Bundaberg Brew CEO talks about making it big stateside from Down Under

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Australian brand Bundaberg Brew aims high for US beverage market

Related tags Alcoholic beverage Coffee Soft drink

An iconic beverage in its homeland Australia, Bundaberg Brew became a little hidden gem when it came stateside. With a new deal with Safeway and Albertsons, the company wants to serve more than just those in the know.

“The challenge in the United States has been that [most Americans] aren’t brought up to know what ginger beer is,” ​John McLean, CEO of Bundaberg Brew​, told FoodNavigator-USA. He said its common for Americans to think Bundaberg Brew is alcoholic.

“It’s called beer because it’s a throwback to Old England,” ​he said. “That cultural aspect is sometimes a challenge.”

So what is it exactly? The carbonated “brew,” as they call it, is made by grinding and drying ginger into a powder, mixing it with sugar and water until the ginger starches are broken down, and special yeast is added to ferment it, but not to the point of turning alcoholic.

“Americans have positive feelings about Australia”

In Australia, Bundaberg Brew is a familiar, old school staple that has been around since the 1960s. According to McLean, the brand’s products make up around 5% of Australia’s domestic soft drink market. The company’s facility in Bundaberg, the beverage’s namesake, is an eye-catching, barrel-shaped building​ that is a popular tourist stop in Queensland.

Bundaberg Brew CEO John McLean.

The beverage has been in the US market for 20 years, but as McLean described, it has mostly been sold in mom & pop shops, where the retro bottle and rustic label design may look more at home.

But the company reported a 130% sales increase year-over-year in the US, and its expansion to big-chain stores like Albertsons and Safeway reflects an overarching trend of American consumers looking for alternatives​ to their familiar, sugary fizzy drinks​.

There’s another factor that is garnering attention for the novel product. “We don’t even have a kangaroo or crocodile Dundee on our bottle or something like that, but there is a positive feeling towards Australia,” ​McLean said, “aside from the fact that we use quality ingredients—that was one of the biggest things that helped us from the get go.”

Brewed is better

McLean argued that what makes the beverage stand out is the fact that ingredients are brewed, as opposed to simply mixing extracts and flavorings into liquid. “We grow ginger and we work with farmers in the local region—the difference between our brand and other brands is time,” ​he said, emphasizing the aging process of the beverage. 

According to McLean, the Ginger Beer variety is the most popular in the US.

As of now, all drinks are brewed in Bundaberg and exported to over 30 counrteis around the world, including New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, and the US. In the US, the product is distributed by Cost Plus World Market, Raley’s, Safeway, Albertsons, BevMo!, Nob Hill, and Ralphs, and it can be found in the foodservice sector at places like The Cheesecake Factory.

McLean said that New Zealand has the largest Bundaberg Brew sales outside of Australia, but he believes the US will surpass it next year, “and we expect our US distribution to double next year—it will make it the largest of our international market.”

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