11 April, 2024

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:42): I move:

That this Council—

  1. Recognises that a proudly Australian family-owned business, Bickford's Australia, will celebrate its 150thanniversary in 2024;
  2. Congratulates Bickford's Australia for reaching its remarkable milestones and acknowledges its legacy and historical connection with South Australia;
  3. Celebrates this iconic local business for its outstanding business success and innovation to becoming a globally recognised brand and acknowledges the Kotses family's vision for manufacturing in South Australia;
  4. Notes the significant positive social, cultural and economic impacts that Bickford's Australia has had for the manufacturing sector, beverage production industry and wider community; and
  5. Recognises Bickford's Australia for their continued efforts to keeping their production and employment local and for maintaining its status as an Australian family-owned and managed business.

It is a great honour to rise today to convey my heartfelt congratulations to Bickford's Australia, to recognise a proud South Australian family-owned company, a multiple award-winning business and a remarkable success story, as Bickford's Australia celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

This anniversary is a significant milestone not only for Bickford's Australia but it is a true testament to entrepreneurship that showcases our State's manufacturing capabilities and leadership and also the commitment from the private sector to have the confidence to invest and expand its operation to offer local employment opportunities to drive economic development within the food and beverage industry and to become an international iconic brand on the world stage.

As we know, there are billions of businesses out there and thousands of country-leading businesses around the world. There can only be a handful of truly iconic brands. We ought to be so proud that we have such a successful company like Bickford's that has had a strong footprint in South Australia for more than 15 decades.

Iconic brands are cultural phenomena that inspire unbreakable loyalty in their fans as well as emotional attachment that permeates all aspects of their lives. That, indeed, makes Bickford's Australia stand out from the rest.

Generations of Australians have grown up on quality flavoured drinks by Bickford's, which has been making cordials for 150 years. Each one of us has our own favourite and treasured drinks such as Bickford's lime juice cordial—definitely my favourite—and, of course, ice coffee syrup through to a collection of sodas, mixers, juices and more.

As the Shadow Minister for Tourism and Hospitality it is always such a pleasure to see the collection of Bickford's drinks at so many wonderful restaurants, cafes, hotels, clubs and convention venues and on supermarket shelves, all stocking Bickford's products. From breakfast juices and dairy alternatives to daytime refreshers and evening mixers, there is a tempting Bickford's flavour for any time of the day.

Bickford's Australia today is owned and managed by the Kotses family. A wonderful gentleman, always positive, always cheerful, always carrying his infectious smiles: the managing director, Mr Angelo Kotses, is an amazing visionary and an inspiring industry champion. As I was doing my research about the company, I found an article in the Australian Financial Review dated 25 July 1994 with the title 'Courage to change brings big rewards'.

“A small Adelaide cordial maker's turnover has lifted eleven-fold in less than three years, thanks to its owners' courage to break with 120 years of tradition, and the determination of a new manager—"

at the time, it was Angelo—

“who ignored the warnings that he was taking on a 'dog'.

Bickford's had become an institution in South Australia, selling its brown lime and bitter-lemon cordials within the state from 1874. But by the end of 1991, it had been out of Bickford family control for more than a decade and had passed through a succession of diffident owners, all large companies for whom it was a non-core asset. It was turning over a steady $1 million a year, and had four full-time and two part-time employees.

[In 1994] its turnover is more than $11 million, and there are 27 full-time and 34 part-time employees working around the clock, seven days a week. The man who masterminded the change, Angelo Kotses, was appointed managing director in November 1992. His background was in the food industry and he remembers being warned that this was not a bright career move; Bickford's was going nowhere…

Kotses' plan was extremely bold…He decided Bickford's had to look for new products, away from cordials, that would make it a world-class beverage manufacturer. Kotses aimed at researching and developing a new clear beverage, as he simultaneously expanded the company's range of cordials to a national market.

“In 1993, Bickford's led the world by using the artificial sweetener Nutrasweet in diet cordials; it developed a new blackcurrant cordial and a range of 'old-style' soft drinks that went on sale…

[The company later developed] Spritz, which was launched on the Australian market…after an almost 24-hour-a-day development effort by Bickford's that lasted 14 weeks…

Spritz was as successful as Kotses had expected. Two million bottles were sold in its first 90 days on the market, and demand held up through a cool southern summer…the first exports were dispatched, to Singapore.

