The maker of the Ned RTD range has announced it is expanding into whisky, vodka, gin and a new Australian tequila brand.
Top Shelf International is currently developing a vodka brand, finalising the acquisition of a gin label and has purchased an agave farm in Queensland.
It has spent the last four years building a huge distillery in the Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield. The distillery features a full automated spirit wash and beer brewhouse, Australia’s largest pot stills, and canning, bottling and kegging facilities to produce more than 70 million cans and 40 million bottles a year.
Top Shelf will plant 250,000 agave plants on a 400 hectare former sugar cane property near Airlie Beach in north Queensland between January and June, with plans to grow the crop to one million plants.
The region has growing conditions similar to those in Mexico, is the same distance away from the equator and the same elevation from the sea.
It will be a long-term project for the company, as it can take eight to 12 years for an agave plant to reach maturity.
“Agave has typically been a Mexican drink with its heritage there,” Top Shelf Chairman Adem Karafili told The Australian. “But now tequila is becoming its own sophisticated category. Previously the economics didn’t stack up. It has become a bit fashionable.”
Agave-based spirits increased by 11.4% in volume globally between 2016 and 2018, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. In terms of value, agave-based spirits have increased 25.1% globally.
A stumbling block for Top Shelf may be that “tequila” is only produced inside the Mexican state of Jalisco and in some municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Any agave-based distilled spirit outside those regions is called mezcal.
Top Shelf isn’t the first Aussie distillery to create a tequila-style product. Last year, the Hunter Valley’s Becker Wines released Pinché, a spirit created using blue agave sourced from AusAgave in Queensland.
AusAgave harvested a trial planting designed to test the quality and viability of blue agave to be used on a commercial basis as a biofuel, a natural sugar alternative, and a source of manufacturing fibre.
Huge year for tequila
It’s been a record-breaking 12 months for tequila exports from Mexico.
“In 2019 we achieved the highest production of tequila in history, reaching 330 million litres in November,” the president of the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), Miguel Ángel Domínguez Morales, told Mexico News Daily.
“We still need to add the numbers from December and we’ll surely be talking about ending the unprecedented year with over 350 million litres.”
The industry had expected 2019 production to be about 310 million liters.
Domínguez said exports also broke a record with 230 million liters shipped as of November, “breaking our own export record for the 10th year.”
Big year ahead for Ned
Following a soft launch in independent liquor chains, Top Shelf is finalising negotiations with Woolworths to give Ned national distribution.
Last month it officially launched Ned Australian Whisky and also announced its first significant million-dollar sponsorship deal with Kelly Racing, a motor racing team that competes in the Australian Supercars Championship.
Founder Drew Fairchild told The Australian in June last year that he believed Ned has the potential to take on whiskey RTDs such as Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam: “We looked at the market and through the Ned brand you could prospectively win 5% market share.”
He said tracked data in 34 independent outlets that shows, on a like-for-like basis, “consumers have been buying Ned whisky at 75% the rate of Jack Daniel’s sales, 65% of Jim Beam and it is outselling Canadian Club cans by 150%”.
According to MMR, Ned’s creative advertising agency, a grassroots marketing strategy is working for the NED range.
“The brand has quickly developed an engaged, loyal customer base and has been successful at continually increasing its distribution network throughout Victoria and interstate,” MRR said. “With the support of a considered social media and marketing program, it has become an established brand in a highly competitive market dominated by global billion-dollar businesses. Feedback has been overwhelming positive that NED is the drink for all Australians.”