Hardy Distribution and Boost Drinks enjoy two decades of successful partnership
Boost Energy Drinks are Northern Ireland’s number one selling soft drink in the convenience channel, thanks in no small part to the commitment of Hardy Distribution. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Boost Drinks in NI and NR spoke to Gareth Hardy from Hardy Distribution and Simon Gray, CEO of Boost Drinks, to discover what has made the relationship such a success.
There was some serendipity at play in 2003 when both Gareth Hardy and Simon Gray were seeking out key clients for their respective businesses.
Boost was established in 2001 in Great Britain and was ready to make the move into Northern Ireland, while Gareth Hardy, then based at Hardy Bros Wholesale, was searching for a significant customer to work with in the distribution arm of the company.
Having travelled to trade shows across the UK in the early 2000s handing out their business cards, their persistence paid off when they received a call from Simon Gray, CEO of Boost.
“Our family had been in wholesale for almost 50 years and I joined the company in 1995,” said Gareth.
“We dabbled in distribution and shared the distribution of a product which gave us an appetite to land a product of our own for the region. One day we got a call from Simon, who had been given our number from a mutual friend. He rang and we agreed to receive some samples of his product, back then it was the 500ml Original Energy in the silver bottle.
“People have often asked us how it worked so well and I would have to say there was definitely a bit of luck involved, but the timing was right too.
“When we look back now, it was such an informal way of doing business, but that was how business was done. He gave us some stock and told us not to pay him until it was all sold.”
MARKETPLACE AND TIMING
Simon Gray agreed that the timing of the arrangement was ideal, but stressed that Gareth and the business were key in taking things forward.
“To be fair, most of the credit has to go to Gareth and his dad, Sean – they have the connections, we had what we believed was a compelling product and you have to marry the two together,” said Simon.
“I think it was a combination of timing, in terms of where Hardy’s were as a business, where the energy market was, and what we were trying to achieve as a brand that made it a sweet spot.”
With a less congested marketplace which was ready for a proposition that didn’t compromise on taste and quality, there was a gap there for a product with the right pricing. “We sat down one evening to sample the product and we all loved it,” explained Gareth.
“My dad was pretty adamant that it was going to be a success here. If it had not been for him, we probably would not have been distributing it. He was very confident that we could make it work in Northern Ireland.
“We felt confident we could cover the market and region very quickly.
“Credit has to be given to Simon, as he recognised that what works in London, Leeds and Manchester does not necessarily work in Northern Ireland,” added Gareth.
NORTHERN IRELAND MARKET
Very early on in the partnership, Simon realised the Northern Ireland market needed a different approach to that in GB, and was keen to take on board Gareth and Sean’s knowledge of the market here.
“The Northern Irish energy market is what we would call two-tier,” said Simon.
“You have got the more premium brands and then ourselves and we are a market leader from a scale perspective.
“We were quite a trade-built brand, so we were approaching the wholesalers with what we believed in as an idea and they helped force it down the chain. So, the wholesalers and retailers were almost backing the product and expecting the consumer to buy it.
“We quite quickly started to get data on the consumer. Most brands usually get the data and then build the plan, but we were building the plan and then retrofitting the data. I think the Mintel data from the early 2000s was telling us that Northern Ireland consumers were the second largest consumers per household in the whole of Europe.
“We see it even now in the market data that we get, the rate of sale in a store in Northern Ireland is more than quadruple compared to GB*. When you’ve got this focus from the wholesaler, this quality of execution from the retailer, and this high level of consumption from the consumer – that is what has delivered for us.”
Having got their initial stock from Boost in October 2003, Gareth and Sean set about travelling across the province in a Caddy van and covered every shop they knew.
“We had a lot of contacts so we were pretty confident we would get the support. We knew within a few weeks that we were onto something special,” said Gareth.
“The initial sale is very easy, the key is getting repeat orders and that is when you know if it’s going to be successful or not. We took a strategy that we would not give them all of what they wanted, so if they ordered 10 cases we would give them six and so on. So, when we came back round the appetite, demand and excitement was being carried through.
“It kept growing and our orders kept getting bigger going over to Simon. That was a big call back then to commit to that order from him. Then we approached all the wholesalers within Northern Ireland and they gave us great support and have done ever since. The wholesale business definitely helped the brand throughout Northern Ireland.
