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The making of… Calm & Stormy

Welcome to The making of… blog series. Can you start off by introducing yourself?

Hey! I’m Murray Raeburn, Co-Founder of Calm & Stormy by Quest Beverages. I founded the business almost four years ago with my business partner Troy Mckinna. Troy and I previously worked together in senior marketing roles at Schweppes Australia.

After years working in the corporate world in marketing, sales, research, and hospitality I was keen to have a crack at my own thing. Troy was in a similar space so we joined forces to shake up the drinks category. We had a simple mission, to create quality drinks that are better for the planet & for you. Calm & Stormy was our first brand to launch.

We love the fact you both wanted a crack at creating something yourselves, as many on the corporate side don’t take the plunge. So, how did you come up with the idea?

After a lot of ideas, we felt there was an opportunity in the healthy drinks space and we had a lot of energy for the mineral water category. The Calm & Stormy brand was born. We found the highest quality spring water, which just happened to be located underneath a dormant volcano. Seriously! Our water filters through the volcanic rock which purifies it and infuses it with minerals. We explored all formats of packaging and landed on aluminium cans. Cans are infinitely recyclable and we knew we could use a lot of recycled material in the cans. Finally, for our fruit sparkling, we source delicious real fruit juice from local Aussie growers.

After finding a dormant volcano with natural filtration as the source for the product... How did you go about researching and testing your product-market fit?

In the beginning, we developed a few brand names and different design concepts. We wanted the product to appeal to both consumers and business owners who might stock it in their café or stores. We created mock-ups of each concept and sought feedback from both groups. We even went as far as visiting cafés, food outlets, and retail stores with the mock-up cans. I knew we were onto a winner when a few venues wanted to place an order on the spot.

Whilst there’s nothing more fulfilling than getting immediate orders, what were the first iterations of your product like?

To be honest the first iterations were pretty spot on and we didn’t really have to change much afterward. That’s probably due to the fact that we kept the product formulation simple and all-natural. Our natural still and sparkling mineral water is straight-up with nothing added. Our fruit sparkling contains sparkling mineral water, real fruit juice, and nothing else. 

Thankfully we didn’t have to change anything at the beginning because minimum orders on aluminium cans and raw materials are scarily high so it has the potential to derail you.

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It all sounds very textbook perfect so far which of course brings us to funding. How did you initially fund everything?

We’ve bootstrapped the business from the start. It’s definitely tougher and riskier than seeking outside capital but I think it’s a great way to start. When it’s your own money at stake, you are a lot more diligent with how and where you spend it. Bootstrapping makes you hungry for growth and forces you to build the business in a sustainable way. You are certainly more motivated to make the business a raging success.

There’s nothing like being diligent when spending money. What about Branding? Can you tell us about the process and how you arrived at where you are today?

The challenge with the water category is that it can be a bit boring and uninspiring. You’re also in a very competitive category with a lot of multinational brands that are all very similar. 

We had gone to a lot of effort to find unique, high-quality volcanic water and the most sustainable packaging. We knew we needed a premium positioning for the brand. We immediately made the exciting (but also scary AF) decision to break a few category cues. Actually, I think we probably broke all of them at the start. No plastic bottles. No water imagery. No blue. Instead, we chose minimalistic and sleek branding so that people were proud to carry a can around or serve it in their store.

Finally, we needed a name. Again, we couldn’t go boring and predictable. The Calm & Stormy name was inspired by water itself. It can be calm, still, and peaceful. It can be stormy, wild, and explosive. I love the juxtaposition in the name and the intrigue it creates.

As we all know, inspiration can come from anywhere and you’re definitely on-point when it comes to the branding and naming. Once that was all sorted, how are you getting the word out there, and how are you scaling the brand?

As I mentioned at the start, we were bootstrapping, so billboards and TV commercials were out. I believe in positioning through placement and we tied this into our distribution strategy. Fortunately, the quality of the food and hospitality scene in Australia is exceptional. For our first year or so we targeted the best cafes, restaurants, food stores, and independent grocers as customers. Not only is amazing food the perfect partner for Calm & Stormy, but the venues that serve it are also the ideal place for people to discover the brand.

We’ve always had a decent presence on social media, particularly Instagram. As we were able to afford to market the brand further, we also started building more awareness through paid social as well.

Most recently we partnered with Melbourne Food & Wine’s World’s Longest Lunch. We launched our 750ml sparkling mineral water bottle at the event and served Calm & Stormy to a few thousand guests in Treasury Gardens.

Our final question... What's the biggest challenge or challenges you think you'll face moving forward?

Getting cans into hands. Which means finding the right retail partners and events. Fridges don’t have rubber shelves so we have to work hard to get a spot. A big part of it is educating consumers and retail customers that all-natural Calm & Stormy is a far better choice than lab-made alternatives in the market.

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