There won't be a business in the drinks industry that looks like it did pre-COVID, or hasn't had to tweak – or totally rewrite – their plans. And that's no different with Kaddy, the online platform designed to streamline the procurement process for both Aussie suppliers and retailers, whose founders we first spoke to at the height of the pandemic's first wave last year.
For one, the impact of lockdowns and other restrictions on the hospitality industry means their balance of customers has moved from 50:50 to somewhere around 75 to 80 percent in favour of off rather than on premise. Yet, as they announce the expansion of their service to venues and bottleshops all over Australia – previously they'd been focused on the East Coast – the way the business has evolved is as much a reflection of the changing nature of the drinks industry as it is the impact of the pandemic.
Rich Coombes (back row above, third from right), who founded the business with childhood friend Mike Abbott in October 2019, says they always figured the key appeal in their offer was in simplifying the ordering and payment process for buyers and sellers in the local booze world, but have since found their ability to offer a "resource of truth" has become a central benefit of their platform too.
The "truth" in this case is what customers can access through Kaddy's platform. Each of the 400-plus booze suppliers – of which more than 200 are brewing companies – upload the beers they wish to sell via Kaddy complete with images, ABV, descriptions, pricing, deals and so on – essentially, a bunch of useful information for anyone looking to stock their bar or bottleshop gathered in one place. There's also the option to filter out what's selling well within a particular category plus regular updates from the marketing team about trends within the industry.
"That whole step of discovery has become more and more important," Rich says. "There are so many new products, so finding a resource of truth for what's happening in the market, and what's coming onto the market, is becoming pretty hard, and there's so many channels customers need to go through.
"We understand how hard it is for venues to keep on top of it: the limited release beers, the long tail of wine. There's so much product out there, so being able to discover new brands has become more important."
Having developed the platform over the past couple of years – seven members of their Sydney-based team of 20-plus are software developers – and expanded initially from New South Wales into Victoria and then Queensland, the team were in a position to take their offering to on and off premise customers nationwide.
It's an offering that brewers and other suppliers typically use as one tool among many to get their products into venues – along with other distributors, their own employees, direct-to-consumer online sales and so on – but one the Kaddy team aims to make as useful for suppliers and their reps as possible. As well as setting up a profile for their business and adding all available beers to the Kaddy site, breweries can create profiles for their reps in each part of the country too.
"That human connection is really important," Rich says. While his business operates in the digital realm, he says the aim is to facilitate real world transactions: "In [business to business], it's all about people to people."
When it comes to navigating the challenges of the pandemic, with new on premise business ebbing and flowing with each outbreak, as with many businesses Kaddy have also found opportunity.
"A lot of venues are looking at ways to make their ranges more impactful," Rich says. "More considered around a product and margin mix.
"Premiumisation has continued. A lot of people have been drinking at home and upping the level of quality because they're able to go to the bottleshop and buy more premium products; whether that will continue on premise will be really interesting to watch as things reopen."
As we seem to be typing with growing frequency on these pages, making predictions as to what the industry will look like as it reemerges into a post-COVID world – even without taking into account last week's sale of the Fermentum Group to Lion – has become ever tougher. But, as Rich and Mike's startup prepares to turn two, they're looking forward to being an integral part of it, whatever shape it takes.