Brewing ambitious plans for growth
Zingibeer, winner of the inaugural Love Irish Food Blas na hÉireann Bursary 2022, was selected for the Foodworks Programme 2023 earlier this year. Zingibeer co-owner Rachel Byrne talks to Maev Martin about doubling sales, nationwide samplings, and a starring role with SuperValu
Last year, Ireland’s first and only ginger beer, Zingibeer was awarded a €4,000 Love Irish Food bursary at the Blas na hÉireann food awards. On 31 January, Zingibeer, was selected for this year’s Foodworks Programme, which the company believes will help it achieve plans to double sales in 2023. Launched in 2022, Zingibeer is currently on sale in 300 retailers and on tap in 80 pubs nationwide. Growth so far has exceeded all expectations. Last year, the company made 70,000 litres of Zingibeer and it plans to make up to 1,500 hectolitres in 2023.
Zingibeer is one of only nine start-up Irish food and drinks companies to have been accepted on the 2023 Foodworks Programme, which provides advisory supports worth up to €100,000 to each business selected, as well as access to an additional €35,000 in grants. Through this accelerator programme, Zingibeer will have access to the best in market consumer intelligence, product development, and business advice from Bord Bia, Teagasc and Enterprise Ireland over the next 10 months.
“It is a great win for Zingibeer to make it onto this programme,” says Rachel “Formalising your strategy is a big focus of the programme, so it will be good to have that formalised plan and strategy for how we will achieve our goals in 2023. Bord Bia will be a great help to us with our consumer research, Enterprise Ireland will assist with the business side of things, and Teagasc will be helping us with quality and how the product is produced, and ensuring that if there is any NPD that we will have guidance on the technical side of things, so Foodworks offers a full suite of business supports. I am hoping that, by the end of the programme in November, we will be export ready and operating in a smarter and more strategic manner.”
A pandemic project
Based in Smithfield, Dublin, Zingibeer was created during the pandemic by father and daughter team, Rachel and Kevin Byrne. Rachel was working in business banking at the time and Kevin, who has a long-time passion for brewing, wanted to brew an alcoholic ginger beer.
The initial reaction from the trade was so positive that it quickly gained distribution with the help of distributors, Grand Cru Beers, and the company’s involvement in the SuperValu Academy. With business sales significantly ahead of target in year one, Rachel had the confidence to make a full-time career move from banking to brewing, taking the lead business role in the company.
“My dad was working in the on-trade for Telfer Ltd (owners of Hogan’s Bar and No Name Bar) and he noticed the increasing popularity of ginger beer,” says Rachel. “The two main brands at the time were UK imports, so he saw that gap in the market and we decided to make an Irish ginger beer ourselves and tweak it to improve quality and flavour. Dad is behind the recipe and the process and my involvement is around the branding.
“My father’s background is in meat and pork manufacturing. Byrne’s Sausages was the family butcher business and dad had a pork factory on Fade Street in Dublin, where he produced sausages for 25 years. He moved into brewing over a decade ago. Dad was a home brewer before it was cool and commonplace, and he then decided to make beer for sale in the on-trade, so we had a draught beer business for a while. However, that disappeared overnight with the pandemic in 2020, so it was a ‘what’s next moment’ and he shifted the focus away from the draught beer to the off-trade and ginger beer.”
Was it difficult to finance your start-up back in 2020? “Any small start-up business finds financing the start up the trickiest part,” she says. “We used what resources we had and it has been about monitoring our cashflow as closely as possible. We were supported by a business loan from Bank of Ireland and we spent whatever resources we had in a smart way. We aren’t a huge brand, so we couldn’t do a big marketing blitz. It has been about doing what we can online and via social media, as well as via word of mouth. Our Dublin City Local Enterprise Office gave us some grant funding as well, and they were a big help to us in terms of knowledge and financial support in the first two years of trading. To date, it has been our own resources, the LEO grant and Bank of Ireland.”
What’s the USP?
Zingibeer’s main ingredient is fermented ginger root. “Zingibeer is an exciting new alternative for drinkers looking for clean ingredients and a low ABV (4%),” says Rachel. “While too much alcohol is never good for you, this drink is as natural as it can be. The fact that it is made in Ireland is also very positive for consumers. Zingibeer is classified as a beer because of the fermentation of gluten-free malt, but from a taste perspective I wouldn’t describe it as that. I know there are many traditional beers flavoured with ginger but, because we don’t have a hoppy taste, I think it is more accurate to describe it as a beer that non-beer drinkers enjoy.
