South Australian beverage group expanding fast

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 11th July 2012

In a special interview given to Australian Food News this week, the Marketing Manager of Vok Beverages Chris Illman shared some of the secrets of the success story of his nimble South Australian group.

With wine labels such as Half Mile Creek, Queen Adelaide and Step Road, beer brand Cobra, a range of rums and gins, and the increasingly popular Three Oaks Cider, as well as liqueurs, ready-to-drink beverages, and non-alcoholic items such as Bickford’s Cordial range, the Vok brand portfolio has flourished since its establishment in 2002.

The company prides itself on “realising the untapped potential of ‘tail’ brands and returning them to growth”.  A good example of returning growth to a brand is Vok’s recent acquisition of Step Road winery. “Our key focus is to invest in the operations, gear up for vintage 2013 and utilize vacant out of vintage capacity with production of a range of our other beverages” Mr Illman said.

Having demerged from Diageo in February 2011, and from Treasury Wine Estates in May 2012, Vok is now going it alone as a solely South Australian-owned and operated distributor. Explaining the demerger, Mr Illman said, “The timing was right. We got to a point as a business where it was more sustainable to focus on our brands alone.”

The most recently acquired brand in the Vok portfolio is Inner Circle Rum, previously owned by Lion. “Inner Circle has been around for a number of years and has great credentials. It widens the Vok rum portfolio, providing a mainstream alternative to our premium spiced rum, Rebellion Bay and our other Australian Dark Rum Beenleigh ,” Mr Illman said.

When asked about the challenges of maintaining a 100% Australian-owned and operated company, Mr Illman said, “Our pockets aren’t as deep as our competitors. But, we make up for that by being nimble. We work around the edges of the market and we work hard.”

Mr Illman believes that the benefits of being Australian-owned outweigh the challenges. “If we have a great idea, we can be proactive. When we martial the troops, we can get things done quickly, because it’s a lean system,” he said.

Being Australian-owned does not mean that Vok Beverages doesn’t have an international profile. Mr Illman said, “Already, a large percentage of our wine is going offshore to Asia, the U.K., and Europe.”

A long-term plan is to break into the U.S. spirits market. “We have huge growth aspirations. With our premium and mainstream portfolios growing, our potential global footprint is huge,” he said.

The key to growth has been the focus on the brands. Strong branding means people will want the products.