Social activism isn’t something the Australian alcohol industry is known for – quite the opposite, if the number of downright misogynistic ads are anything to go by. But for one brave Adelaide startup, a desire to create change and disrupt the country’s billion-dollar industry has proven to be its biggest strength.
“The business was started from a place of recognition that 80 per cent of the beer distribution in Australia is owned by two companies – which is ludicrous – and it’s an industry that primarily talks to men, and the culture’s not always awesome,” explains Sarah Lyons, the Sparkke Change Beverage Company’s winemaker.
“It just became really obvious to our two founders that something needed to happen.”
Established in December 2016 following a $100,000 crowd-funding campaign, Sparkke already has plenty of reasons to raise a glass to 2018: it has partnered with the Adelaide Fringe Festival and the Sydney Mardi Gras, won gold at the Australian Cider Awards, and is moving toward opening its own bar and brewery.
The founders, legendary Australian winemaker Rose Kentish and marketing guru Kari Allen, made it their mission to challenge Australia’s “pale, male and stale” beer industry.
The result is as deliciously refreshing as that first sip of a cold beverage: a diverse, all-female startup with a social conscience embedded in its DNA.
The range of canned brews (all with natural and locally sourced ingredients) feature conversation-starting slogans that raise awareness and generate donations of 10 per cent from direct sales to social causes supported by Sparkke.
Created by Agi Gajic (pictured, top) – one of just a very few female head brewers in Australia under 30 – the gender-equality lemonade declares ‘nipples are nipples’, the ginger beer dedicated to asylum seekers reminds us that we’ve ‘boundless plains to share’, the apple cider’s strong commentary on sexual consent reads ‘consent can’t come after you do’, the New England pale ale asks “what’s planet B?” and the pilsner encourages drinkers to ‘change the date’ of Australia Day.
The company passionately supports their causes, and the groups they partner with aren’t chosen lightly, says Sarah.
“We have a very strong advisory board who are doing really great things in their own industries, but are willing to contribute their experience and time to us,” she explains.
“They come to Adelaide and we have big group discussions; we want to make sure we’re well-educated before we go out on an issue. We want to make sure that we’re wanting to talk about a social issue for the right reasons and that we are working with the community that it involves, rather than thinking that we understand what’s best for them.
Sarah’s contribution to the range is the white wine bubbles in a can, promoting marriage equality (‘say I do!’). In yet another win for the startup, Elton John’s production company, Rocket Man Productions, approved Sparkke as the official ‘bubbles’ sponsor for his late-September Australian (Queensland) tour.
Canning any snobbery
Although consumers in the US wouldn’t raise an eyebrow to wine served in a can, Sparkke’s approach is pushing the envelope in the Australian market, where there’s still an entrenched traditionalism, and a healthy dash of snobbery.
“Putting really good wine in a can is kind of breaking through those boundaries. It makes it really accessible,” Sarah enthuses.
“For wines, we don’t use cork at all anymore in the Western world, except for France, Italy and Spain, because they can be faulty, and screw caps limit oxygen transfer, though there’s still a little bit.”
Canning wine goes one step better, Sarah says. “If you want to have a really beautiful, young wine, you should absolutely be putting it in a can, because it keeps it really fresh. There’s no oxygen transfer, and you can cool it down much faster.”
Plus, the cans reduce the company’s carbon footprint by reducing freight weight, chilling more quickly, and minimising product wastage.
“There’s a lot of cool things around cans. It’s a matter of pushing through that pretense,” Sarah explains.
Millennials have a social conscience
It’s exactly Sparkke’s love of pushing the boundaries that attracted the company’s founding investor and brand advisor, marketing mogul Anouk Darling, whose resume includes brand manager for Louis Vuitton and group marketing director at Conde Nast.
Anouk says the company’s social activism is its greatest asset, and the key to attracting its natural market: millennials.
“Many brands and products claim a similar social conscience, but it’s just wallpaper and capturing a trend for trend’s sake, rather than having a foundation in social enterprise and inclusivity, which, ultimately, a highly discerning consumer market sees through,” Anouk says.
“Sparkke’s DNA is built on an authentic purpose: to put the good back in bevvies. They represent the marginalised and unrepresented and aren’t afraid to put social issues at the forefront, which appear on the biggest piece of real estate the brand has: its cans.”
It’s a powerful message that is attracting attention from the other side of the globe, Anouk says.
“I remember sitting at a dinner in Austin, Texas in March last year as part of SXSW and someone who didn’t know me started talking about this Australian company breaking conventions and they were looking at it from a PR perspective. I had to ask three times in disbelief if he was actually talking about Sparkke, as we’d only been in market for two months at the time of the conversation!”
As young, socially conscious and discerning consumers continue to take a more dominant position in global markets, Anouk thinks it’s inevitable that more companies with a genuine social purpose will begin to spring up – which can only be a good thing.
This International Women’s Day on 8 March, support babes who brew. The Old Bar in Fitzroy have an epic tap takeover lined up to showcase women in the brewing industry. While there, taste Agi’s award-winning Apple Cider!