'I picked the best and we did it better,' says Kotses. 'Spritz sells as clear water with the taste of fresh fruit, and that's what it is, in five flavors. It's low on the bubbles, less sweet than the usual softdrinks…

Under Angelo's remarkable leadership and innovative lateral thinking, Bickford's Australia has remained a proud South Australian family-owned business, employing 450 staff across the country. When a company is looking at opportunities to grow and expand, one of the most challenging decisions is whether to diversify or not. While the rewards of diversification can be attractive, the risk, on the other hand, can be extraordinary and the outcomes can be unpredictable.

Successful diversification and strategic vision to move Bickford's beyond beverages under the stewardship of Angelo Kotses sees the group venturing into many exciting new frontiers. Today, Bickford's have a long and impressive portfolio. They have seven locations involved in beverage operations, six of which are located in South Australia. Their head office and manufacturing facility is based in Salisbury South, with world-class state-of-the-art facilities.

They have a 400-strong portfolio of products across 35 brands, Australia's bestselling glass-bottled cordial range, Australia's fastest growing premium functional juice range, the original iced coffee syrup from 1919 and Australia's original liquid coffee product. They have Fruit Splash, one of Australia's first flavoured water ranges, traditional carbonates, and dairy and dairy alternative products.

They have impressive contract partnerships with major retailers and brands across Australia. They run an active sustainable program across infrastructure sites and supply chains, and Wheel and Barrow and Karma Living retail stores nationally.

Bickford's export to 45 countries worldwide. Some of the key export markets include Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Fiji, Mongolia and China. The company is a multiple award winner of South Australian Food Industry Awards. In 2007, Bickford's Australia was inducted in the South Australian Food Industry Hall of Fame, followed by Bickford's lime juice cordial being recognised by the National Trust of South Australia as a Heritage Icon in 2009.

They have strong connections to regional South Australia, with 23rd Street Distillery in Renmark producing a premium liquor range of gin, brandy, vodka and whisky.

Beenleigh Distillery and Function Centre, which is Australia's oldest continuously operating distillery with License Number 1, is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year.

There is also Beresford Estate winery in McLaren Vale, Step Road winery in McLaren Vale, and Vale brewing bar and restaurant in McLaren Vale. They also own Pomegranates Australia with a 90,000-tree pomegranate orchard in the Mallee Valley. They also have a development project on Kingscote wharf on Kangaroo Island.

With a long list of impressive establishments and outstanding achievements and an ever-growing network of retailers and venues, I am sure by now many Honourable Members will be wondering about the origins of Bickford's. Who was the original founder of Bickford's? Who is behind the name Bickford's? This is another migration story of a ten-pound Pom. Bickford's humble beginning is a fascinating story of determination and inspiring enterprising spirit that drove the founder to create products that met the demand at the time.

The founder, William Bickford, arrived from Devon, England, in South Australia with £10 and a dream to be a sheep farmer. He met his wife, Ann, on the voyage from England and they married shortly after arrival. The price of sheep dashed William's hopes as a farmer and he returned to his apprentice trade of an apothecary, also calling on experience as a veterinary assistant to earn a living.

With a loan of £220 at the time, William Bickford and his wife, Ann, purchased a premises on Hindley Street and set up the first Adelaide apothecary store. In the early 1840s, with a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables largely due to in-transit spoiling and lack of experience in growing crops in such a harsh climate, there was a widespread challenge with scurvy and rickets. As early as 1845, William Bickford created a lime drink using the brown juice of unwanted limes mixed with sugar and water to remove the acidic taste of the juice in a bid to provide a cheap solution to the problem, hand-bottling and labelling around 84 bottles per day.

This liquid was the first iteration of the iconic lime juice cordial that continues to be the flagship flavour of the Bickford's brand. William Bickford would unfortunately pass prematurely in 1850 from pneumonia, so the business was passed on to his wife, Ann, and supported by their sons. This led to the birth of A.M. Bickford and Sons in 1874, which marks the start of the commercial business we know today.

