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Bottle Bond: Mark Hill & Darren Fullerton

The partnership between Suntory Global Spirits and Suntory Beverage & Food – Suntory Oceania – has the potential to shake up a growing market, say leaders Mark Hill and Darren Fullerton.

With high relative humidity and hotter summers year on year, life in Oceania is thirsty work. The alcohol and soft drinks markets are both steady growers in the region, and beverage companies are flocking south as a result.

While so many businesses are shifting production offshore, one of the world’s largest fast-moving consumer goods multinationals is disrupting the local beverage market.

Suntory Oceania is the shiny new name of the collaboration between Suntory Global Spirits and Suntory Beverage & Food Oceania. The move allows the two drinks businesses of Japanese beverage company Suntory to join forces in a booming marketplace. Suntory Beverage & Food Oceania CEO Darren Fullerton says the business has taken advantage of a rare opportunity.

“Under the Suntory Oceania umbrella we’ll create the fourth-largest Australia-New Zealand beverage group in Oceania.”

- Darren Fullerton

“Suntory saw great potential for accelerated growth in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the chance to bring the very best of Suntory to this part of the world,” he tells The CEO Magazine.

Recently, there’s been an increased focus internally on creating and leveraging a ‘One Suntory’ mindset, with the partnership demonstrating what’s possible by bringing the two companies together.

“Under the Suntory Oceania umbrella we’ll create the fourth-largest Australia-New Zealand beverage group in Oceania, worth AU$3 billion [US$1.97 billion],” Fullerton says.

And for the first time, that portfolio will bring together the brands in the Suntory family – such as Jim Beam® and Maker’s Mark® Bourbon, Hibiki® Japanese Whisky, Canadian Club® Whisky, Suntory -196, V Energy, Maximus and Suntory BOSS Coffee – under the one roof.

A Unique Partnership

“Like so many decisions in the business world, it came down to a question of timing and both businesses having the right window to explore the power of working together,” says Mark Hill, Managing Director Oceania at Suntory Global Spirits.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re accelerating our growth trajectory, creating one of the few end-to-end multi-beverage companies in Australia and New Zealand. As partners, there’s much more that we can bring to our customers and consumers, as well as more career opportunities for our people.”

The partnership embodies the Japanese spirit of Yatte Minahare (the permission to dream big) that permeates both companies. Indeed, that spirit will be found in the new US$264 million Suntory Oceania facility in Swanbank, Queensland, complementing further a New Zealand manufacturing facility, five distribution centers and more than 1,500 staff.

“We’re working toward bold goals, holding ourselves accountable through a specific set of targets for 2030 and beyond.”

- Mark Hill

“Our first new Australian facility will deliver full end-to-end control of our portfolio, allowing us to create and distribute our iconic beverages from Queensland and send them right across Australia and New Zealand,” Fullerton says.

The facility has been constructed with Suntory’s commitment to sustainability in mind.

“We’ve designed our equipment and processes to take advantage of the best cooling and heat recovery technology,” Fullerton says.

“Thanks to this, together with our recycling and waste reduction strategies, 14 kilometers of solar panels and a purchase power agreement, our site will be entirely carbon-neutral, allowing us to fulfill our vision to ‘grow for good’.”

Suntory’s Legacy

Suntory is a business that thinks in generations, rather than just quarterly shareholder updates.

The philosophy of ‘Growing for Good’ has been a part of Suntory’s DNA for more than 120 years, and in that time has come to be well-recognized in Japan and other international markets.

Fullerton says these values are deeply embedded within the organization, and are among the main reasons he was attracted to the business.

“When I met with Suntory it was clear they saw the potential in ANZ and were looking to champion change and embrace Suntory’s Yatte Minahare spirit. And here we are!”

“We’re working toward bold goals, holding ourselves accountable through a specific set of targets for 2030 and beyond,” Hill adds.

“As a business with more scale, we will be able to make a greater impact and contribute to our ambitious Suntory Group targets around environment and community.”

The carbon-neutral Queensland facility is a huge part of that.

“We’re talking solar, efficient cooling, water recycling, waste management and sustainable materials. Our new site will set a benchmark for our operations across Suntory,” Fullerton says.

Two of the first brands to be made at the Queensland facility will be V Energy, Australia’s number one energy drink, and Suntory -196, a ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverage that’s become a sensation since its release in 2022.

“The response from customers and industry to date has been amazing.”

- Mark Hill

“-196 has been the most successful innovation launch in the last 10 years in the alcohol space,” Hill says. “The response from customers and industry to date has been amazing.”

A further 16 RTD drinks will follow once the facility hits full swing, including Canadian Club & Dry, Jim Beam White Label Bourbon & Cola and the rest of the V Energy range.

“The heart and soul of our non-alcoholic business is V, and the big star performer in the last year or so has been V Refresh, a lighter, more refreshing energy drink that’s captured the attention of many consumers for whom traditional energy drinks had limited appeal,” Fullerton says.

The Suntory name is no stranger to any Australian or New Zealander who’s visited Japan, with Suntory Boss Coffee in particular making a strong impression through its quirky advertising. Hill says the recognition of its brands in the Oceania region makes it easy for Suntory to thrive, and Fullerton echoes this sentiment.

“Customers are responding with support and enthusiasm for the multi-beverage partnership,” he says. “They can see the future we’re building for and want to be a part of that journey.”

Sharing the Load

It’s a journey neither executive will have to take alone. The partnership has put Hill and Fullerton side by side as the partnership evolves. The situation is new to both leaders, but Hill says it’s a breeze.

“We’re working with a partner in the Suntory family, with teams and individuals who share the same values. It makes it easy,” he says.

“It’s working very well, and the reason is that we’re both very passionate about the key elements of our partnership,” Fullerton concurs.

“Mark and I share similar attitudes. We love having a good time and connecting with people personally as much as professionally, which creates a real ‘winning’ feeling.”

This meeting of minds will have powerful repercussions for Suntory and the industry at large.

“There is so much to unlock by coming together. We have an opportunity to create a prototype for all of Suntory and our vision is to create the number one premium beverages company in Australia and New Zealand.”

“There is so much to unlock by coming together.”

- Darren Fullerton

For those in the pair’s charge, the change is exciting and encouraging of further greatness ahead.

“We know how passionate our people are about our brands, the categories we operate in, those we’d like to expand into and our culture,” Fullerton says. “This is only strengthening. Our people can also see the broadening of career opportunities that this partnership will bring.”

Hill says there’s a sense of family that binds both teams and blurs any lines between them. “While we’ve operated as a separate business for some time, we’re united by our Suntory Spirit,” he says.

“To meet the needs of the market and to realize our One Suntory vision, we want to create a culture that lets our people unleash their spirit. Our people are incredibly excited about the partnership and the opportunity they have to build our new shared future.”

This unprecedented milestone in the Suntory story is in the hands of two leaders who understand the importance of legacy.

“I want to help our local Oceania business become the jewel in the crown for the entire Suntory company globally, and to become a place where all of the very best talent wants to come, stay and grow,” Fullerton says.

“At Suntory, we talk about being a good ancestor, and that’s the attitude we’re taking when it comes to building the Suntory Oceania partnership,” Hill agrees.

Above all, the union represents Suntory’s unwavering belief in the potential of the Oceania market.

“Where other businesses are pulling back, we’re forging ahead,” Hill adds. “And we’re bringing Suntory’s spirit of bold ambition to life.”

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