Aiming to make a better brew
Even in the longestablished tea and coffee trade, there’s still room for innovation
You’re just trying to take a product that has been around for a very long time and make sure it stays relevant for drinkers of today. Mark Hamilton
‘‘ You haven’t seen the best of me, I’m still working on my masterpiece.” They’re lyrics from British pop diva Jessie J’s song Masterpiece — not your standard “go to” for leadership advice.
But Brew Group chief executive Mark Hamilton, 49, says her words sum up his belief that leaders are never complete and there are always opportunities to improve.
“We talk often about doing personal bests in the same way that athletes do,” says Hamilton.
“Athletes are constantly saying ‘I can do better than this, I can do better than this’.
“We talk about growth mindsets as opposed to fixed mindsets.” The growth mindset, focused on possibilities and opportunities, says Hamilton, is always at odds with the “evil twin” of fixed mindset, which says “that didn’t work last time or this is the way we’ve always done it or here’s the size of the pie we’ve got to carve up and get a bigger piece of.
“It’s actually much better to make the whole pie bigger and grow and prosper and then everyone can do well.”
BrewGroup, which until a couple of months ago was known as Bell Tea and Coffee, has spent the past decade growing the coffee and tea market.
When Hamilton came on board as chief executive in 2005 from a career in brewing of a different kind — he’d been a GM at Lion — the business was built around its tea brand.
“I was effectively transferring from one beverage to another really,” he says. “One’s predominantly consumed in the evening, the other’s predominantly consumed in the morning.
“And to be fair, it’s a similar challenge.
“You’re just trying to take a product that has been around for a very long time and make sure it stays relevant for drinkers of today, whether that be coffee drinkers or tea drinkers or beer drinkers as the case was with Lion.”
On the tea front, most of it was standard “gumboot” tea drunk at home. That meant there was an opportunity for the company, which has the licence for Twinings in New Zealand, to get more mileage from herbal infusions and speciality teas.
Hamilton says tea drinking was firmly rooted in the home but was under-developed in cafes, which had focused on coffee.
A range of large leaf teas that unfolded in the cup was created to bring a different experience to the cafe market that wasn’t necessarily available from supermarket teas.
Bringing tea to the cafe set was what opened the door to coffee.
Because great coffee is the cornerstone of the cafe trade, Hamilton says the strongest relationship cafe owners had was with their coffee supplier.
And the last thing busy cafe owners needed was to deal with another salesperson.
The company explored how it could work with a coffee company, which got it talking to Burton Hollis, which was keen to break into the supermarket trade.
That resulted in Bell Tea purchasing Burton Hollis and the start of the journey with coffee.
Brew Group has since added or created a number of coffee-related brands, including Gravity Coffee, Jed’s Coffee and Hummingbird, to cover the market from supermarket shelves, to cafe counters and workplace brews. “It’s really that evolution of cafe quality coffee wherever I happen to be, whether that is at work or at home.”
]Brand additions come from understanding drinkers’ different needs and taking opportunities to provide something new, says Hamilton.
“There’s always going to be changing dynamics and as long as we stay on top of what New Zealanders are looking for in their tea and coffee, we’ll be able to adapt and bring out new products.
“We should be cannibalising ourselves.
“We should be creating products that make our old products redundant and are giving them more of what they want rather than just an alternative to what they had already.”
Under the hood, the firm has changed ownership.
Long-time shareholders Foodstuffs — owner of the New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square stores — sold the business to senior staff alongside private equity player Pencarrow in 2013.
Hamilton says he has immense admiration for the Foodstuffs board recognising that even though the company had expanded dramatically through its ownership, it was still not reaching its potential.
Dropping the Bell name this year came after a long period of reflection, in part because it embodies so many positive features, says Hamilton.
Retaining it as a supermarket brand but creating a new company identity allowed the business to move on towards its next personal best.
BrewGroup boss Mark Hamilton says previous owner Foodstuffs recognised the company had not reached its potential.