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Thursday 21 October 2021

Reefton Distilling Co appoints top talent to plot global growth

20th July 2021 By Bridget O'Connell | | @foodtickernz

West Coast spirits powerhouse Reefton Distilling Co is executing on its ambition to go global with the appointment of two senior executives to lead a drive into export markets.

Reefton-born Patsy Bass had no experience distilling spirits, and hardly drank them, before co-founding the Reefton Distilling Co.

The company, led by co-founder Patsy Bass, has recruited former Lion, Pernod Ricard, and Sacred Hill sales specialist Gareth McGrail to the newly created position of general manager of sales.

He is joined by York Spencer who has returned to New Zealand from a role as global marketing director for Singha Corporation to become the first general manager of brand for the young distillery, which marks only its third birthday at the end of September.

Bass told the Ticker that McGrail and Spencer were tasked with pulling together a roadmap for the company, which makes gin, vodka, whisky and liqueurs, to make inroads into both the Australian and United Kingdom markets.

McGrail and Bass

“They are looking at market entry strategies and how we executive in the most effective manner,” Bass said. “We have to pick how to best do that with the resources we’ve got.”

She said of the company, which now employed 22 people, started to gain traction after closing a $1.35m seed round in March 2018, which attracted private and wholesale investors from New Zealand, Australia, and, most importantly for Bass and her husband Shane Thrower, the West Coast.

The company has just made its first move across the ditch. Working with New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, on 1 July it launched its flagship Little Biddy Gin into Australia starting with online sales and home delivery from its distribution centre there.

Bass said the business planned to have the full range of its Reefton Distilling Co products available over there by spring this year and is currently interviewing potential distributors and partners before deciding the best way forward.

It is a similar situation with the UK. The company’s first shipment is en route having negotiated a deal for three products with online retailer The Whisky Exchange, and it has feelers out with in-market partners to devise next steps.

Despite enquiries from other potentially lucrative markets such as the US, Bass said she was focused on the two commonwealth nations initially.

York Spencer

“We’re picking our markets, we are not going out with a scattergun approach – it is eyes wide open to the [costs and risks related to this expansion].”

The capacity to move into international markets has been made possible by the development of a new facility on a 1 hectare site in Reefton, which is nearing completion and will be one of the biggest distilleries in the country, according to Bass.

The development was funded from a second capital raise in March 2020 bringing in $3.3m and a $928,000 Provincial Growth Fund loan. The site will provide space for increased production, including a brewhouse, increased storage and a bottling room and will see the distillery start making its Moonlight Creek Whisky.

Reefton-born Bass said lots of distillers would start doing white spirits for cashflow while waiting for their whisky to mature, however, “what we’ve found is that we have got a sustainable business from our white spirits”.

The company has no intention of giving up the hard-earned position it has won in the domestic market for its now circa 400 shareholders as more gin makers pop up on a seemingly weekly basis.

“It is more competitive,” Bass said. “You have always got to hold your shelf space, we invested to get in early.”



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