Simon chats with Glenn Cooper, Chairman of Coopers Brewery.
Glenn Cooper is the chairman of Coopers Brewery in South Australia, chairman of Australia Made and a 5th generation Cooper.
Simon Dell: I’m joined today by Glenn Cooper who I will talk about in chronological order. He is a former business owner for a computer company. He’s the former Head of Sales and Marketing for another company, a very well-known company. He’s also the chairman of the Australia Made campaign, but most importantly, he is the chairman of Cooper’s Brewery in South Australia. Welcome to the show, Glenn Cooper.
Glenn Cooper: Thank you, Simon. I appreciate the opportunity to have a chat today.
Simon Dell: The first thing I’m going to say is one of the other roles that you’ve got is you’re described as an ambassador for Cooper’s throughout Australia and the world. That seems the cushiest job that there could possibly be in the world.
Glenn Cooper: Well, you mean a Beer Ambassador.
Simon Dell: Yeah. That sounds like a really tough gig.
Glenn Cooper: I retired about three years ago. I’m still chairman of the company, but part of my role, you don’t ever totally leave a family company. Part of the work I do, I do a bit of work on export for the brewery into Asia, and I’m an ambassador for the brewery. That’s an enjoyable job, but it means I have to go out to dinner, entertain people with drinks, and talk about beer. It is some work.
Simon Dell: Also, I just want everybody to be clear, because we did have this conversation prior to starting the recording: I do have experience and history in the beer industry, as people who know me would know that. I worked for Lion Nathan for about four years. I didn’t say that prior to that, I’d worked for Heineken, and in the UK, I used to work for Bass Brewers.
Glenn Cooper: They were a nice brewery.
Simon Dell: They were a fantastic company. That’s where I started my beer career in Burton. I wasn’t actually in Burton on Trent, but that’s the oldest trademark in the world, I believe, the Bass trademark.
Glenn Cooper: It is, and now it’s a fabulous iconic brewery. I’ve been there, actually. After I heard a little bit about you, being in that beer industry, working for the opposition, I’m still happy to continue.
Simon Dell: I’ve been told by the person who introduced us that you have an interesting story about ducks on rivers. There was some large duck on a river or something. Maybe he made that one up, or there was some publicity stunt that Cooper’s did.
Glenn Cooper: No. It wasn’t a duck on the river. It was a whale. During the Lion Nathan takeover bid, which we might talk about later, there’s a very funny story about their poly fin whale which escaped down the river in a flood. I purchased the photograph of it and then used it in a kindly, funny way. We’ll leave it at that.
Simon Dell: There’s no such thing as “kindly funny” when it comes to the brewery competition. First question I ask everybody is: Your first job. When did you first get paid for doing something? And we’ve had all sorts of things here from paper rounds, to working in restaurants, and that thing. What was the first job you ever had?
Glenn Cooper: The first job I suppose was when I was studying. I studied electronic engineer. I will add at one point, when I finished that, my lecturer said to me, “Glenn, you’re very poor engineer, but you’ve got a big mouth. I suggest you get into sales.” While I was studying during that time, I was working at nights at a convention place, serving drinks and food.
I always did extra work at night to fund the way through. I kept it very busy. So I did a number of jobs then later on in some hotels, mainly serving people and just coming out of that area while I was studying.
Simon Dell: When you do those jobs with a background from the family that you’re from, did that teach you much about the industry, seeing it from that level?
Glenn Cooper: It didn’t teach me anything from that because back in those days, Cooper’s was a pretty small brewery. It was more purely parochial South Australia. People would go, “You’re part of that Cooper family. Why are you here?” That was the question. “Why aren’t you working for the brewery?” That was the question.
An issue point with us, which we’re very proud of, is we have a ruling that you can’t even come near the brewery until you’re 30 years old. That’s the minimum you can even talk about it. And even then, the board decides if you’re allowed to come in based on the fact of experience and quality of the person.
That was more the case. It was: Why are you here? And I said, “I’m here to earn money like you.” That was it.
Simon Dell: I always get the question with the surname Dell: Am I part of the Dell computer family? I often say, “I wouldn’t be talking to you if I was.” So, electrical engineering. What got you there? What was it about that attracted you into that sector?
Glenn Cooper: I knew when I left school, I had to do something, and I was very good with the hands. I saw that electronics were just starting up. It was just the very early days of electronics, and I just found that fascinating. And so, that’s what I went and studied. That led to me getting involved in computers, computers nothing like today. But also then getting me involved in my own business, which was a computer sales and service business. It all started from me just wanting to do things in the hands and a fascination with electronics.
Simon Dell: What was the computer industry like back then? Who was buying computers and what are they using them for?
Glenn Cooper: They were very small computers. I heard this terminology on TV the other day: floppy disks, and a lot of the young people today, they look at you and say, “What was a floppy disk?” We had an 8-inch floppy disk. And I always remember the early days we had a small computer that would run two terminals, and you’re like, “Wow, this is amazing.” But the advancement was enormous. I did start in those very early years.
In fact, I even started in my sales career. I sold electronic systems, major systems to weapons research over here in the RAAF. This was more electronic system processing, because the computers were massive big systems by IBM in those days. I was part of a very fast evolution.
Simon Dell: I can imagine. What dates was that?
Glenn Cooper: That would’ve been during the middle ’70s to ’80s, during that period. But I didn’t join the brewery until I was 39 in the year 1990. I stayed out of it for a long time.
Simon Dell: When you decided to start your own business, what was running through your head at that point?
