarke is more reserved in talking about his alignment within this celebrity collective.
“I have a personal investment in the company and believe in the product. In the six years since I retired, this is the first alcohol brand I’ve affiliated with commercially, which I think is a sentiment to the authenticity of our partnership. So for a celebrity alignment to work, it’s imperative that the relationship is genuine and built on shared values.”
“The decision to partner with Bevmart and ABS was an easy one with many alignments that just made sense,” he adds. “It’s a family-owned, Australian business with an incredible product range, and as a team we’re bound together with the common interest of taking our Western Sydney distillery to the world. The company has a strong track record and exciting future in the pipeline, I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the journey while representing the community I was born and raised in.”
The strategic secret to success
Given Beri’s alternate ego as a seasoned poker player outside of work, there will naturally be suggestions on the correlation between taking risks, poker faces and success in business.
“Every good poker player will tell you that your poker strategy is the most important aspect of the game. Gamblers lose in the long run but poker players with a defined strategy win in the long run,” he says.
“The same applies in business: you can take short risks, which may not work out in the short term, but with a defined vision and strategy as an entrepreneur with resilience and hunger, you will win in the long run.”