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How Social Media Made This Local Seltzer Brand a Viral Success

A former pro surfer turned Grammy-nominated DJ, a sales executive, a famous chef and a former Nine cameraman are part of a motley crew of entrepreneurs who have leveraged social media to create one of the country’s most popular independent seltzer brands, Hard Fizz.

The initial discussions for the brand began between Bacardi business manager Wade Tiller, Australian DJ Paul Fisher, former Nine cameraman and The Mad Hueys co-founder Joel Scott, and US-based Libre Design executive creative director Justin Heit in late 2019, with the unlikely business partners united in a desire to enter into the emerging trend toward healthier, low sugar, alcoholic beverage choices.

Hard Fizz co-founders Wade Tiller and Joel Scott at their brewery in Queensland.

The foursome knew they wanted to have a seltzer ready to launch by the summer of 2020, but they needed co-founders, brand ambassadors and investors with sufficient social media reach, and clout, for the brand to be able to reach a wide audience of Australians.

“My team was getting hit up from a bunch of alcohol companies in the States to invest or start my own company there, but it just didn’t feel right for me. I wanted to start something with my friends in my hometown back in Australia,” Mr Fisher told The Australian Financial Review from Spain.

“I had seen how big the seltzer game was getting in the States, but there wasn’t anything like that in Australia and I just saw the opportunity, and it really felt like the right time to start something special there. We started the concept right before my wedding in February 2020 and were liquid in October 2020.”

The entrepreneurs recruited DJs Tigerlily and Brooke Evers, professional surfer Laura Enever, Fae Swim founders Adam and Bianca Bennetts and TV chef Hayden Quinn to their team and set about creating the Hard Fizz product.

Social media

The founding group of 10 have a reach of three million people across their various Instagram accounts.

“We set out to have the most social media followers of any hard seltzer in Australia. It wasn’t a strong point for the big competitors we were against, and we identified social media as our billboard, our version of outdoor advertising,” Mr Tiller said.

“Fish had been sharing with us about how he had been building his own brand and network through Instagram... and we had this underlying power through him.”

Fast-forward two years and the social media savvy founders have their seltzers stocked in 3000 outlets across the country, including Dan Murphy’s and BWS. They have launched a brewery in Mr Tiller’s home city of the Gold Coast and their brand has about a 5.2 per cent share of seltzers, behind the majors such as White Claw, Smirnoff and CUB, and Asahi brands Actual and Good Tides.

From independent retailers, Hard Fizz is the third most popular brand, based on market data from market research firm IRI.

“It obviously takes cash to start a company, but we also saw value in our investors being a close touch point for particular segments of our target market,” Mr Tiller said.

“We haven’t spent a cent on official advertising – and we certainly aren’t using paid influencers – because our investors, who’ve got skin in the game, are walking, talking billboards for the brand.”

Hard Fizz founders Joel Scott, Chloe Chapman, Paul Fisher and Wade Tiller.

The group raised $4 million from 41 investors to support the early growth of the brand, and would consider another capital raise of a similar size this year.

“We’re focused on the domestic market, but we’re starting to look up from the dash now and see where we could go,” Mr Tiller said.

“Global interest is coming our way because of the ambassadors we’ve got as our first investors. The next thing we’d look at is where we could scale and export.”

Booming market

IRI research from 2020 predicted seltzer sales in Australia to hit $300 million by 2025.

The category is still in its infancy in Australia, whereas in the US (where the seltzer revival kicked off in 2015, five years ahead of Australia), Goldman Sachs has tipped the market to reach $US30 billion in sales by 2025.

Mr Tiller witnessed seltzers take off in the US while working for Bacardi and had a feeling it would be the next beverage to make a splash in Australia.

Be it seltzers, or the next big thing, Mr Tiller said the trend toward healthier drink options was here to stay.

“People are more conscious and inquisitive to know what’s going into their bodies,” he said.

”The seltzer market will mature and consolidate ... in the US it’s 30 per cent of the beer category now.“

Source: Financial Review