Glenn Cooper: I was actually working for a company which had branch offices all around Australia, a computer company. I’ve been fairly successful, and they asked me to come to Melbourne. I was actually living in Melbourne at the time, and I was a distribution manager. I was about 27 years old, about 29 years old around that mark. I was in Melbourne and they said, “Do you want to buy our office in South Australia? You come from Adelaide, you know people. Do you want to buy the office?” I hopped the house. We borrowed against the house.
Simon Dell: Were you married at the time?
Glenn Cooper: I was married at the time.
Simon Dell: How did the wife say? I assume you walked through the door one day and said, “We’re going to sell the house.”
Glenn Cooper: It took a little convincing. She backed me all the way. We believed in the business. It was quite a good business at times. It wasn’t a fantastic business, but it was a good business. And so, we borrowed and bought that business, and it took off. And I did have some marvellous times during the computer industry, very early days of computers, and sales, and the service centre as well. We have the service centre.
Simon Dell: How did you grow that business? What were the key things that you did every day from a sales and marketing perspective? Was it back then just knocking on doors or making phone calls?
Glenn Cooper: Simon, I’m going to tell you: What I did in those days, to me today still hasn’t changed. It’s changed a bit in format, and that is this: I wasn’t effectively knocking on doors. It was building relationships. It was going down to the universities and building relationships with the people that were making the decisions.
It was going out to weapons research centre, which was still a big area in Adelaide here, and getting around all the little departments, and talking to people. And I said, “This is what we’ve got to offer.” And one thing I can give people doing, and it still hasn’t changed, understanding your customer was the key. Once I understood how their mind worked, what they were trying to achieve and what was turning them on, then you’re able to sell to them a lot better.
And it still hasn’t changed today in my book: understanding your customer. I say to the sales reps in the brewery for many times, I got sick of it. Shut up, because you don’t learn anything by just talking all the time. You learn by listening, and you’ve just got to say some good bits and then ask questions and listen, and you will learn about that customer.
Simon Dell: It’s amazing, the amount of conversations I’ve had on this podcast with people who have built start-ups. And even then, the same thing holds true. Sometimes, you just have to make a lot of phone calls, build relationships, and knock on doors irrespective of whether you’re a product-based start-up, or even software, or all those things. The early days is still very much about getting out there in the marketplace and meeting people.
Glenn Cooper: I think trust builds from face-to-face.
Simon Dell: Absolutely. What are some of the marketing things back then? Obviously, in those days, there’s no Facebook, there’s no email. Was there other mediums that you would’ve used to grow the business?
Glenn Cooper: Flyers. We went through a lot of flyers. Even the case when personal computers came in, we did a lot of littler box drops. But typically, with companies, it was just a flyer or a glossy magazine. They weren’t fabulous presentations, but they were at least presentations you could leave with people. So those things were very important. Also, I believe going and having drink together was very important, just trying to socialise if you could.
And it’s fascinating today. I know that with companies like Coles and Woolworths, they’re not allowed, they’re prohibited from building relationships with customers. When I say customers, people that sell to them. They’re not allowed to build these relationships. And many really quite good, innovative people inside Woolworths and Coles have actually lost their jobs or being transferred because they built relationships with suppliers. And I think that’s a very disappointing attitude.
Simon Dell: Back in my days in those Lion Nathan days, that was an intrinsic part of building relationships with hotel owners and bottle shop chain owners, is going out and entertaining them. I use entertaining in air quotes because there were some big nights there.
Glenn Cooper: Simon, during this interview, we want to make sure you don’t use profanity words like Lion Nathan. I’m only joking. We have a good relationship with them.
Simon Dell: I imagine the relationship today is probably than perhaps it was in those early 2000s.
Glenn Cooper: It’s pretty good. You’re out there beating it out, but in the upper level, more on the executive management level, we’re in the beer industry. There’s a lot of other issues of competitiveness that we have to look at. You just don’t get silly on it.
Simon Dell: I’ve got a couple of questions around things like pricing and stuff like that because that’s interest me over the years of where it was then and where it is now. We’ll come back to that. You said you only moved into Cooper’s when you were 39. What made you switch? Obviously, you must have had a relatively successful business there that you owned. What made you want to move into a… I guess it wasn’t much of a corporate industry back then with the size of the business back then, or was it starting to grow a bit quicker?
Glenn Cooper: It was starting to grow. Let me just take it back a little bit. When I was growing up and the other Coopers at a similar age, we were told as children that the brewery won’t survive, it’s struggling. It’s going through very tough times, and so you really can’t make any expectations that the brewery will be around. You better go out and do your own thing.
That’s what we were told and that’s what we did. It was only in the later years, in fact, it was a very risky time for Cooper’s even during the during the 80s, mid-80s particularly, and it was only that one of my uncles, Maxwell Cooper, who was a brewer, actually did some breakthroughs on what they call transporting work, in other words, sterilisation of work. So, you could transport it and it was the start of the home-brew kit.
Here, they would ship the work, which is a base product of beer, before fermentation. And you would ship that in a bag. It was like a wine cask. We developed that. We were the first in the world to develop that, and it took off. We were the first to do a home-brew kit. It took off and it saved the brewery. And so, during the 80’s here, it was saved by that. And then it got a bit abase, but it was only in the late-80s where the fourth generation Coopers thought, “Well, maybe this will survive. Maybe we better think about the next generation.”
It was myself that was approached and also my cousin, Dr. Tim Cooper, who is a medico. We were approached to say, “Look, you should come into the brewery.” And we said yes. That’s when I sold off part of the computer business and joined the brewery. You’d grown up with it so it was a deep love there. The opportunity was there to survive. Tim and I thought we could contribute to this.
