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The Bae Juice journey: From Soju in South Korea to breaking into Australian retail

The prospect of failure didn’t deter Tim O’Sullivan, founder of Bae Juice, from putting up his company.

“When we first started Bae Juice our early method was as simple as try, fail, learn. Being new to the industry it was challenging but I believe this approach helped us grow faster. I believe the foundations that helped us grow as a brand were our packaging which took months to develop as well as our sampling approach,” O’Sullivan told Inside FMCG.

Currently Bae Juice is stocked up in 100 stores in Australia and has a solid footing in online stores such as Dan Murphy’s online platform. O’Sullivan spoke to Inside FMCG about his business journey.

Inside FMCG: How did South Korea, and a love for Soju and beer inspire Bae Juice?

Tim O’Sullivan: It’s amazing to think that a trip to visit my girlfriend Sumin’s family was the catalyst to creating Bae Juice. At the end of 2017 was the first time I visited South Korea to meet all of Sumin’s family and friends. It was an amazing experience and it was special to visit the family and indulge in Korean culture with a Korean family. I felt lucky. 

Sumin had a number of family and friends in Korea and we found ourselves out most nights enjoying the nightlife of Seoul and each other’s company. The constant drinking and new found love with Soju often resulted in some pretty bad hangovers until one night, whilst bar hopping Sumin and her friends started drinking a small unrecognisable can of juice whilst I grabbed a beer. I eventually asked why the group was all drinking this mysterious juice with the replies being “It helps your hangover”. It was as simple as that. They explained that Korean pears help assist with hangovers and has been used for generations and was somewhat ‘common knowledge’.

I was shocked, and excited to put it to the test! The results were amazing. Feeling clearer, less foggy and my initial headache ideally gone. It was a miracle. I studied online research articles and asked a number of contacts in Korea with them all confirming that the Korean pear helped speed up the metabolism of alcohol hence reducing hangovers.

Inside FMCG: Tell us how you built Bae Juice from the ground up.

TOS: In the first two weeks of our product arriving my business partner Liam and I hand delivered over 2500 units. We put it to our social channels that we were willing to deliver sample packs for anyone who reached out to us. And we had hundreds of people [messaging] the page. This helped us get the product in hands and people began sharing pictures of our product and we felt the hype instantly. 

The major momentum swing has been the amount of stores we have secured over the past four months. Liam has been the driving factor for our in store sales and management. Getting the product in over 50 stores and managing our own distribution has helped us learn from store managers and understand where our product works best. This hands on approach has been a driving factor for our growth with original stockists ordering one to two boxes of stock to now ordering over 15, so the growth has been recognisable. 

Online we have taken on most of the PR and marketing ourselves and have featured in media channels such as: The Daily Mail, The Age, The Herald Sun, Woman’s Weekly, Urbanlist and Broadsheet. These channels have pushed people to our website, converted into sales and have helped share our story and journey which we are confident people are fascinated by. 

Inside FMCG: How much does it cost to create this drink? 

TOS: The entire Start Up phase and creation of the product has cost us approximately $100,000 and has been funded by ourselves over time and loaning money from friends and family. Our first year was the classic Start Up journey paying for bits and pieces of setting the business up with weekly wages and that grew into having the financial support and especially the confidence of friends and family who are strong believers of what we are doing.

Most of the finances have gone towards stock and logistics at this stage, however we have some big plans to sponsor events in 2020-2021 and have also put most of our profits into advertising to continue to grow our brand. 

Inside FMCG: Can you tell us a bit about the process of producing the drinks?

TOS: We were fortunate enough to visit the manufacturer whilst our product was being created. I saw first hand the Korean pears being washed then grinded to ensure the skin was still on as they are packed with nutrients. The juice was then extracted and filtered in a large silo.

After the filtering process the juice was distributed into our 120ml sachets, sterilized twice and then packed into boxes. Watching this process for the first time and consuming the first batch was by far one of the best and most rewarding days of my life.

We were privileged to have been taken through the whole process and witness the manufacturing. The directors of the company wanted to build a long term relationship and wanted us to understand and even video the process to help guarantee it’s authenticity and high quality.

Inside FMCG: Is it costly to source ingredients from abroad?

TOS: The Korean pear is one of the most popular products in the entire country, and across South East Asia. This means the product is in abundance and has high volumes of resources. We are lucky to work with the biggest distributor of Korean pear in Korea and lock down exclusivity with them due to our relationships and fast growth we have shown. They recently distributed 166 tonnes of pear across all the McDonald’s restaurants to launch the new Korean pear chiller range.

To import or grow whole Korean pears in Australia would mean we need the facilities and labour to produce the juice which would be a large upfront investment/cost. Our pears are also from one of the most famous regions in South Korea so agriculture would alter the quality. The facility would also need to be able to meet our high order demands like our previous orders of 50,000 units which were turned over incredibly fast.

Inside FMCG: The packaging looks cool. How did you come up with the design?

TOS: This packaging style is common in South Korea and we instantly loved the size and packaging. It helped represent the concept of the product being consumed for it’s multiple health benefits and not sipped on for a refreshment although it is delicious. We originally had colours that represented nature like Green, Yellow and Brown. But we decided that the product being called Bae (Which means ‘pear’ in Korean) and helps reduce hangover symptoms, we needed to be more fun with the brand and connect with our demographic.

The current colors and designs have really helped our shelf presence and online sales as we constantly monitor reviews and comments. The colour palette and quirky tone of voice we feel has helped us gain early momentum introducing a new brand to the market. 

Inside FMCG: Do you have plans to expand to other countries?

TOS: Absolutely. We have had a number of people reach out to us from overseas and some of the large retailers were in discussions [to] have a solid presence in other countries. It’s exciting to continue to build our presence and distribution here in Australia ready to expand and evolve. We have some new products in the making that compliment the pear and will be targeted towards the health sector that will help turn this into a reality. 

Inside FMCG: With the COVID-19 pandemic, has Bae Juice been affected in terms of sales?

TOS: We have been lucky to not be affected by the current circumstances many businesses face. Our target independent retailers are extremely busy and trying to keep up with demand. This has meant managers and store owners are often working and has helped our approach to getting into stores and building relationships with these managers. 

In the past three weeks we have secured 20 stores, all IGA’s as they understand the stock piling of alcohol and benefits our product gives their customers. Our product can be displayed at ambient temperature so having the opportunity to be on the counter in the impulse zone has helped turn our product over and have positive experiences with stores.

Online we have decided to do same day delivery for orders made before 12pm in Melbourne. This has helped the impulse buying process especially closer to weekends. We also have some discounts running, competitions and other engaging content to work with our consumers which is currently paying off. 

Having a resilient brand during these times has helped us grow even more confidence in our brand and [its] value. We are excited for the current crisis to end as we have some major plans featuring at some incredible events and working with some great lifestyle brands.

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