Charlie’s gets a name change, focuses on the bigger—and better—picture

As the AskewOne piece on the wall beside Auckland's south-western motorway says, 'better never stops'. And Charlie's Trading Co. has acknowledged that philosophy by creating a new corporate brand called The Better Drinks Co.

Chief executive Craig Cotton, who replaced co-founder and long-time chief executive Stefan Lepionka late last year after a 17-year career with Coca-Cola Amatil NZ, says the change represents far more than just a new name. 

James MacVicar, general manager sales and marketing, and Craig Cotton, chief executive.

“‘Better’ is a challenge and a promise that gives us something to live up to,” he says. “Better range, better choice and being better at everything we do, from sourcing, manufacturing and final delivery via our customers to our consumers. We simply want to start by being better listeners to our staff, to our customers, consumers and partners.”

Charlie's was started 14 years ago and was purchased by Asahi in 2011, and ​Cotton says the aim is to "build a strong New Zealand company that’s winning at home and overseas, while retaining the Charlie’s values of honesty and integrity". 

The change doesn’t affect the well-known Charlie’s and Phoenix brand names, he says, but the separation of corporate and brand identities gives the company the freedom to drive greater brand innovation. 

"And that is one of the prime goals of the move," he says. “ … This will ensure two things: both Charlie’s and Phoenix can become more precise in their brand profiles and that in turn enables us to create new brands that sit outside those profiles.”

He says the intention is to retain and foster the innovation and brand thinking used to develop both the Charlie’s and Phoenix brands.

“We live or die on the taste, ingredients and the quality delivered by our products, so we’re going to make sure our products continue to be better than the rest … Our philosophy is one of continuous improvement, challenging ourselves to simply be better on every occasion. We are doing this by thinking big but acting small. While others shout we listen harder. While others aim to restrict choice through exclusive contracts, we offer it and we sell on the strength of our brands not the power and size of our wallets.”

In the corporate world, there's often a lot of talk about this kind of thing, and much less action. But Cotton has a few examples up his sleeve, such as not having rubbish bins at each desk in the office, instead choosing to have a recyclable station; a commitment to using recyclable and renewable packaging wherever possible despite the additional cost; reducing natural sugar levels in products (new light Cola and 50 percent less Sugar Juice range);  a philosophy that everyone can play a part in being ‘better’ (e.g. a junior marketing staff member’s idea became the foundation of the company’s new energy drink, Phoenix Good Energy, based on overcoming what consumers reject about current artificial energy drinks; multiple contacts for customers within The Better Drinks Co’s internal structure; establishing a dialogue with AUT on better ways to recruit and induct graduates; and developing people, with six members of the Henderson production team recently completing an English literacy programme to develop their communication skills.

The name change takes effect officially from 1 June and the physical manifestation of the philosophy can been seen in the company’s new open plan office space in Auckland’s Parnell.

Notable features include an entry space that resembles a café but also a family kitchen, which as Cotton puts it, “is at the heart of any family”. The commercial space is open plan with some functional breakout and quiet zones. 

“But the fun aspect is never out of sight with a basketball area for shooting some hoops and a slide in the boardroom to ensure things never get too serious,” he says.  “The whole space is about encouraging collaboration and creativity with commercial reality but ensuring we have fun along the way.”

A huge mural designed by Assignment Group and illustrated and finished by New Zealand Illustrator Tane Williams gives a graphical depiction of the company’s story so far (the logo was also designed by Assignment Group and the office was designed by Spaceworks). But Cotton says the most exciting thing is the wide expanse of white walls that enable the team to create and map their new future. 

From a marketing point of view, Charlie's has embraced better with a focus on 'good' in its advertising and a series of urban orchards in New Zealand and Australian cities where passersby were able to pick off a free juice, and Phoenix has recently launched an entertaining online video campaign showing the amazing transformation of a drug-addled athlete Estra Gen


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