Simon Dell: There’s something about the alcohol industry. One of my early interviews was a gentleman by the name of Justin Dry who owns a company called Vinomofo which you may or may not know. His exposure to wine at an early age has just permeated through his entire life. And when you speak to him, you can’t imagine that he would do anything else other than wine. And I can imagine with a family-run business, and certainly in the beer industry, it’s much the same.
Glenn Cooper: I grew up with it. It was in our family. I used to wander around the brewery as a young kid. We’d even help the old man with a couple of tastings on Sunday morning when I was quite young. A little underage, but we got away with it.
Simon Dell: Your first role in there was sales and marketing director. What were the marketing challenges walking in there day one? What things were you facing that you had to deal with?
Glenn Cooper: It was a very interesting time. We’d been surviving. And so therefore, the amount of marketing, the amount of money available was virtually non-existent. One of the things that I just started to apply, and I still talk about this when I do talks around Australia, is I identified what Cooper’s had that the others didn’t. In other words, what Fosters and Lion, those are the big breweries, what did we have that the others didn’t? I call them the Cooper’s Advantages and I identified them.
All businesses have some advantage. It may not be very readily right there in your face, but we have advantages. And I identified those advantages that the others didn’t have. It wasn’t money or advertising power, let me tell you. Once I identified those, we virtually hadn’t done any marketing, but I went about building a brand name. And one of the critical areas that I really went to was Sydney because it was still very much state-based beers.
It was starting to open up, and I’d always remember traveling in a taxi from Sydney airport. The common word would be, the taxi driver would say, “What do you do?” I’d say, “I’m in the beer industry.” And the next question would be, “What beer is that?” I would say, “Cooper’s.” And they’d say, I’ve heard of that but aren’t they owned by Fosters or aren’t they in NSW? Aren’t they owned by somebody else?
What I identified was the fact that people had heard of Cooper’s but they had no understanding. So, we set about a plan to make them understand who we were. We had identified that actually, they knew our name quite surprisingly. They knew we were a brewery but we knew nothing about us, what we were and what we were about. That was the start of using those advantages to broaden interstate-wise the Cooper’s brand.
Simon Dell: I guess then, that messaging you had to bring across was very much that it was Australian, that it was independent-owned, that it was family owned. Was that the first step?
Glenn Cooper: Yes. But also, the really important step that made a big difference is, our beers are cloudy because they’re all-natural. No preservatives or additives. There was always a bit of a joke from the Fosters people, “Cooper’s don’t even know how to filter beer.” We went down the path of saying it’s clouded because of the reason, and that’s no preservation or additives. It’s true ale. And we went down that path.
The very early days, I got people involved in Sydney of rolling your Cooper’s and it was a fantastic thing because it was the theatre of Cooper’s. We went around talking to bar people. This is what you do. You roll it. And they got onto it and they said, “We love this because of its talking point.” It just took off from there. It was every free salesman in a bar rolling a bottle, and we’re days in the story of, “Why are you rolling them?” It just worked magnificently.
We’re doing that overseas now, rolling the better.
Simon Dell: And I guess when one person at the bar watches the barman do that, they all then want to know what that is. It’s almost a viral effect of the early-90s without the internet.
Glenn Cooper: It was exactly what it was. It’s still today. I love it when I go through Sydney, Melbourne, everywhere now and I hear a person ask for a Cooper’s. The bar person says, “Would you like it turned or rolled, or would you like it rolled?” It’s no good doing that with forex because it makes no difference.
Simon Dell: There’s not a lot you could do with forex to make much of a difference. [laughs] Anyone who works with me or has worked with me is now going to delete me off Facebook. There we go.
Glenn Cooper: I’ve got a bit more left for you on this broadcast.
Simon Dell: Let’s save it all up to the end so we can do it all in one go. What products did you introduce? I saw that there was a list of things that you’d overseen or brought into the marketplace.
Glenn Cooper: The first one I brought in, a pale ale had been launched but it was in very early days. It got launched about ’89 and I joined in ’90, so it was very early days. But I can’t say I was the launcher of pale ale. We had sparkling ale, pale ale, and Cooper Stout. They were the main ones. The first one I did was, we had a dark ale that was only on tap in a hotel here called the Cooper’s Ale House. This dark ale was very good but we only ever had it on draft beer.
So I put that into a bottle with a new label, and we called it Cooper’s Dark. We had a marvellous advertising campaign because our advertising agency here, which was a company called KWP. A very good person that started it called Andrew Killey and Peter Withy. They’d come up with a program and they’d took a photograph of the chairman of the company at the time, Maxwell Cooper, who I mentioned was the home-brew person.
I took a photograph of him. They sepia-ed the photograph, and they put sunglasses on him, and they said, “Meet the dark side of the family.” That was a fabulous connection. If I can with you just for a moment, I’ll tell you an amazing story. They showed me the poster and I said, “My goodness, you put sunglasses on the chairman of the company and you called him the dark side of the family.” I said, “I love the connection, but just leave it with me.”
I waited for a time, went to the old brewery, then I was near the bar, and I heard Bill and Maxwell Cooper come back from a long lunch. They seemed pretty happy so I went in and I said, “I just want to show you an ad. It’s going to be only in a few magazines.” And I held the ad up. They both laughed. Bill said, “Maxwell? I’ve always said he was the dark side of the family anyway.” And so, I said, “You’re okay if we just print this a few times?” Max was, “Yeah, that’s alright.”
Maxwell went away up to Singapore in a business trip. And while he was away, we had the opportunity to say, “We can advertise in the back of 260 buses around Adelaide.” So, we whacked old Max in the back of the bus. The problem is I hadn’t told him. And when he came back to Adelaide, he’s up in the car and there’s all these buses with “Meet the dark side of the family.”
Today, if he was here, he would put those sunglasses on. He took that role. And that just launched that product amazingly well with a minimum budget.
