A Wexford firm is complementing gin’s growth by producing premium tonic water, writes Trish Dromey
The explosion in the gin (and tonic) market in recent years has seen the launch of close to 30 different craft Irish gins in all parts of the country but the creation of just one new Irish tonic by a small start-up in Wexford.
Two years ago Poacher’s set out to develop Ireland’s first premium tonic brand, making it with natural ingredients such as rosemary and thyme and without artificial additives or sweeteners.
Since then it has created a range of four mixers, developed sales to high-end hotels and bars, sold over 250,000 units of product and is preparing to launch a new cola made with Irish malt.
“We have started exporting to the UK and Australia and are aiming to create a great Irish brand,” said company director and co-founder Brendan Colbert.
It was during a walk on Curracloe beach in the spring of 2016 that Mr Colbert and two of his friends commented on the growth of the premium Irish spirits industry and noted the lack of an Irish premium quality mixer brand.
A management consultant who had come back from abroad to try his hand at farming, Mr Colbert thought there was an opportunity to create a uniquely Irish product with natural ingredients. His friends, Vaughan Yates and Oisin Davis, both consultants for the drinks industry, concurred.
“We put a recipe together for tonic with rosemary and we got a small number of bottles, around 150, made up by Donohoe Drinks in Wexford and took them to bars around Dublin.”
The reaction from publicans was so good that they ordered a further 30,000 bottles, using their own funding and a bank overdraft.
Mr Colbert said that between the three partners they had the skill sets to create the brand and market it.
“Vaughan is a designer and came up with the label design and Oisin had the contacts to get the word out.”
Social media played a huge role in generating publicity, Mr Colbert said.
“Ten years ago a company would have needed a sales team to get attention for a new product, but we used social media to target people who were interested in gin.”
In the early stages of the company Mr Colbert was the only one working full time on the venture. Selling through a distributor in mid-2016 the company started by targeting high-end hotels and bars mainly in the Dublin area, with 200 ml bottles which retail at €1.50.
Mr Colbert said the timing of the launch turned out to be opportune because the gin market grew significantly in 2017. As the only Irish tonic Poacher’s attracted a lot of media attention at a time when the growing number of gin drinkers were looking for new tonics as well as new gins, he added.
At the end of 2016 the company launched Poacher’s tonic with rosemary, Poacher’s ginger ale with apple, and early last year added a third tonic which contains foraged elderflower.
During 2017 the company took on a distributor for the North and one for the UK, where customers include some specialist online tonic providers.
While UK premium tonic brand Fever Tree has taken a large share of the market, Mr Colbert sees opportunities for Poacher’s to develop sales offering a uniquely Irish alternative. At the end of December the company shipped its first order to Australia.
Supported by Bord Bia, which assisted with trade shows and provided a marketing grant, Poacher’s secured €25,000 in Local Innovation Investment funding from its Local Enterprise Office.
This has helped it to take on a process manager and to recruit a sales person who will bring the staff number to five. Mr Colbert said that Vaughan Yates has now become brand director while Oisin Davis has become Poacher’s global ambassador.
Immediate plans for the company include a visit to the world’s largest wine and spirits event in Los Angeles in April and Poacher’s will also be presenting a cocktail event in New Orleans during the summer.
“Our aim this year is to double sales in Ireland and also to double exports to 24%. We are targeting the UK, mainland Europe and the Australian market
and would like to get a foothold in the US.”