Hospitality Business Magazine

Kiwi Prohibition Tonic secures Australian export deal

One of New Zealand’s fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage brands is set to launch into the Australian market – having secured a new export deal for its prohibition-style brand of tonics.

Bootleggers, which produces a collection of handcrafted tonics and mixers made from locally sourced and organic ingredients designed for gin drinkers, is riding a global wave of category growth – with gin sales up 34%.

The company’s first export shipment will land in Australia in the third quarter of this year – following the appointment of a local sales agent and the inking of a new contract to supply the country’s largest liquor retailer.

James Waugh, a Wellington bartender who founded the Bootleggers brand in his basement, says they hope to double current production and sales volumes in the coming year as their trans-Tasman distribution grows.

Waugh says they have also had export enquiry from Europe and the US East Coast with North American distributors recognising the local connection to the product’s brand identity.

He says the use of mixers became fashionable during the prohibition period as bartenders in speakeasies blended ounces of it with various mixers from bitters to soda, juices and fruit garnishes, to hide the flavour of the poorly made alcohol or ‘bathtub gin’. 

Waugh’s research into this period found dry ginger ale was the most popular mixer to offset the potent taste of the contraband alcohol. 

“We have had positive initial interest from distributors in the US who originally approached us based primarily on what they know about the brand and its potential appeal to their market. 

“The history of Bootleggers as a ‘grandmother’s recipe’ gin mixer with its underground origins which was ‘smuggled’ into local bars that had licensing agreements with competing brands, resonated with the US importers and we are hopeful it will help open a door to a lucrative export market,” he says.

Waugh says the company will launch new three low sugar options along with new flavours, a redesigned label and bottle sizes which will be used in both the domestic and export markets.

He says premium tonic and soda is one of the fastest-growing beverage categories globally and is forecast to continue growing at >7.5% in volume each year.

“The New Zealand market has been underdeveloped for some time but more recently there has been an explosion of gin consumption with over 200 brands available here now. There is a lot more science and experimentation with gin now and the growth of premium tonics is a natural extension to that.

“The priority for us at the moment is to meet the demand of the local market, we are heavily focused on growing our distribution through hospitality and FMCG channels and as a result, our annual sales are up over 100%,” he says.

Waugh says Bootleggers is one of the largest locally owned and manufactured tonic brands, and global supply challenges faced by their competitors during the pandemic have provided the company with an opening into a number of new retailers including Liquorland and premium hospitality venues such as Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.

“We have used the last year to prepare the product and increase our workforce for the coming expansion programme which will see us move into new channels and global export markets,” says Waugh.