In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to Karen O'Neill founder of Beekon Batches
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Beekon Batches?
Beekon Batches is a new type of alcohol drink, called a Honey Refresher, made from nothing other than fermented honey, water & yeast. Free from any additives, preservatives, sulphites or gluten. It’s tapping into an ever-growing trend amongst conscientious consumers who want to eat and drink better, where possible, cleaner, fresher & better.
I’m the founder, Karen O’Neill. The KON of BEEKON. This is the ultimate collaboration between myself and bees. I take batches of honey at a point in time & allow the honey to do the work on the flavour profile and taste experience. We launched in the Summer of 2019.
I’ve worked for over 17 for Global drinks companies, such as Diageo, Heineken, Pepsico, I could see a product gap. Making a drink that wasn’t standardised or controlled, simply a taste of nature at a point in time, no flavour additions or sulphites.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a drinks producer in Ireland?
As a start-up, challenges are a constant. The kind of ones where you question sometimes, will you get through it. The bigger you grow the bigger the challenges. We learnt early on, it was important to build in resilience as a habit, by pushing ourselves regularly on a personal and professional level. In doing so, we knew that more likely than not, whatever problem we face down, by digging deep there will always be a solution. It’s a fail forward mindset.
Our immediate challenges, are twofold, partnering with the right people, distributors, manufacturers, retailers & collaborators, those who will partner us in the growth journey, that are aligned to our values and represent us with conviction. Too often for small brands, it’s tough to cut through, you’re just another brand, a number on a product sheet.
Secondly, International expansion in the current environment is tough due to COVID. When and how to shift gear into export markets needs to be carefully managed in the absence of being able to get into the market to do the research and craft an export plan.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
People are fundamentally consuming differently. The Killer trend is all about Eating & Drinking Better. A quarter of under 25’s drink infrequently or not at all, seeking out lifestyle alternatives that means they don’t have to suffer the consequences of alcohol. Only 1% of us are gluten intolerant and yet 25% of people eat and drink a gluten-free diet, in an attempt to consume better. More and more of us are counting chemicals and additives as much as we are calories.
At its heart Beekon is about drinking better. Free from all additives, preservatives, sulphites or flavourings, and only 43 cals per 100ml, it was designed to be clean, for a cleaner lifestyle.
Making a drink that wasn’t standardised or controlled, simply a taste of nature at a point in time, no flavour additions or sulphites that prolong the shelflife or alter the taste. Whilst Beekon is alcoholic, at 5%, the fact that it only contains honey and fresh ingredients, doesn’t have any preservatives, artificial flavours, sulphites or nasties, goes some of the way towards fulfilling that need.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
We are fortunate in Ireland to have state agencies that offer significant support from Bord Bia & Enterprise Ireland with a lot of brave people who have taken the leap into craft beer, gins or whiskey world. Continued retailer and trade support for startups and possibly even startup quotas that give a disproportionate advantage to those that take the entrepreneurial leap.
More genuine impact from the large international companies that are clearly making a lot of money. If I look at the explosion of massive international conglomerate owned Seltzers in the market, I’d like to understand what societal, environmental or community-based impact programmes they are supporting that has the consumer impact at it’s heart beyond the balance sheet.
What has running your own business taught you?
Know your why? It needs to come from a place of conviction. Deeply rooted in your DNA to an unreasonable level. This journey is the road less travelled, for a reason. It’s tough, but if your reason for doing it is beyond the superficial gain than the outcome is likely to be a positive and fulfilling one.
Get comfortable with imperfect progress. Perfection is the greatest inhibitor to success. I walk a daily tightrope, where each day, I fall off. All I’ve mastered is getting back on, day after day, moving forward all the while. Progress over perfection.
Who are some other Irish food or drink brands you draw inspiration from?
FIID from Shane Ryan who Lives and breathes the founder energy and essence that is insatiable.
Strong Roots from Sam Dennigan - the brave voyage of creating a Beacon brand in a self-created new category.
Cali Cali from Niall McGrath, Tom Gannon and Donal Skehan – an Irish brand that instantly feels like a global brand.
All three have an impeccable product with a compelling brand point of view. The perfect recipe for success.
All three are worthy to stand hand and shoulder with any market leader product on an international stage.
This is what inspires us.
What’s next for the company?
What does the future hold for Beekon Batches? God knows! Our hope is that we’ve made a difference globally by supporting our pollinator friends through a fundamental change of behaviour with our urban pollinator program & to we’ve facilitated a fun, kind social space for our drinkers by giving them a kinder choice of alcohol.
One thing we know for sure is that we strive to bee kind always and inspire as many people along our journey as possible.
Find out more about Beekon Batches here!