“We did that for a good 10 years. People talk about a sales strategy, but there was no such thing in those days, it was just going out and selling as much as we could and that is what we did.”
By 2013 it was evident this was a business that warranted its own team focusing on it and so, in January 2014 they separated the business, with Gareth exiting Hardy Brothers Wholesale, and establishing Hardy Distribution.
“It was a really tough, bold decision to make but it was the right thing to do to keep developing the brand in Northern Ireland,” said Gareth.
“It was a team of four people and since then we have outgrown three warehouses and have a team of 10. We work with local people including PR companies and the support there too brings it up to 20 people in all.”
By 2015 the strength of the relationship between Hardy’s and Boost was such that a new flavour was created solely for the Northern Ireland market, with Red Berry now the number one selling soft drink in convenience here.
“That goes back to Simon’s understanding of the brand here. In 2015 they were launching a new flavour nationwide, but we did not think it would work as well in Northern Ireland and their team challenged us to find what would work,” said Gareth.
‘We see it even now in the market data that we get, the rate of sale in a store in Northern Ireland is more than quadruple compared to GB’
“We looked at some data and some feedback from our wholesale customers and retailers and came up with Red Berry. It launched in Northern Ireland in 2015 and within four years it was the number one selling product within Northern Ireland convenience.
“That again goes back to Simon’s approach to treating Northern Ireland separately, putting time and investment into it and putting his trust in us. After a few years it was launched nationwide.
“It is a great collaborative relationship that we have with them,” he added.
“This is what we’re always encouraging, that while we think we know what is right for the brand and we see what’s going on in GB, we realised years ago that when we launched things like Cherry flavour, it doesn’t sell in NI,” added Simon.
“So, we knew that there were different taste profiles, and there were one or two propositions that were coming forward in a number of areas in wider soft drinks that made Gareth say, you know we could really be onto something if we launch something bespoke.
“Again, because of the scale of what we’re doing in NI our manufacturers could accommodate it and we ran Red Berry as a Northern Ireland exclusive before testing it in the rest of GB, so credit must go to Gareth for that one.”
Now, to mark the collaboration and the 20th anniversary of Boost in Northern Ireland, the ‘Always in Your Corner’ campaign has been launched, celebrating how Boost has been in everyone’s corner for the last two decades.
As part of the campaign, Boost asked people to nominate a local hero and a local shop. Simon said: “Over the years, we have worked with numerous charities, like the Air Ambulance and Foodstock, to support the incredible work they do for people here. We have supported up and coming sporting talent, championed community projects and showed up for students and NHS workers to let them know that we are in their corner.
“So, in our 20th year, we asked people to vote across two categories – the local hero award and the local shop award.
“Local stores are so much more than a place to go and pick up your groceries, they are a resource, somewhere you can chat to neighbours, a place the public can always rely on.
“All the winners will be invited to celebrate at our birthday party on 2nd November at the Titanic Hotel.”
NORTHERN IRELAND CELEBRATIONS
Simon said it was important to celebrate the anniversary in Northern Ireland.
“It was important for everyone who works at Boost to be at this very special event in order to honour the incredible journey we have had over the last two decades. Over 30 Boost team members, trade and wholesale customers, local and shop heroes, plus Gareth’s team, will be at the event, everyone who has been part of our journey over the last 20 years,” said Simon.
“I think we’re all guilty at times of not taking stock of where you’re at and not enjoying some of the success together. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of the wholesalers and retailers over the years, so getting them all together in one place will be very special.”
Simon added that the whole Boost team will get to see and hear first-hand what is so special about Northern Ireland.
“We speak to our colleagues about the successes we have enjoyed in Northern Ireland but to see it first-hand is important. Everyone will get to see Boost product in the fridges when they walk into stores and see its presence on the shelf. When they realise that we are competing with a lot of other brands in our category then our success and their hard work will be even more impressive.
“We’re a small team but we do a pretty big job, there are only 35 of us in the company. We’ll see a turnover this year of about £80m, so it’s a pretty big number with quite a small number of people.”
To find out more about what Boost is doing Northern Ireland follow them on Instagram (Boost Drinks (@boost_drinks) | Instagram), Facebook (facebook.com/ BoostDrinksNI) or visit www.boostdrinks.com.
TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH GARETH AND SIMON IN THE JULY ISSUE OF NEIGHBOURHOOD RETAILER, CLICK HERE
*IRI NI Convenience unit sales to June 2023