From 84 bottles per day in 1845, the automation introduced with the Waymouth Street factory saw production increase to 500 bottles per day, and to 1,500 through gas and horsepower equipment. The first large-scale batch of product labelled Bickford's Lime Juice Cordial was bottled on 2 December 1873, and released for sale in January 1874. Unprecedented at the time to have a female figurehead, Ann's inspiring courage and vision with the support of her sons saw the business diversify and grow in beverage and pharmaceutical ventures well into the 20th century.

Among some of the early product innovation was Bickford's carbonates range, introduced under Ann Margaret Bickford's eye in 1876 using their pioneering carbonation techniques combined with European technologies to produce South Australia's first ginger ale.

An article in The Advertiser dated 4 November 1876 described ginger ale as 'a new idea and is an exhilarating, and at the same time non-intoxicating beverage, and should become very popular in the hot weather'.

That was just the beginning. Another original product, developed more than a century ago is Bickford's iced coffee syrup. Bickford's original iced coffee syrup was created in 1919 in the postwar era when coffee was in short supply but demand was high. Its signature blend of coffee and chicory has been a pantry staple for generations of Australians.

Bickford's Australia would continue to grow over the years under several ownership changes during the 20th century, before stewardship was finally taken over by current owners, the Kotses family, in 1999. This reminded me of the Remington story, where a man liked his Remington shaver so much that he bought the company. This is the story of Angelo Kotses.

Under the strong leadership of Angelo, for about three decades Bickford's Australia has grown from strength to strength, building upon its success, and Angelo and his team still continue to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of their founders. When Angelo took ownership of the business, the range was effectively lime juice cordial. Angelo applied his immense passion for continuous improvement and creative innovation, working with his capable team to foster enviable productive customer relationships, build loyalty with passionate consumers, and nurture a unique blend of traditional classics and modern masterpieces to keep their products fun and trendy.

Bickford's has become the bestselling premium cordial in Australia with 22 flavours and 79 per cent share of that market. This is an extraordinary achievement and deserves the highest recognition by the food and beverage industry, by the manufacturing and export sector, by South Australians and by this Parliament.

Today, we have the opportunity to recognise the positive social, cultural and economic impacts that Bickford's Australia has had on the manufacturing sector, the beverage production industry, and the wider community, and commend Bickford's Australia for their continued efforts to keeping their production and employment local, and for maintaining its status as an Australian family-owned and managed business.

It was an honour to be invited to Bickford's 150th anniversary celebration. They certainly know how to throw a very colourful and beautiful party, which was held at the Art Gallery on 12 March this year. It was an honour and privilege to be invited to the esteemed event, to join the family, as well as the Bickford's team, for this significant contribution. It was great to see many of my colleagues in attendance, including the Hon. Nicola Centofanti MLC, the Hon. Heidi Girolamo MLC and Tim Whetstone, the Member for Chaffey, who has worked closely with the Kotses family for many years.

I would like to mention that the Member for Chaffey will also be moving this same motion in the House of Assembly, so that both houses of this Parliament can pay tribute to Bickford's on their significant milestone, their 150th anniversary.

Bickford's anniversary celebrations will go on for the whole year with the release of six anniversary cordials. These will be a combination of all-time favourites with a modern twist that celebrate moments in their history, and in the memories of their consumers.

I have been informed that, as of this month, back by popular demand, cloudy apple flavour will reappear on retailers' shelves. This was passionately lobbied by consumers, with some even threatening to boycott the brand until the flavour was returned.

It is truly magical to see that, even after 150 years, Bickford's Australia has stayed true to their fundamental values and has never compromised on their dedication to producing high-quality products and focusing on delivering unforgettable experiences. Bickford's is committed to making and treasuring tradition, honouring the memory of their founders and taking the brand to new heights for generations to come.

In addition to thanking Angelo and the Kotses family, I would like to acknowledge Beverley Reeves, marketing manager, for collating the background historical information for my speech today. I also want to thank Poppy Stavrianos, e-commerce coordinator, for her kind assistance to my office.

Once again, I offer heartfelt congratulations to the Kotses family and to the whole Bickford's team. It is a privilege to highlight the legacy and contributions of this proud South Australian company and to put our acknowledgement on the public record today for Bickford's 150 years of sweetness and sweet memories. I am sure my parliamentary colleagues in this place and in the other place will join me in wishing Bickford's much more success to come, and much more prosperity and longevity and a brighter future ahead. With those remarks, I commend the motion wholeheartedly.