Andrew King, Funkin CEO

Andrew King, Funkin CEO

UK cocktail mixers and syrups firm Funkin is now part of the AG Barr portfolio after the closure of a multi-million deal last month. Here, Funkin CEO Andrew King explains how he can help Barr grow its on-trade presence, why Angola is a new focus for cocktails and what he has planned for Irn Bru.

When Irn Bru-owner AG Barr announced last month it had acquired the cocktail mixers and syrups firm Funkin, it assured everyone it would be business as usual for the new purchase. 

There was one big change, however. Funkin founder Alex Carlton, who for the past few years had been heading up his company's US unit in California, was no longer part of the equation.

“He (Carlton) is completely clear,” Funkin's CEO, Andrew King, tells just-drinks in an interview last week. “He's left the business to look at other interests.”

King says it was an amicable departure and that Carlton had decided the time was right for him to step back.

“That was one of the reasons for listening to offers,” King says.

Barr ultimately won through with a deal worth GBP21m (US$31.5m) for a company that has grown sales by an average 20% in the past three years. Just as importantly for Barr, Funkin has on-trade experience - 75% of its sales are in the sector. If Barr is keen to grow in the on-trade, Funkin provides a key. 

just-drinks: What do you think AG Barr saw as your biggest asset?

Andrew King, Funkin CEO: They love the brand. They think it has a lot of mileage both UK and internationally. For them it's interesting because it's a market - the on-trade - where they don't have as much experience or distribution as we do. Some Barr brands such as Strathmore, Ka and Rubicon have a bit of traction in  the on-trade, but Barr don't over-trade in the on-trade.

So we can give them access to a market that is interesting. It's a market that's growing. In other categories there are challenges, so they see (the on-trade) as interesting.

Also, we have established business in the US and France, which are growing. Plus, we ship to 20 other countries. Our export business is significantly bigger than our retail business, and we look to continue that growth.

jd: You have a definite focus on the on-trade. Are you happy with that?

AK: We've always been happy with focus on the on-trade. Our new innovations are all in the on-trade. But a few years ago our Funkin mixers started getting traction in the off-trade and we would like to see that continue, though not at the expense of the on-trade.

jd: Would AG Barr like you to grow in the off-trade?

AK: They are very keen to see Funkin grow, and their expertise is in the off-trade, so yes they are absolutely keen to see that happen.

jd: How do you see the UK cocktail market at the moment?

AK: Cocktails are continuing to grow in terms of depth of distribution. More outlets are getting into it. The independent free trade is becoming a more interesting area for us - more and more pubs and bars start to take on cocktails and we feel we can help them.

Additionally we're seeing changes in the style of cocktails - more small batch and botanical based, and we're addressing those trends through innovation.

Recently we launched a small-batch earl grey tea, a ginger, and a rhubarb syrup that are very much for people looking for further interesting flavours in cocktails.

We have a pipeline of other weird and wonderful flavours that we'll hopefully be bringing to market in the coming months.

jd: What export markets are you focussing on?

AK: We recently opened in Angola. The capital (Luanda) is a very affluent and vibrant place where cocktails are growing.

But Barr is stronger than us in Russia and in Germany. In Scandinavia we both do a fair amount of trade, but in some markets like Turkey we are stronger, so there's some obvious crossover and hopefully we'll help each other in these markets. Our international sales are 15% of the business and one of its fastest growing parts.

jd: You are now part of the Barr family. Will we see you launch an Irn Bru cocktail mixer?

AK: (Laughs) We haven’t got one on our development table at the moment. Mind you, one of the great cocktails in mainstream pubs is the Cheeky V (a mix of port and Blue WKD that is said to taste like Nichols soft drinks brand Vimto), so I don't know.

Irn Bru's not on our priority list but I'm sure we'll have some fun with it at some point.