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Byron Bay soft drink startup StrangeLove sells to brewing giant Asahi

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Two Byron Bay partners’ nine-year adventure to build premium soda and mixer brand StrangeLove is over, as the Australian arm of Japanese brewing giant Asahi acquires the brand for an undisclosed fee.

Founders James Bruce and Stafford Fox are childhood friends and launched their venture in 2013, building out a range of premium sparkling water, as well as quirky mixers such as Tonic No. 8, Lo Cal Yuzu, Double Ginge. The company was really gripped during the pandemic as sales volume and sand yield doubled over the past two years.

Their first prototype was an organic ginger beer, followed by blood orange & chili and bitter grapefruit. The StrangeLove mixer range was launched in 2016, just as the local craft spirits sector was also hitting its bands. In 2018 they released a local soft drink range and there are now 25 products in the range, including mineral water. StrangeLove became the cult rival of British premium tonic brand Fever Tree in the mixer market, and premium Woolworths stores recently launched the brand/

James Bruce said that while it’s been “an incredible nine years on our own,” the Asahi deal allows them to take the company to the next level.

“This deal is a great opportunity to accelerate StrangeLove’s mission to revolutionize the adult soft drink market with more imaginative, high-quality beverages,” he said.

“With their FMCG expertise and long-standing customer relationships in the retail, hospitality and beyond, Asahi Beverages will help grow StrangeLove in ways we couldn’t on our own. They share our absolute commitment to quality and we are impressed with how they have supported their other craft partners to maintain their unique identity and foster innovation.

StrangeLove and Bruce’s management team will remain with the company

“We are enthusiastic and committed to long-term growth. This means that the acquisition will have no impact on day-to-day operations and nothing will change for our customers and consumers.”

Asahi Beverages CEO Robert Iervasi said they could see Australians want more refined soft drinks with less sugar and he sees huge potential for the brand in the hospitality industry.

“We are very excited about the impact StrangeLove will have in restaurants, cafes, hotels and pubs,” he said.

“We expect StrangeLove to shake things up in the on-premise premium mixer and adult soft drink space, with a premium Australian-made brand. This deal will also strengthen our offering to retailers who are devoting more shelf space to premium non-alcoholic beverages.

The Australian soft drink market is valued at approximately $2.8 billion, with sales of premium mixers up 40% in the past three years and sales of adult soft drinks up 65%, albeit from a low base as drinkers don’t look for alcohol options.

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