Aussie thirst grows for kiwi Karma Cola brand

First published in New Zealand Herald 10 February 2015

I only found out about Karma Cola’s existence a few weeks ago when a colleague in New Zealand asked me to send around the job spec for Australian National Sales Manager.

Drawn in by the allure of uber cool packaging, I searched the back-story online and quickly discovered another example of New Zealand’s savvy for devising fully-formed brands and stories.

Without even tasting the drink, I can see why an Aussie manager is being recruited. Pardon the pun, but Karma Cola (and its irreverent pals Lemmy Lemonade and Gingerella) totally taps into Australia’s thirst for offbeat – and ethical – food and drink experiences.

Co-founder Chris Morrison says Aussie consumers have been very welcoming because we share a strong coffee culture and many Kiwis in Australian hospitality have paved the way for a quick and relatively simple expansion.In fact, he thinks New Zealand and Australia are very similar markets and it’s a misconception that New Zealand businesses are somehow disadvantaged here.

(To add my two cents, I think Morrison’s drinks are doing well in Australia because:
a) they created a brand that appeals to a very clear customer,
b) positioned it perfectly to reach that buyer, and
c) execute the strategy tightly on brand.)

You won’t find Karma Cola and other All Good drinks in Australian supermarkets, but you will find them in independent coffee roasters and cafes that benefit directly from a good story behind the products they stock.

“Wherever there’s good coffee, there’s an opportunity to put our drinks,” says Morrison. “Our model has been not to go into supermarkets. We’re trying to give something unique that our customers are proud to have in their cafes. We can’t go into a high-end outlet and then have the same product just down the road in IGA or a petrol station considerably cheaper. We’re not about volumes and low margins. We’re about telling a deep story and encouraging people that it’s fine to pay a bit more.”

And guess what, people are prepared to pay more for brands with good stories. Karma Cola sells in Hong Kong, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and now manufactures in the UK.

“We grew in Australia by 100 per cent last year and want to grow by another 100 per cent this year. So, those 700 to 800 accounts we have now, we want to double this year. We want someone senior to drive the Australian team and employ another 4 to 5 people in the next 12 months.”

While the head office remains in New Zealand, the founders (brothers Chris & Matt Morrison and ex 42Below marketing director Simon Coley) have all spent considerable time in Australia.

“It’s really important to have face to face with the customer and that means having people on the ground in Australia,” he says. “The cafes and gourmet places we’re in would all rather deal with a person who really understands the brand and deals directly with issues, rather than a distributor turning up with a box. It’s a little more expensive in the beginning, but it’s worth it.”

The founders have more than 20 years drinks experience between them. (Morrison is the man behind Phoenix Organics, a drink brand that continues to have success in Australia.)

“Australia is like New Zealand,” says Morrison. “It’s full of good companies and good entrepreneurs, so unless you’re real there and really in the market you won’t last.”

A New Zealand company, All Good has set sights on a global market and is not pushing the brand as Kiwi. The messaging is deliberately international as ingredients are sourced worldwide and the company wants to manufacture in-market wherever possible.

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