As competition grows in the no-alcohol space, UpFlow Brewing Co. has received a boost in the form of a grant from internet retail giant Amazon.
UpFlow last week announced that it had received one of five Amazon Launchpad Innovation grants, which includes a $20,000 cash injection as well as billboard advertising and Amazon platform advertising credits, which the online retailer says adds up to $200,000.
UpFlow founder Julian Sanders is best known for his role as managing director at Spark Breweries and Distilleries, where he has designed 47 craft breweries. He launched UpFlow in January 2020 at London’s Mindful Drinking Festival after seeing the potential in the no-alcohol category.
Since then, UpFlow has launched a range of sports beers in collaboration with Monash University, which reportedly offer “optimal low energy hydration, replacing lost electrolytes and providing nutrients to support recovery and long-term sustainable high performance”.
Now the business has been recognised for its “entrepreneurial spirit and unique innovation” by Amazon after a competitive selection process, along with four other businesses.
“It was quite fun actually. I applied, and then pitched to Amazon’s management and some of the people on the programme last year who grilled me with a lot of questions, and thankfully we were lucky enough to be successful,” Sanders explained.
“It’s been good to work with our other four businesses, we compare notes even though our industries are different.”
It’s a strategic move by UpFlow, which is aiming for a much wider market than just Australia.
“One in two dollars spent in the States is spent with Amazon,” explained Sanders.
“We wanted to win the grant and do a nice piece of work with Amazon in Australia to make a case to Amazon in the US and Europe that Upflow is well-suited to the Amazon channel.”
UpFlow is listed on the Amazon marketplace, after the platform launched a Wine, Beer and Spirits section in 2020, and it has been listed in Dan Murphy’s for Dry July next month, a testament to the growth in the no-alcohol sector, and the massive growth in online sales for the beverages industries.
“It’s an important category and Australia is a flash point where global trends play out rapidly.
“On Prime day shopping festivals, we got our doors torn off,” Sanders said
Inevitably, competition has heated up in the sector, and many brewers who have launched their own versions have been secretive about their methods and plans for their no-alcohol brands.
UpFlow was launched in early 2020 by Sanders and was one of the first of the new wave in the craft beer space to take up the no-alcohol mantle.
It has been followed by a succession of others, from Modus Operandi Brewing Co.’s Nort joining dedicated no-alcohol brands such as Sobah Beverages, as well as offerings from the major brewers including Great Northern Zero which recently went national and private label Tinnies Ultra Low Alcohol, produced by Coles Liquor, which recently won an AIBA award in its no-alcohol category.
“It validated my intuition [about the category],” said Sanders.
“But that gives other people looking in the rearview mirror the market data and things they can use.
“The fact that other people with bigger market power and budgets that people are able to take advantage of small opportunities for them comes at the cost of diversity and legitimate creativity in brewing, and they cannot have that care factor that a solely zero alcohol brand might have.”
“[On the other hand] it’s great in that what it means is that the people of Australia want it, they wouldn’t do it otherwise.
“What that shows is that people want beer without an option of being drunk, that’s not my idea or a marketing-led commercial thing, if they want or need to wake up at 5am without feeling terrible, they can.”
The key to UpFlow has been to invest time and effort in its production processes first and foremost, which can be difficult in a contract-brewing situation, as UpFlow is currently brewed across three sites in NSW, Victoria and Germany.
“We’re playing a long game and focusing on the fundamentals. It’s basically a Reinheitsgebot beer, we look at our yeast selection and mashing and milling process and fermentation control and each of our beers have a different grain bill with a slightly different process.
“But I’m still only 30 per cent where I want to get each of them. It’s hugely difficult [to maintain consistency] so we [with UpFlow brewer Caleb Hogan] go in person, that’s the only way to do it.”
This focus on quality and consistency has seemingly paid off.
“In an independent blind tasting on the Crafty Pint last year we got first and second place which is statistically significant. It’s good that our hard work has been appreciated and that people that care about beer flavour, we haven’t always been able to assume that, that people know and care.”
Following the major win from Amazon and the release of its AM:PM beer as part of its efforts to encourage people to try a non-alcoholic option at any time of the day, UpFlow will not be resting on its laurels, according to Sanders.
“We are strengthening our team in Australia and growing a new team in the UK, and we’re tripling down on what we’ve done well that people have responded well to. I want to make sure we’re good before we go big – I’d rather do a nice job than a big job.”