Simon Dell: That’s fantastic. Smart ideas like that within the beer industry, you don’t see them so much these days.
Glenn Cooper: You don’t, unfortunately.
Simon Dell: The beer industry tries to be a little bit too clever for its own good.
Glenn Cooper: Absolutely. We’ve tried to stay very similar out of that arena. We try to stay different. The other products that we launched was Cooper’s Clear. An example of what I just said was, all the other beers would come out with low carb beers. Blonde was leading the path, all low carb beers. And I said, “We can’t just follow.” But people wanted a low carb beer, so we brought out Cooper’s Clear which is a low carb beer and it says low carb on the bottle, but it’s not the main presentation.
The way we did that was the fact that, “Cooper’s are all cloudy beers.” And that’s all they knew us for. So instead of cloudy, this one was clear. But by the way, it’s low-carb and it’s got a good taste. That’s how Cooper’s Clear came about. It was low-carb. We went after the low carb market, but we did it with a different name.
Simon Dell: Was there anything in that time in your marketing area that you look back and just think, “That was actually a mistake.”
Glenn Cooper: There was one but it never got out of South Australia. We came up with a marvelous idea. Cooper’s wanted to do a new beer. We wanted South Australian people to name it, so we named it. We had a competition, it was two business class airfares to London, so it was a good price: Name the new beer. Anyway, we selected a winner. The beer name was called Black Crow. It was before the crows days. None of that played into it, just a black crow of South Australia, so it was called Cooper’s Black Crow.
It came out and it took off. The only problem was, it wasn’t a very good beer. It took off and came down like a plane as well. People loved the name, it was a good idea, but it doesn’t taste that good. Even our brewers today will admit it wasn’t their finest hour in making beer, so that was a failure. Other than that, we’ve had very little failure, very few.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, if you ask the general public to name things these days, you get a much different response. The Boaty McBoatface, the general public being asked to name a boat and things like that. I’d suspect you’d be walking a fine line these days if you ask the general public to do something.
Glenn Cooper: You couldn’t do it.
Simon Dell: Across all that time since you joined the brewery, which is 28 years, what’s been your favourite brand? What do you look back on? Either something you did or something that was there historically. What’s your favourite brand?
Glenn Cooper: The favourite brand is still pale ale, no question. It’s a massive brand. We started it. We’ve been followed with the green for pale ale. There’s lots of pale ale around now. Ours is the Cooper’s Original Pale Ale and we just solidified that name in Australia. Now, Pale Ale, we didn’t invent the name as such. Pale ale is a world unified name come out of England, typically it was down the south of England.
In Australia particularly, people would go and order, and still today, they say, “I’ll have a pale.” Most cases, the barman, barmaid would know that there’s a Cooper’s because we started it, but there are a lot more today. Pale ale is the most iconic one. Just in recent time, and here’s the first plug coming in, we’ve just released Sessions Ale. It’s a blue label now.
There’s a typical label like the Pale Ale. It’s a cloudy beer. It’s all the other things but it’s got a tropical taste, a bit more crafty, and it just has taken off. We are thrilled with it. It’s just gone ballistic and it hasn’t robbed from Pale Ale. In fact, Pale Ale drinkers come up to me and say, “Glenn, that’s pretty nice, that Session Ale, but it’s not a Pale.”
And I say, “Well, thank you. We don’t want to move the pale ale drinkers. We want the other drinkers to come and try our Sessions Ale which has taken off all around Australia. We’re really pleased with it.
Simon Dell: What do you think has made the Cooper’s brand lasted the time that it has?
Glenn Cooper: I wouldn’t say last the brand. The brewery to last is the funniest thing. We’ve been through some torrid times, and I’d take you back when my father and my uncles were there. There were breweries all over Australia. There was Swans. There were so many breweries.
They had gone on pretty well in those days. They’d all have a drink together. My father told me, he said, “Oh, those other brewers, we have a brewers conference in Adelaide and all the brewers had come out.”
And typically, the Fosters people said, “We love you people but we’re going to bury you.” And they’re all gone. They’re all sold. And the sad part with Australia when we lost Fosters was it was a world iconic brand for Australia and we lost that.
But now, all of the other breweries other than the craft brewers, they’re all owned by overseas companies. We’re the only largest major Australian-owned brewery. We wear that mantle, we’re pleased to, but it was a bit sad when Fosters was sold.
XXXX, that’s owned by Kirin now, the Japanese. People don’t quite understand that we’ve actually decimated and sold off our beer industry.
Simon Dell: I did a brief stint as well with DB Breweries in New Zealand, their Australian arm. And DB’s owned by a Japanese company as well.
Glenn Cooper: It’s just sad. Anyway, we’re there. We’ll keep going.
Simon Dell: You must see a lot of these new craft brewers. It feels to me there’s this new wave or new generation of brewers that are starting to come through in Australia. Do you see that a lot in South Australia?
Glenn Cooper: Yeah. I’ve seen this craft brewing thing grow out of America when I was touring the US all the time. In the US, it’s gone ballistic. And when I say ballistic, it’s going to hurt itself because it’s just uncontrolled now.
And unfortunately, the quality levels are all over the shop. You can go and buy 20 or 40 different beers and they will all be different, some good, some bad, some average. That’s a bit silly. Their strategy is not quite there. We’ve got some good craft brewers.
I get asked regularly how we handle the competition because of all the craft brewers. There’s two ways to answer that question. One, yes, there is more competition for Cooper’s because they’re craft brewers, but the craft brewers will grow in the pie, whereas before, we were the only craft person competing with XXXX and Fosters and all those.