“We are the first and only Irish-made ginger beer and what we have seen in consumer trends over the past two years is the development of the support local movement. People are now more aware of their food miles and want to source and buy locally. The Irishness is unique, as is our flavour profile compared to other ginger beers – my dad’s special blend of botanicals and the use of lemon zest to give it a refreshing quality are unique to our ginger beers. You don’t get these features from our main UK-based competitor brands.”
Based on their consumer research to date, Rachel says that Zingibeer is appealing largely to the 18 to 35 age group. In other words, Gen Zs and younger millennials, and it is an even split between men and women. “We seem to be appealing to that age cohort that represent a shift in drinking habits,” she says. “The focus is on quality over quantity for today’s consumer, who is more experiential, and we meet the needs of the drinker that is seeking a clean label alternative without branding ourselves as a healthy drink. However, where alcohol is concerned, it was important to us to use natural ingredients – there are no sulphites or any other additives or flavourings in the drink and it is vegan and gluten-free.”
Zingibeer is currently on sale in 300 retailers around the country. “Our sole distributor is Grand Cru Beers and they have really got behind the brand and the product,” says Rachel. “They have been key to getting that level of distribution in such a short space of time. We are currently in SuperValu and Tesco and our aim is to have our product listed in all multiples.
“We also plan to build on the number of SuperValu and Tesco stores that we have in 2023. In terms of our bottle sales, it is 40% in the on-trade and 60% in the off-trade. We have made a lot of progress in independent off-licences since we started, so the focus for 2023 is to increase the number of supermarkets and convenience store off-licences that we supply to.”
Sales of Zingibeer were ahead of target in year one. “We were delighted with our sales in 2022 and the plan is to double our sales on last year for 2023,” she says. “Key to that growth will be the number of stores we have in multiples and across all our channels, including the number of taps in the on-trade and growing our listings in independent off-licences.”
People buy it if they try it
Tastings are also key to delivering that growth. “People buy it if they try it,” says Rachel. “Tastings are time consuming and require a lot of resources, but I feel they are worthwhile because you are getting live feedback – you see consumers’ facial expressions and whether they go to the fridge or not and, thankfully, they tend to purchase once they taste! The flavour profile appeals to a lot of people, so in order to double our sales, we want to invest in as many tasting and sampling opportunities as we can.
“For example, we had a presence at the Me Auld Flower festival in Smithfield’s old fruit and veg market during the St Patrick’s Day Festival where many Irish food and beverage producers and Irish chefs were doing demonstrations. We had our bar set up there along with other Irish craft beers. It was a great opportunity to get the beer into people’s hands and allow them to sample it.”
Also in March, Zingibeer ran a number of tastings in SuperValu stores as part of its Taste of Local Guest Star slots, and there are further slots lined up for April and May. Taste of Local tasting dates include Smith’s SuperValu Navan on 8 April and SuperValu Mount Merrion in Dublin on 28 April.
“We completed the SuperValu Food Academy programme in 2021 and we were available in 10 SuperValu stores as a result,” she says. “We are now in 25 stores and, via our Taste of Local Guest Star slot, which we share with four other brands, we will be available in 150 new stores around the country for March alone, so it is a nice nationwide spread.
“It is a great opportunity to convert stores that are taking the product on promotion because, if the promotion goes well, the next part of the process will be to convert those to new accounts. It is also a very good visibility exercise because the promotion is being supported by the Food Academy team – we are supported by their PR and social media campaign, so we are getting the shelf presence and the added support of their marketing drive. We were selected for the Taste of Local Guest Star slot because we had a very good rate of sale in our existing SuperValu stores, as had the other four brands that were selected.”
Is Zingibeer planning any NPD this year? “The focus for 2023 is on building our distribution and focusing on our product,” says Rachel. “While the flavour of ginger beer does lend itself to other flavours, we don’t want to dilute what we have at the moment. We may look at developing an alcohol-free Zingibeer next year, but the focus this year is building on what we have.”