ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES The making of...

When it comes to creating a new brand and product range for the alcoholic beverage and ready-to-drink (RTD) markets, you’d be right in thinking that pretty much every rock has been turned in the search for a new angle. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt etc. Well, you’d be almost right because every once in a while, a founder like Dylan Hopkins comes along with a whole new approach, appeal and product that gets everyone wondering ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ This is The making of… Cools.


The making of... Series

#cools #tastybeverages #branding #brand #fmcg #cpg #startup #scaleup

Hey Dylan, lovely to finally catch-up with you. Now, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Cools?

Hi, my name is Dylan Hopkins and I’m the founder of Cools, Australia's first Hard Juice.

I'm 23 years old and have lived in Melbourne my whole life. As a kid, I was a massive fan of the old-school, big-budget Aussie beer TV ads, so I wanted to start my own alcohol brand that could be just as funny and entertaining.

hunter © making of cools 2

Dylan Hopkins, founder of Cools

Awesome, yes, we well remember the days of the good old, Aussie Beer ad. There were certainly some classics. So, when it came to the Cools concept, how did you come about the idea?

There was no real "a-ha" moment for the idea, with the ‘hard juice’ concept being developed in more of a roundabout way. Initially, I wanted to create an alcohol product in carton packaging. I was inspired by 'JUST Water' - a water brand in the US that uses carton packaging instead of single-use plastic. I saw their bottles at IKEA one day and loved how they looked. With my interest in the alcohol market, I realised that every existing product was packaged in either cans or bottles, so why not try and create the first carton-based alcohol beverage? Due to the nature of the packaging, the liquid inside the carton cannot be carbonated, so whatever the product was going to be, it had to be still. I was 21 at the time, so I had been drinking lots of vodka and juice with my mates, mixing it ourselves at home or buying a vodka pineapple or vodka cranberry at the bar when we were out. 

So when it came to thinking of a non-carbonated product to fill the cartons, it was an obvious choice - vodka & juice. In the end, the carton-based packaging didn't work out for manufacturing reasons, so I switched to aluminium cans instead, but I kept the original non-carbonated vodka & juice recipe because I knew it was a great product and realised that despite the fact it was no longer in the more unique, carton format, the product itself was still unique as there were no other alcoholic juice brands in the Australian market. 


It’s mind-blowing to think you landed on such an untapped category. When it came to research, how did you go about testing your product-market fit?

Being first to market, there are no similar products in the Australian market, so I had to look overseas for product validation. I was always sceptical throughout the whole process, the idea was so simple and obvious to me - lots of people drink vodka and juice at bars or make it themselves at home, so why was there not a ready-made and premixed option on shelves already? Was there some reason it didn't exist and I just hadn't discovered why? I started researching the American market, which is always years ahead of Australia, and found some other, early-stage Hard Juice brands which gave me a great steer. Another factor I looked into was the non-carbonated aspect of the product. Since almost every RTD and premix drink in Australia is fizzy, it was especially daunting to try and create one that wasn't. Initially, I had a lot of pressure from people advising me to carbonate the product, that everyone expects liquid coming out of a can to be bubbly and that my product will fall flat (pardon the pun) with consumers. But again I looked into the US market where they have some huge 'hard tea' brands worth hundreds of millions of dollars and all their products are non-carbonated. So I stuck to my original plan of keeping Cools non-carbonated. I'm so glad I did because it adds to the uniqueness of the product and it hasn't hindered it at all. 

hunter © making of cools 3

From experience, we know that mixing the perfect drink can be a hit-and-miss affair. What were the first iterations of your product like?

The first iterations were quite average. It took so many attempts to get it right, but that was also an exciting process. Getting the samples and inviting my friends around to have a taste and hear their feedback, then doing it again for the next sample until we arrived at a recipe that had the tick of approval from everyone. I absolutely love how Cools tastes; it's juicy, brimming with flavour, not overly sweet, no added sugars (only 9g per can from the real fruit juice) or artificial flavours and the fact that it's non-carbonated makes it easy to drink and doesn't leave you bloated or full of fizz. 


Sometimes, product testing can be the best part of NPD. Likewise, getting buy-in from your inner circle. How did you initially fund everything?

With my savings! I’d been saving for years and, since finishing school, have worked lots of jobs in pubs, cafes, offices and retail with the plan in mind that I would use it to start a business. It took every last cent of my savings to get the product from concept to something physical, but that made it all the more worthwhile. Now that the brand is growing, I’m looking for funding and investment to help take Cools to the next level! 

Stand-out is everything in the category so branding is particularly important.  How did you land on your brand identity and packaging design?

The Cools branding was created by the amazing Stine K Gilbert who runs Gold St Studio here in Melbourne. The finished product looks completely different to how it started. The product was originally going to be in cartons and under a completely different name. Then everything changed when we swapped to aluminium cans and our new name,  ‘Cools’.  Big shoutout to my mum, Rhonda who came up with the name. And thanks to Stine for her amazing work and patience with the ever-changing nature of the product.


That’s fantastic, thanks Rhonda and Stine! How about awareness? How are you spreading the Cools word? 

When launching any new product, the most important part is getting people to sample it, so every Friday and Saturday I run tastings at various Dan Murphy's stores around Melbourne. These tastings are great; once people have tried Cools, they often buy a four-pack because of how good it is! I swear I'm not biased, but it is a really good product. Even if they don't purchase some then and there, it's still great awareness. Who knows… they might tell a friend or family member about it, or maybe they'll come back to it another time. I'm also very active on social media, interacting with my followers and trying to build an engaged core community of followers who love the brand and the product. It has been growing steadily, which has been great.


Sampling definitely helps build up your early adopter community and spreads the good word. How about future challenges for Cools? What's on the horizon?

Our big challenge will be scaling for bigger volumes and being able to distribute fast enough to meet and capitalise on demand and consumer interest, but also doing that efficiently to ensure the brand is here for a long time. I want to solidify the brand as THE category leader of the 'Hard Juice' category in Australia. 

Ok, final question. Knowing what you know now, what golden nugget of advice would you give another founder beginning their own startup journey?

Don't be afraid to be the face of your brand. Initially, I didn't want to as I was worried about being judged. But from experience, the sooner you get over this fear, the better. Most people love seeing someone who is proud of their startup and the real human side of business will separate you from the corporate jargon spouted by tone-deaf brands. Put yourself out there and get uncomfortable. That's where the best results come from. Don't worry about the one or two people who might try to drag you down - because there are 98 others rooting for you.

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