The craft premium type market was very small. That market has grown, so the pie has grown. There’s more players in it, yes. Two things have occurred: more competition, but also the pie has grown. We’re still growing. We’re in a good position. We have something like 20 years of continuous growth.
We had a slight dip last year, and that’s more to do with drink driving, health, all these issues that are coming in around the world.
Simon Dell: This is going to be a hard question for you to answer, and you might tell me to bugger off, but are there any craft beers out there, some of the small ones, that you look at and you admire, you think are doing a great job?
Glenn Cooper: There is, and they come and go. I’ve got to say there’s some products like Samuel Adams, American ones. The craft ones started in America many years ago are actually quite sophisticated breweries now, and they’re still seen as craft, but there are still some very good beers.
The bigger ones are usually the ones that I would recommend. There’s a few little ones that pop out. We’ve got some home brewers who brew up our home-brew kits. We’ve got a new thing called “brew up” now, which is a self-contained brewing, a bit like a Nespresso machine on steroids. It brews beer.
And I’m amazed how some of those beers, how good they are. The quality and the level of craft-brewing has lifted substantially, and they do make some very good beer. There’s a few American companies, but I taste ones that I go around and you’re surprised sometimes how good some of them are.
Simon Dell: You met my friend, colleague, associate, Simon Bell at the Myriad Festival in Brisbane a couple of weeks back, which was a festival of innovation. Where do you see the innovation in the beer industry in the next 5-10 years?
Glenn Cooper: It’s a really interesting exercise. There’s two tracks to it: technology innovation is terrific. That innovation of technology has helped the brewers a lot because the quality of the product has lifted up substantially. And innovation, machinery, and stuff has allowed the craft beer market to survive, to grow because you can now, at a reasonable cost, get equipment that can make good, reliable, quality beer.
That part has helped the brewers. The next phase, I’m not sure you can do a lot more technical innovations in beer. It’s pretty well vast at the moment. I think the innovation part comes in how we market, social marketing. It’s a cluttered field to stand out.
We just been going through some things. I mean, some of the issues come to do now with how you’re assessed through Google, how you target your consumer. The biggest thing that I call anti-innovation is a bit like the condensation of supermarkets, where they’re getting bigger, and stronger, and they’re gobbling up the small liquor stores.
I find that odd because there’s nothing like the good guy and a liquor store who’s small around the corner. You can go down and he’s got a little tasting, taste a few beers, taste a few wines. The trouble is the liquor store, those really good innovative liquor store people are being knocked out by the large supermarkets, and I think that’s a disappointment to me. That’s probably my greatest disappointment, is the government’s allowed our supermarkets to have such a stranglehold.
In the US, by the way, you can’t have on essential services food, alcohol can’t have more than 19% market share. I think we’ve made a blew there to tell you the truth.
Simon Dell: The interesting thing was, last time I went into Whole Foods in the US, and you walk into one of those, there’s just a huge beer selection in there. I struggle to recognise any of the brands in there. There’s no Coronas. There’s no Stellas. There’s no Buds or Coors or anything like that. It’s all individual beers from around America and around the world.
Glenn Cooper: That’s right. And as I say, with the big supermarkets, they’ve got to be there and they offer a very good cost-effective food for people. I don’t have a problem with how they operate. What I do have a problem with is, unfortunately, they’re knocking out all the small places.
And that’s where I think the uniqueness of the small place — I’d love to see the independent person survive.
Simon Dell: I look at some of the innovation in the industry more perhaps as the way that we access the products. Delivery, for example, you see there’s been a lot of those office delivery and home delivery companies cropping up around the big cities.
One got invested in Shark Tank, those sort of things. Maybe the innovation is the way the product reaches you, the brewer, to the end user, and maybe starts to even cut out that middleman.
Glenn Cooper: That’s right. I will say, in America just last year, I would take me to a couple of their liquor stores like you say. And there were rows and rows of craft beers. And they were putting the beers, they’re pulling them out of the four packs and out of the six packs, and putting individual bottles. The whole rows are individual bottles, and the people are just walking down there with a shopping trolley and taking one of this one, one pumpkin beer, one orange beer, one this.
Putting them all in there. They had no brand recognition. It was no brainer, and I think that’s really dangerous. And that’ll hurt craft brewers, because they’ve got to survive on a brand. If you have no brand recognition, then how are you going to survive or how are you going to market your product? It’s a really interesting thing I saw.
Simon Dell: On that note, there was a question I always thought. I never understood why the First Choices and the Dan Murphys of this world never did a build-your-own-six-pack option, where you could go in and pick brands that you like.
It’s interesting you say picking the individual ones is a lack of brand recognition. I often look at that brand fridge, the craft beer brand fridge and think, “I’d like to perhaps get two or three from different breweries.”
If I’m going to drink a six-pack in a night, which I can’t really do any more, otherwise I’d just snore all night and the wife kicks me out of bed. That’s why. But if I could, the option to maybe have two from Cooper’s and two from somebody else, and two from a local brewery, that’s quite an attractive proposition to me, but I guess that’s not attractive to the bottle shops.
Glenn Cooper: It’s not attractive to them. I did it and tested it quite a number of years ago, have a mixed six-pack. Now, we can’t manufacture that stuff. It’s got to be manually done. We went to the big stores and we said, “Look, we can give you a flat-pack carry six-pack. We’ll brand it up with the brands across the front of it.”
They didn’t want to do it. The reason they didn’t want to do it is because it meant some labor that they’re people had to put them into the 12-packs. I said, “Like you said, we’ll maybe just put them nearby and see if they’ll pick it up, and they’ll put the pack together and put the bottles in.” But they just said that’s too high.
It’s all about fast food, almost.
