Cliff Fleming with the 50th anniversary special edition of Bundaberg Ginger Beer
Cliff Fleming with the 50th anniversary special edition of Bundaberg Ginger Beer

Return to roots: Brand's humble new face

THE "new face'' of an iconic Australian beverage is the humble man who first brewed it half a century ago.

Makers of Bundaberg Ginger Beer have gone back to their roots in a refreshingly authentic global campaign to celebrate 50 years of crafting its famous product.

Replacing fictional brewers and actors used in previous promotions is company founder and master brewer Cliff Fleming, who until now has shunned the spotlight.

The 75-year-old features in cinema commercials, which were rolled out this week, as well as on billboards and in digital advertisements.

He tells the inside story of the family-owned Queensland business he started in 1968 with his parents Neville and Gladys and wife Lee.

They built it from a local favourite to a brand now seen in more than 50 countries.

It recently secured distribution deals with AG Barr in the UK and PepsiCo in the United States, the PepsiCo deal providing access to up to 400,000 stores, restaurants and bars.

"A lot of things have changed, but there's one thing we've always kept the same - the time we put into making our brews taste better,'' he says in the commercial.

Mr Fleming said he didn't like being part of the advertising side of the business and found it "a little bit embarrassing''.

Cliff Fleming at the Electra bottling plant in 1997
Cliff Fleming at the Electra bottling plant in 1997

 

However he said the 50-year milestone was very important and he had wanted to deliver a message of thanks to the people who had contributed to the company's success.

"Bundaberg has been tremendously supportive and Queensland itself has played a huge part for us. Our roots are here, our suppliers are here.''

Mr Fleming said the reason Bundaberg Ginger Beer was so successful was "we stayed at it'', continuing to make improvements and do things better.

He said ginger beer could be made more cheaply by way of essence and flavouring, but he had never been interested in the cheapest only "the best''.

"We have stayed with Queensland ginger and fermenting. You get a much better flavour. Over the years, we have learned how important the quality of the ginger is and more about the drying of the ginger … we use a slow method.''

Mr Fleming said 50 years ago there were five soft drink factories in Bundaberg alone and more than 320 around Australia.

 

The original Electra Brewery in Bundaberg in 1973
The original Electra Brewery in Bundaberg in 1973

 

He said most stuck to franchises and smaller markets and were eventually swallowed by multinational giants.

"We stuck to a brewing process and our ginger beer and expanded on our brewing knowledge … we were able to find wider markets.

"This and our people were the reason we succeeded. I didn't do it all. We provided the structure for people, smart people, to develop the business.''

Mr Fleming said it had not always been easy and there had been plenty of sacrifices.

These included his parents selling their home to fund equipment and keep the business moving forward.

"We had both homes for sale and as it turned out mum and dad's house sold first. They rented a flat until we got on our feet.

"It was a desperate time and our choices were either sell out or get on with it. All four of us believed in the business so we got on with it.''

There were some light-bulb moments, like the time in the 1980s when a man contacted Mr Fleming with some advice.

 

Bundaberg naturally brewed non-alcoholic Australian Ginger Beer stubbies
Bundaberg naturally brewed non-alcoholic Australian Ginger Beer stubbies

 

"He said 'I like your product, but I can't get it open when I go out'. People often forget to take a bottle opener with them and this caused a problem.

"We introduced a ring-pull on the bottle and sales went through the roof. That was a big thing for us.''

Mr Fleming still has a place on the board and often visits the brewery, but now enjoys more time travelling with his wife and being part of service organisation Rotary.

He said he was proud that his children, Rae-Lee and Michael, continued to play a role in the business.

Bundaberg Brewed Drinks' marketing chief, Penny Glasson, said the response to Mr Fleming's involvement in the campaign, created by Brisbane agency BCM, had been overwhelming.

Ms Glasson said there had been numerous unsuccessful attempts over the years to get the master brewer involved in the more public side of the business.

She said there was no hard sell, no retail message, just words from his heart.

"Cliffy personifies the brand … he's like Santa Claus but all year round,'' she said.

Making of a Queensland legend

1968: Neville and Gladys Fleming, with son Cliff and daughter-in-law Lee, buy Electra Breweries, a bottling and fermenting business.

1970s: Most of the company's focus revolves around the local market, manufacturing and selling drinks in the Bundaberg and Maryborough regions.

1980s: Production of the now-famous ginger beer expands when the company secures distribution in Australian and New Zealand supermarkets.

1985: Neville and Gladys Fleming retire, handing the reins to Cliff and Lee.

1987: Premium, non-alcoholic drinks begin to be exported.

1995: The company's name changes to Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, developing a distinct local brand.

2000: First television advertising campaign hits the small screen.

2004: The business instigates the planting of its first ginger crop in Bundaberg to ensure constant supply of the best-quality ginger.

2005: The Bundaberg Barrel is built alongside the brewery to show tourists how Australia's No.1 ginger beer is made.

2006: International success flows, with exports growing to more than 30 countries, including the UK and US.

2010: New cafe range launched with flavours including pink grapefruit, blood orange and guava.

2012: Ground-breaking moment as the family-owned business secures its first sales to US giant Costco.

2018: Bundaberg Brewed Drinks celebrates 50 years of making its iconic ginger beer and founder Cliff Fleming becomes the face of the brand in a new advertising campaign.



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