Starting in 2017 in a garage in Melbourne’s inner-north, Brunswick Aces has since grown exponentially with its dual offering of gin and non-alcoholic options. The brand has just appointed Gurdeep Dhaliwal as director of global sales – its first senior hire outside Australia and New Zealand – signalling a further emphasis on growth in international areas. He also joins as a shareholder and co-owner. Brunswick Aces already has a presence in the Australasian and North American market. But wit
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ut with Dhaliwal based in the UK, the appointment will help to position the organisation to become more involved in the European market over the next few years.
According to co-founder and CEO Stephen Lawrence, the brand – which specialises in non-alcoholic drinks – aims to bring a uniquely Australian offering to the region. Brand director Stuart Henshall also told Inside Retail that the export and international market provides a huge opportunity for the business.
Henshall said that Brunswick Aces closed a successful fundraising round in December 2022, which secured more than $500,000 for the business. The funding will be allocated to supporting the brand’s expansion into new markets, as well as domestic sales growth.
He added that its shipments to North America have increased over the last year, with the brand continuing to focus on expansion in the region.
“Australian food and drink continues to enjoy a stellar reputation on the global stage and we’re excited to be able to represent our distilling industry by exporting to these key markets,” he said.
He added that Brunswick Aces is finalising its entry in the Japanese market, with Europe set to be its next focus, with many countries ranking highly compared to the rest of the world in the consumption of non-alcoholic drinks.
In particular, he noted that Germany, Spain and the UK lead Europe in this area, with the rest of the region continuing to grow at pace.
“Brunswick Aces has a number of unique propositions that it will bring to the European market, [and will offer] some Australian botanicals that aren’t found in the European region,” Henshall said.
No blueprint to follow
According to Henshall, the brand was started by a group of neighbours who loved to share food and drinks together.
Featuring an engineer and a scientist, the group made gin for a while, under the Brunswick Distillery brand. But a range of personal factors, including a pregnancy and fitness goals, meant that alcohol was off the table. As a result, they decided to make a non-alcoholic gin in order to make everyone feel welcome in social situations.
“From our humble beginnings in a residential street, [we opened] Australia’s first non-alcoholic distillery [and] non-alcoholic bar, [and became] the first distillery globally to introduce zero per cent and 40 per cent alcohol options of the same botanical blends,” he said.
Amid Covid-19 restrictions, the brand expanded its e-commerce presence in order to meet market demand. It expanded from a non-alcoholic sapiir store selling two blends, to a range of beers, wines and spirits that were also available in the bar. Sapiir is the brand’s term for its non-alcoholic gin.
Its wholesale channel has also grown, with products now available via platforms including Kaddy, Brands on Parade, NOC, and Paramount. Brunswick Aces is also stocked in Dan Murphy’s nationwide, with the brand expanding its gin and sapiir lines through Liquorland and IGA networks, as well as in independent stores.
Henshall added that Brunswick Aces is most popular with females over 30, but the brand targets all demographics. This includes non-drinkers, and people who drink moderately.
“One of the key learnings we’ve had from running Australia’s first non-alcoholic bar, is that moderat[e drinkers] and consumers are still looking for that elevated experience, where they feel prioritised and not [as] an after-thought,’ he said.
“Our non-alcoholic cocktails are the biggest draw for people to visit us, and we’re pleased to have welcomed everyone from first-dates, to pregnant couples, and older groups who all enjoy sipping on a fresh hand-made cocktail.
“As we [were] the first non-alcoholic distillery and bar space in Australia, there has been no blueprint to follow, so we continue to learn and adapt to ensure we give our customers the best experience.”
Having already entered the market in Amsterdam and the UK, Brunswick Aces plans to target regions systematically.
In addition to the hire of Gurdeep, the brand is in the process of setting up a regional storage facility in central Europe, which will help to ensure that it can provide timely and effective delivery and support.
Henshall also said that production is ramping up in Brunswick East to meet increasing demand, with expansion plans in this area set to be completed by the end of 2024.
He noted that the brand has kept its production and quality control in-house, and works directly with its raw materials producers. This, he said, enables for robust quality control and assurance checks at every stage of production.
“From sourcing the best raw ingredients and assessing the quality before they go into the stills, to testing the liquid before and after the bottling process, we can ensure that everything that leaves the distillery is to our high standard,” he said.
He added that Brunswick Aces hasn’t increased prices since its inception. Rather, it has looked at ways to absorb the cost of raw materials as a cost-saving initiative.
“Our recent bottle redesign has meant our packaging production and shipping costs have reduced, allowing us to avoid hefty price increases,” he said.
“We’re also developing some eco-initiatives to reduce production costs [which will] allow us to keep prices accessible. [This includes] water cooling recirculation and solar [initiatives].”
Making everyone feel welcome
Regarding its domestic plans, Brunswick Aces is working with Paramount as its primary distributor.
Henshall said that its strongest presence is in Victoria, with New South Wales and South Australia the next biggest markets. The brand is reviewing its national distribution requirements with the goal of expanding further in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
He added that the distillery in Brunswick East has recently undergone extensive renovations, and was closed to the public. But it’s set to reopen in April with a refreshed look, new and private dining and events spaces and a range of other features.
“We will also be working on expanding our experiential offering and creating more out of venue events to [make] everyone [feel] welcome,” he said.