Simon Dell: I guess it’s if you’re dealing with a niche part of the market that wants that, it starts to become less economically-viable. It’s interesting. The other thing I was going to talk to you very quickly about was pricing. When I started in the Australian beer industry in 2003, the price of a carton… And I’ll use Heineken as an example because that’s who I was working for back then. We’d like to see Heineken in a bottle shop back then at $44.
You walk into a bottle shop, a First Choice and Dan Murphys these days, still $44 a carton. Has there been a struggle to generate more value out of the industry, or has the industry value come from new technology, and innovation, and cost saving?
Glenn Cooper: It has been an advantage through innovation, the brewing equipment, that has helped. But really, the main factor is: beers had two things going against it. The main thing going against it is beer excise. It’s like cigarettes.
Every twice a year, it goes up in the excise price. Fortunately, CPI hasn’t risen a lot but it’s growing up. Beer used to be cost-effective, it’s not so much now because they’re $50 a case. That’s not too bad.
But when you go into a hotel, it’s expensive. That’s a problem. That’s not the hotel, that’s just the fact of staff wages, et cetera. Beer was also a really good cost-effective drink. It’s getting away from that a bit now. The issue being, as I said before, there’s no more, I don’t think, great technology advancements that’s going to save in the brewing process, so we are going to see the product keep rising.
The taxing on the alcohol, there’s a lot of talk in government about the alcohol levels, the excise going up being a tax to the alcohol, but how much tax you pay is relative to the alcohol. Mid-strength beers have helped that price, to hold it. Mid-strength beers have held it and that’s just because the tax is lower. The lower alcohol, lower tax has kept the price a bit more stable, but it’s going to keep going up, and that’s something unfortunate.
Simon Dell: I want to ask you a few questions about the Australian Made campaign. Give five minutes to at least your favourite Lion Nathan story. You can have five minutes off the hook to say what you like or don’t like.
Glenn Cooper: Lion launched a hostile takeover bid of Coopers back in 2005. You would have been around. It’s a very vicious battle. That was a very tough battle. It cost us, by the way, $8.5 million to defend and we won, which was great. It was a fantastic result, but boy, it was a tough battle.
We learned a lot out of it, too. It tightened up our whole organisation, but it’s not a battle I want to go through again. It’s a very steep and expensive learning curve. But what ended it, magnificently, was our shareholders. We were able to ask our shareholders to insert a clause in our constitution.
That said no other brewery may own shares in Coopers. To insert that, you effectively ask your shareholders to insert a clause that can limit our very high offering by another brewery. But nearly 96% of our shareholders says, “Insert that clause. This company’s been going too long. We want it to keep going.”
The final price that Lion offered was $310 a share when our share price was done at about $48 a share. A couple of years after, probably two and a half years after, our share price with that clause inserted was above the $310-$338.
Our shareholders supported us, and that’s how we won that battle. But that isn’t the story that I think you’re probably looking for. The whale you mentioned earlier on. They had the Christmas display here every year down at West End, which is owned by XXXX, owned by Kirin now. The whole lot was owned by them at the time.
And they had a Christmas display they had for years. They had a polyphene great big whale that sat on the river. Well, we had a little flood during that period while this takeover bid was on, and the whale broke loose and took off down the river.
And the press got hold of it, the TV, and they took photographs of their whale just careering off down the river. Well, I said to our advertising company, buy the photograph of that whale. I want to own it. I’m not telling you what it cost, even the people in the brewery don’t know what it costs, but I got it and we owned it.
And then we did an ed, and it was a magnificent ed. We did a full-page ed. In fact, we did two eds. One of them, the lawyers said, “If you use the second one, you’re going to be paying us more money so you couldn’t use that one.” The ad just showed the whale. It just said: The freedom to go your own way. We can relate to that. Coopers.” With the beer underneath.
It was a nice feeling ad. Now, somehow, the other one escaped to the internet. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. It was a fabulous ad, but I don’t want to offend anybody because it was relative. I’m not going to say it because I’m not offending anybody, other than to say it had a connection between a whale and the Japanese.
Simon Dell: If anyone wants to know, feel free to email me because I think Simon Bell did tell me what it was.
Glenn Cooper: It was one of the very first true viral emails that went worldwide. It was just amazing.
Simon Dell: Your role was Chairman of Australian Made. How long have you been involved with those guys?
Glenn Cooper: I’ve been on the board for about seven, eight years now. I’ve been chairman now for about four or five yers.
Simon Dell: What attracted you to get into working with them?
Glenn Cooper: The chairman at the end was Robert Gerard, who was Gerard Industries, Clipsal stuff for years. He’s larger than life, a great entrepreneur and great philanthropist here in South Australia and very well-connected around Australia.
He was chairman and he invited me one day to his big, luxurious boat with a whole bunch of guests. They took me down the front of the boat, had a little chat to me and they said, “We want you to join Australian Made.” Two years later, Robert stepped out as chairman, came to me and said, “I want you take over as chairman.” It was very quick terms. Really, it was a Robert Gerard plan.
I’m enjoying it. It’s a love job and I’m proud of that. Australian Made, for those who don’t know, is the green triangle with the kangaroo on it, which is now going to appear on all food with a rating of whether how much content inside is Australian-made. There’s a content bar underneath it. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I’m very passionate about Australian industry.
I think Australian industry needs to be supported. I think people in Australia need to support it where they can. I’m not saying you go and pay for the highest price, but boy, if there’s a close difference or matching up, if you do buy Australia, do support the rest of the community. I’m very passionate about that.
I don’t think we have to do fruit from overseas all the time if we grow the best stuff. We are a food country, so why don’t we actually buy our own food now, Australian-made products?
Simon Dell: Do you think it’s a good marketing tool for brands overseas?
