Sweet times for Bickford’s

Chris Illman, Bickfords Group Marketing Manager
Chris Illman, Bickfords group marketing manager at their Salisbury South factory. Photo: Calum Robertson.

The Advertiser 13 September 2017

What started as a cordial company has evolved into a multifaceted business, writes VALERINA CHANGARATHIL

BI C K F O R D ’ S Australia says game-changing t e c h n o l o g y worth more than $10 million — that it claims doesn’t existing anywhere in Asia Pacific — will be installed at its Salisbury facility in 2019.

The “ultra-clean” beverage production line, supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Federal Government’s Next Generation Manufacturing Investment Program, will allow the company to produce, bottle and cap sterile drinks that are free from preservatives.

“This investment feeds into our ambition to be Australia’s largest independently-owned beverages company,” said Bickford’s Group marketing manager, Chris Illman.

Bickford’s Australia sits within the umbrella Angelo Kotses’ family-owned Bickford’s Group, alongside VOK, its alcoholic beverages arm.

Besides a strong portfolio of non-alcoholic and alcoholic brands, the group also owns the manufacturing facility at Salisbury, the 23rd Street Distillery in Renmark, the Beresford Estate vineyard, luxury function centre and Tasting Pavilion, a Pomegranates Australia farm in the Northern Mallee and the Beenleigh Distillery in Queensland.

It exports to 34 countries and employs about 230 people Australia-wide.

“Innovation is part of our DNA and that has helped us to grow consistently over a long time,” Mr Illman said. “We have brought in diversification, but stay true to our heritage of producing beverages.”

Like many South Australian companies, Bickford’s had humble beginnings.

Soon after arriving in Adelaide in February 1839, chemist William Bickford established an apothecary on Hindley St.

Bickfords Company building in Hindley Street
Bickfords Company building in Hindley Street

Ann-Margret and her eldest two sons took over the business when he died in 1850, creating A.M. Bickford and Sons, establishing the South Australian Cordial Factory in 1872 on Waymouth St where they produced cordials and soft drinks in 1874. One of their very first cordials was the Bickford’s Lime Juice Cordial. The group made the move into its current Salisbury home in 2005.

“As a business, we have found assets that are unloved, refreshed their brand value and put it back into the market,” Mr Illman said.

“We have found it and simply put an innovation team on to go after it.

“Similarly, we have kept our eye on national and international markets for new trends.”

This approach has helped Bickford’s to make inroads into the rapidly-growing craft beer and gin markets.

“Gin particularly is a highly motivating category,” he said.

“This is about bringing more oxygen to what’s going on. It’s not about stealing market share but growing the pie.”

In June this year, Bickford’s said it was buying an old police station and cells on Kangaroo Island to transform them into a craft distillery and microbrewery. Plans also include a visitor and function centre.

“Quite simply, we are about clean, green and local, where possible, which prompted the pomegranates farming operation,” Mr Illman said.

Bickford’s Group is continuing to expand in response to growing global demand for Australian clean, green premium produce, he said.

Mr Illman said the group was a legacy business which took pride in all its offerings.

Bickfords company in Hindley Street
Bickfords company in Hindley Street

“At Beresford, we were the first to introduce paid cellar door tastings to build a strong clientele for what we consider high-value, high-quality wines,” he said.

Bickford’s also wants to build a strong local identity, presenting the Distillery Days Music Festival, headlined by Kate Ceberano, at its Renmark winery, 23rd Street, on the October long weekend.

The distillery was a $6.6 million investment in the Renmark region, which Bickford’s completed late last year, rejuvenating the century-old Renmano site.

“We have a strong community here and enjoy a lot of support in the regions that we operate,” Mr Illman said. “The event helps us celebrate that in a collaborative way.”

The group made a similar effort in 2015 when it opened Beresford Estate as a premium event and accommodation venue in McLaren Flat following a “multi-million” investment.

“We have a strong brand and this is about keeping that momentum going,” said Mr Illman, who was interstate promoting the group’s latest craft beer brand, Hobo Brewing in time to capture summer sales.

Summary

EMPLOYEES: 230 staff across Australia. FAMOUS FOR: Cordials, juices, syrups, waters and carbonated beverages. ORIGINS: In February 1839, William Bickford established an Apothecary on Hindley Street. When William died unexpectedly in 1850, Ann-Margaret and her eldest two sons took over the business, creating A.M. Bickford and Sons. The family established the South Australian Cordial Factory in 1872 and started producing cordials and soft drinks in 1874. One of their very first cordials is the now iconic and South Australia heritage icon-listed Bickford’s Lime Juice Cordial. EXPORTS: 37 countries. MARKETING MANAGER’S FAVOURITE: Chris’s pick is the Blackcurrant Fruit Juice Syrup. DID YOU KNOW?: Bickford’s Lime Juice Cordial started life in William’s apothecary as a cure for scurvy.

The Clipper Ship Adelaide, which is now being preserved in Port Adelaide, once brought ingredients all the way from London to Adelaide to help craft some Bickford’s products.

Bickford’s cordial has been the official ‘welcome drink’ on all long-haul Qantas International economy cabin services for the past three years.

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