Unordinary Thinking No. 28 – Beer is the answer

How do you make a healthy soft drink for kids?  Start with beer.

We regularly find that unordinary thinking or unordinary propositions come about when the individuals in question have nowhere to go, nothing to lose or nobody else to turn to.  It comes about because they just cannot keep doing the same thing they have always done and expect a different outcome.  External circumstances mean they have to do something different if they are to survive.  But it is also about leveraging, squeezing and thinking differently about what you already have.

German beer is famed and feted for its high quality and taste and it is taken very, very seriously.  Ancient purity laws mean that any brewery in Germany must always conform to strict guidelines and parameters when it produces its beer-they are legally obliged.  They are not allowed to put any artificial flavours or chemicals into their drinks and everything must be the result of the natural raw ingredients and the process of fermentation they have been following for hundreds of years.

In the mid eighties, the Peter brewery in the small town of Ostheim vor der Rhön (population: 4000) was facing major problems.  Although it produced great beer, so did many others and they were continually being squeezed by the major German beer brands.  It was a classic David vs Goliath situation which we like to write about.  Closure and bankruptcy of the family run brewery was a very real threat and they knew they had to do something different if they were to survive.  They did not shrink away with small thoughts-their idea was to invent a brand new beverage category: health drinks.

Their master brewer, Herr Leopold, thought that he could find a way to use the fermentation process which he had been using his whole working life to produce a non alcoholic, carbonated drink which would be made according to the same stringent standards and rules as his beer.  Unlike existing fizzy drinks with their e-numbers and additives, his would only be made out of malt, water, sugar and natural fruit essences.

And he did it.  It took 8 years of experimentation, trials and failures in the bathroom he used as his laboratory, along with virtually all of the brewery owner’s money.  But he did it.  He discovered a process and strain of bacteria which meant that instead of the sugar fermenting into alcohol, it turned into something sweet and non alcoholic which could be used in a soft drink (it’s about the gluconic acid, apparently).  Bionade was born-a fun, carbonated drink with nothing unhealthy in it and with a target audience of children.  It was a drink that reimagined fizzy pop.

Bionade was first sold in 1995.  It is hard for us to think that far back but, in those days, there was no health drink market.  There were natural juices of course and sugary, additive laden fizzy drinks but very little in between.  It took considerable bravery for Leopold and Peter Kowalsky, the MD, to pursue this course 17 or 18 years ago where no health drinks market existed.

In today’s world of fruit smoothies and pomegranate cordial, it is easy to think that a healthy fizzy drink is somehow an ‘obvious’ product.  But it was not.  It is important to remember that it is courage, ingenuity, hard work, skill and knowledge which has taken Bionade to over 20 countries, including Australia and the US, and annual sales of over 200 million bottles a year.  It might have started with beer, but it is ending with a fizzy, healthy bottle of fruit pop.


Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

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2 thoughts on “Unordinary Thinking No. 28 – Beer is the answer

  1. David Hodson

    Shit or bust strategies are not necessarily a great way to go. Yes if we have done things the same way for years and it’s not working we have to change but drastic change does not always generate the right result. How many times have we listened to clients who have got a new agency to change creative dramatically to bring about a seed change in fortunes? Lot’s and the normal result is that it doesn’t work as well as they’d hoped. When Clive Woodward wanted to the England Rugby team to perform he said he changed 100 things by 1% not 1 thing by 100%. Look at the result he got. Yes ‘SOB’ can work but I would imagine that 9 times out of 10 you’ll be crying in your soup!

    1. Lexden Post author

      Thanks for your comment, David, and I especially like the Clive Woodward quote as well. You are, of course, right about the risks in ‘SOB’ strategies. For me, in the case of Bionade, I guess the difference is the fact that they tried something new but within an area they were already very familiar with ie. the whole brewing/fermentation process. If you are going bet your house on red, I suspect it is about having something to base it on to improve your odds beyond 1 in 10 and prevent those tears.


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