Glenn Cooper: The Australian Made logo? The ones that use it, huge. There’s bed manufacturers. Harvey Norman uses it for beds and other products that are made here. In China at the moment, we did some research, it is massively recognised. A number of the companies that are using it say, “I couldn’t do it without it.” It signifies a quality to the Chinese and any of the Asian countries. It signifies a quality point that they feel comfortable with.
We just finished some research done by a major research company, one of the biggest research companies in Australia. We had a 99% recognition factor and a 96% trust factor. Those are amazing figures.
Simon Dell: Do you think there’s some industries that it doesn’t work in? I’m just thinking things like software and stuff like that.
Glenn Cooper: That’s a bit harder, naturally. It’s better in food, naturally, but even some bed manufacturers, there are some terrific bed manufacturers here. H.R. Beard, the bed manufacturer in Sydney. They use it extensively.
It’s a recognisable factor that they trust. It all comes back in those things to trust: Do I trust this product wearing that logo? By the way, we can take the logo, tell a company to take the logo off is their quality goes terrible and they’re getting bad reports. We can say, “You’re not supporting the logo.”
Simon Dell: What are some of your favourite brands that you’ve worked with under that, that are doing well overseas? You mentioned the bed guys. Is there any others?
Glenn Cooper: All the furniture guys. You’d be surprised a lot of furniture. Put food aside because the food guys just love it, but they’re a huge amount. A lot of the manufacturers are quite small companies. In some of them, we have a sliding scale. You pay to use the logo, and they’re $500 a year. That’s all it costs you.
And they say, “Wow, for $500, I’ll put it on.” And then they come back and say, “I’m surprised how many people know it” because it’s a recognisable factor. Now, all the food going into China will have it on. You do a product then that’s not food and it’s got the same logo, there’s an immediate connection and people will say, “Oh, that’s from Australia. All the food there is good quality.” It’s not a love factor but it’s a comfort factor.
Simon Dell: What do you think it is about the Australian-made products or Australian-grown products the Chinese like so much?
Glenn Cooper: I think we’re good at a lot of things, sport play is a big part of that. We’re good at sports. For a small country, we punch above our weight and I think that’s what people like.
Another brand that’s just come on board are Volvo trucks. The proportion of the trucks are made in Australia. I didn’t know that. Volvo have a great branding for it now. And those things are really good.
It’s a little bit of a trust factor, a feel good. These days, with competition, any little edge can count.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting. Certainly in the manufacturing industry, certainly in the last few years, manufacturing overseas, in the Chinas of this world, because the middle class has grown so drastically in China, the cost savings are potentially still there. It’s just perhaps not as good as they were 10 years ago.
Glenn Cooper: Correct. The other thing is true. We put beer into China. A guy in China said, “See, young people, they want to step up. The way they see they step up, because I got a bit more money, is to go and buy. They see buying an imported beer or being seen drinking an imported beer is a step up.”
That’s your market. It’s not the cheapest. It’s not going to match the local brew’s price. And he said, “That’s what I see. They wanted to step up in clothes, drinking, and eating. That’s what’s happening with that class.”
Simon Dell: It’s funny because that was perhaps Australia 15-20 years ago. Everyone wanted to be seen drinking imported beers: the Heinekens, the Becks, and the Stellars, and now people want to be seen drinking those local products, local craft beers.
Glenn Cooper: Let me give you an example. When I was very young, my father was the beer guy, and about two guys in the bar, best mates, one would be drinking XXXX, the other one would be drinking VB. Neither one would drink the other’s beer. They’d both say one was better than the other and they wouldn’t change.
The other thing I could say, if you want a call VB and XXXX “beers”, anyway… There’s the second shot. But what’s happened now with the people, the repertoire of the people now today is six, seven beers. They’re not afraid to move around, and I think that’s great. It’s fabulous.
People say to me, “I tried yours and I tried somebody else’s pale.” This is great. This is what we should be about.”
Simon Dell: Even with me. My selection of beers would range from… I’ll probably get beaten up about this, but I’ll drink a Japanese beer, an Asahi or a Sapporo or something light, but I’ll also drink a locally-brewed craft beer. I think the things I won’t touch anymore are the big mass-manufactured ones.
Glenn Cooper: That’s what’s happening. I’m glad you mentioned Sapporo by the way, because people may not know, but we actually distribute Sapporo in Australia and we make Sapporo in Australia. We actually, under license, make their brew.
I got to say, the Japanese make some very good beer: Asahi and Sapporo are very good beers. If you ask me if I would want to drink an opposition beer, I would drink an Asahi. It’s a very nice clean.
Simon Dell: When you go to Japan, I went to Japan a couple of times in the last 12 months, when you see what they’re doing there in some of the local beers there, it’s some really good brands coming out of that area.
Glenn Cooper: It’s a fun place, Japan. Some people have a perception about Japan, massive crowds, small country. But gee, they’re a friendly kind of people.
Simon Dell: They’re crazy. They’re bonkers, all of them.
Glenn Cooper: I didn’t say that but you did.
Simon Dell: I was in the country. I said to my wife, I genuinely feel like if you were on a different planet. I could sit and go on for hours. Last three questions for you. You mentioned a couple of these already, but the last three questions I ask. The first one is some brands that you liked outside of your industry, things that you look at and go, “I’d always buy that.” It might be a travel company, it might be a car, clothing, retail, whatever it is. Some of the brands that you really like yourself.
Glenn Cooper: There’s some wine brands that have done a fantastic job. Wine is also fascinating. I’m not just stuck on beer. I enjoy my wine. I’ll tell you what I’m really fascinated by in the alcohol industry, is the evolution of gin. You go to a couple of country tabs now, they have a gin warehouse. You go in and there’s four or five little gins, and you have a little bit of food. It’s fantastic. It’s a tourist attraction.
