26yo barista’s ‘crazy’ $1.5m Woolies deal
A trip overseas to meet his girlfriend's family ended with the discovery of "liquid gold" for young Melbourne barista Tim O'Sullivan.
In early 2018, the cafe co-owner jetted off to South Korea with partner Sumin Do, now 25, and was introduced to a local tradition that would soon become a lucrative business idea.
"We would go out with Sumin's friends and family every night and they kept giving me little cans of Korean pear juice - I drank it because it was sweet but I didn't understand what it was," the 26-year-old told news.com.au.
"But it was common knowledge that it helped hangovers and it was awesome - I'd wake up feeling fresh, even though I didn't put two and two together at first and I thought it was too good to be true."
Mr O'Sullivan was instantly hooked, and was even more convinced he was onto a winner after some initial research revealed the CSIRO had also noted the fruit's success when it came to hangover prevention.
In fact, Professor Manny Noakes from the CSIRO told news.com.au back in 2015 that there was some "validity to the claim that consuming 220mL of pear juice prior to alcohol consumption could reduce blood alcohol levels by 20 per cent and reduced the symptoms of a hangover".
An enthusiastic Mr O'Sullivan brought samples home with him and conducted market research on friends, family and customers at the cafe, and the feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that he and Ms Do were back in South Korea just two months later.
The pair had no formal plan, but by the time they landed back in Melbourne they had secured a supplier and manufacturer, and nine months later the fledgling Bae Juice - named for the Korean word for pear - business was born.
"When the first shipment was flown over it was an insane moment … it was the greatest day ever because there had been so much blood, sweat, tears, adrenaline and stress," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"Holding that first sachet of a brand we had created was crazy after taking such a risk - it was the most rewarding day of our lives."
But the founders had no marketing experience, given Mr O'Sullivan was a barista by trade, Ms Do a hairdresser and Mr O'Sullivan's best friend Mr Gostencnik, who also joined the team, was a real estate agent.
Initially it was a haphazard approach, and with just 200 Instagram followers, the trio decided to kick things off by giving away 3000 free samples, which they would then deliver personally.
"We realised we needed a marketing strategy so we started working with a graphic designer and had an e-commerce site up, we sponsored events over the summer and finally found our feet by January 2020," Mr O'Sullivan said.
Initially, Bae Juice was stocked in independent grocers and bottle shops before being picked up by selected Dan Murphys stores in Victoria and NSW.
But the brand has just secured a "gamechanger" of a deal with Woolworths which will see products stocked in 900 stores across the nation in October after enlisting the help of an "amazing" digital agency.
Mr O'Sullivan said the brand new deal meant Bae Juice was on track to become a "$1.5 million-plus brand in Woolies".
"It has been a hectic rollercoaster every minute of the last two years but reflecting on the journey, it has been awesome," he said.
"This deal changes everything. To have our products which nobody had ever heard of 18 months ago in almost 1000 stores is something we're really proud of.
"I feel exceptionally lucky but at the same time it's a reward for taking a risk because we believed in the goal of educating the country about it."
Mr O'Sullivan said his story proved you didn't need a "fancy degree" to succeed.
"It's quite ironic - when we started the business we thought we'd have to pretend to be absolute gurus for people to take us seriously, but we've been surprised that actually the more raw and authentic we are, the more open others are," he said.
"I was actually expelled from high school in Year 10 so I really want to encourage people to see they don't need a crazy uni experience - you just have to tackle things with confidence."
Woolworths assistant category manager for juice, Annie Lombardi, said the brand would be a great addition to Australian stores.
"We're excited to help this Aussie start-up grow as we introduce Bae Juice across our supermarkets nationwide from October this year," Ms Lombardi said.
"Bae Juice has already earned a great reputation for its natural health benefits, and we've heard it's also popular among those with a reputation for having a little too much fun."
The trio hope to expand their products into other Australian retailers in future.