They marketed those gins and you’ve got these high-quality gins that are coming up as well as the scotches as well. I always look at cars. I’m a little bit of a car man. I look how they market. The changing trend of how they’ve marketed cars is amazing. Their evolution of marketing in cars is incredible.
Simon Dell: What would be your favourite car brand? What do you drive at the moment?
Glenn Cooper: I have an Audi car. My wife has a Range Rover, small one, a little one. But I do have a toy and second-hand, but I love my cars and I’ve had an Aston Martin DB9 which is an older one. Not too old, but I also had an old car I did up years ago which was a Corvette Stingray 1972, 454 big block. My wife hated it. She said, “There’s no airbags. There’s nothing. It rattles. It’s noisy and everybody looks at you.”
And I go, “Yeah. That’s why it’s a great car. They’re not looking at you. They’re looking at the car.” So, iconic brands… Quickly, have a look at Mustang, what Mustang have done today in bringing back an old model style, revamping it, and taking it off in Australia.
Simon Dell: What attracted you to the Aston Martin?
Glenn Cooper: It’s one of the best brands you can ever get in the world. It’s not the fastest car in the world but it has that uniqueness. When I drive it around and pull up, people say, “Can I have a photograph?” A lady comes up, the kids surround it, “Can we have a photograph in front of it?” “Somebody can sit in if you like.” It’s over the moon.
I may offend the Porsche owners here. There’s lots of Porsches, but guess what? If there’s an Aston Martin and three Porsches, the people go to the Aston Martin and have a good look. It’s an iconic brand and they haven’t destroyed it. I hope they never do.
Simon Dell: Second to last question: What have you got planned for the rest of the year? What’s next on your agenda or Cooper’s agenda?
Glenn Cooper: I’m still heavily involved in the brewery. I’m on a number of boards. I’ve been asked to join some boards as an independent board member. One of them, Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Very exciting company. Really going places, especially overseas. Their export market is huge: fabulous family company.
Another company I’m on the board of is Haymes Paint, a paint company out of Ballarat. They are the second, third generation companies and they are fabulous to work with. I just get an absolute buzz out of seeing family companies grow and get stronger. That’s what I love doing and that’s what I feel turns me on, in seeing Australian family companies grow.
Simon Dell: What makes the paint company so special?
Glenn Cooper: They’re different. They’ve got a premium quality paint. It’s the old thing just like Coopers. They’re a family company. They stick by quality. They have certain rules. The other paint companies are all being gobbled up by the Duluxes’, and they’re all international companies. Yet they carve out a nice proportion, a growing proportion of paint.
But by being more family-friendly, and attached, and trusting, they’ve got their own shops now. They’re building a network around Australia. That type of thing attracts me to those and that’s what I hope always survives in this country.
Simon Dell: Do you find those smaller countries are more agile in their ability to be innovative and create new products?
Glenn Cooper: They are. They have to be. That’s the success of a family or private small company. You’ve got to be agile. You’ve got to be innovative. As I said earlier on our interview, you got to find the things that the others don’t have.
I have a slogan. I say to people quite often. I said one of our values is the difference with Coopers is you can still meet a Cooper. After the day, you might say, “Big deal.” But it’s something we make ourselves very accessible.
Simon Dell: Last question. If anybody wants to talk to you, ask you a question, if they need you as a guest speaker or just want to hang out with you, what’s the best way for them to get in contact with you? Don’t put your phone number.
Glenn Cooper: I’ve got an email, but a lot of people want to come in a free beer. I am retired to a certain degree, but look, they can write to me. They can write to the brewery. I go to the brewery regularly. I’m always there. I’ve got a share in the board so I do respond to emails that come in through their way.
All I’d say if people want to chat about something, I’m very open. While I’m busy, I still enjoy helping people. I enjoy people being innovative, and trustworthy, and forthright in trying to do business in this country.
Simon Dell: Just for everyone’s benefit, if you are interested in Glenn as a speaker, and hopefully after listening to him for the past hour, you will be, you’re listed on Saxton’s website, aren’t you?
Glenn Cooper: On a number of them. A few of them put my name on there. It’s a sideline. It’s not a job. I do a few but I enjoy it. My drug is the fact when I can talk with a whole bunch of people and you hear a pin drop and then they come up after with a bunch of questions. That’s what really gives me a buzz these days, if I can hold their attention and they get something out of it.
And family companies come up after and say, “I got something out of that. That’s really good. Thank you.”
Simon Dell: Thank you very much for your time today. I will promise you that I will go out and buy a six-pack of Coopers beers tonight. I’ll be rolling them with a kitchen counter, and the wife will be looking at me like I’m an idiot.
Glenn Cooper: Go ahead and try the new Session Ales and tell me what you think. I’ll be interested to know. Give me feedback because you’ve been in the beer industry. Give feedback on what you think the Session Ale is like.
Simon Dell: I’ll get the guys who do the Spin Cycle segment before we do the interview, Patrick Condren and Edwina Luck from QUT. I’ll get them a six-pack as well. We’ll all do a session. Maybe we’ll record the Spin Cycle after we’ve each had a six-pack of beer.
Glenn Cooper: Send me a photograph, Simon. You got to send me a little photograph. You got my email. Send me a photograph and let me know. I got to see this picture, the old Lion Nathan, Heineken rep having a Coopers. I’ll put that on the wall. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Simon. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I hope it all works very well for you.
Simon Dell: Cool, thank you very much, mate. We’ll talk to you soon.
Glenn Cooper: Thank you, bye.