SHOJO wellness tonics have been launched in Woolworths Metro stores nationally.
SHOJO wellness tonics have been launched in Woolworths Metro stores nationally.

Unusual $4 hangover cure we need today

Feeling a bit rusty after a few drinks or in need of a morning or afternoon pick-me-up, you might reach straight for a coffee.

With 1.3 million coffees sold every day in Australia, having a daily coffee or two is part of our culture.

But Rogue Beverages co-founder and director Sean Cunial has another solution that he calls the "Japanese Berocca".

The former Coca-Cola executive, who worked for the leading beverage corporation for more than 20 years and made his way up to COO, spent 15 of those years in Asia where he got an innovative business idea.

He wanted to bring a new concept back to Australia after seeing health tonics in Japan and other Asian countries being as popular as having a morning coffee for an energy boost.

Mr Cunial was inspired by his Japanese colleagues' ability to be energised at work after a night out, which they credited to their daily shots of vitamin-infused wellness tonics.

The drinks are consumed in Asian countries like Japan in a similar way to how we drink coffee or tea in Australia - for an energy boost in the morning or for an afternoon pick-me-up.

SHOJO is now in Woolworths Metro stores nationally. Picture: Supplied
SHOJO is now in Woolworths Metro stores nationally. Picture: Supplied

"During that period, what I really got inspired by was, no matter which culture you come across, this concept of food as medicine in Asian cultures," he explained.

"There were products already around in this 100ml shot that played in this space. By the time I got to Japan this category was huge."

Mr Cunial is a cancer survivor, which was part of his reason to leave Asia and the corporate world and come back to Australia with his young family.

Game to bring a new concept home to the caffeine-addicted Australia, he launched his start-up in 2017 with some other senior executives who had experience in the consumer goods and beverage market, and launched SHOJO in 2018.

Taking the Japanese philosophy of "you are what you eat", the business is built on the foundation of providing "better for you" beverages that support people's health and wellbeing.

The wellness industry, which is worth around $140 million in Japan alone and $US68 billion globally, is taking hold of Western countries, with Mr Cunial's 100ml drinks selling for $4 a pop in stores across Australia.

The brand has seen massive growth in the past 18 months since launching the first SHOJO wellness tonic, which was initially picked up by Harris Farm and Mr Vitamins.

Sean Cunial decided to bring the concept to Australia after seeing how popular wellness shots were in Asia. Picture: Supplied
Sean Cunial decided to bring the concept to Australia after seeing how popular wellness shots were in Asia. Picture: Supplied

By the end of 2020, Rogue Beverages expanded its retailer and distributor partnerships to increase the coverage of SHOJO tonics from its predominantly NSW-based partners - Harris Farm, Mr Vitamins and selected BP multi-site convenience operators - to the Woolworths Metro network and selected IGAs and premium independent grocers nationally.

SHOJO is now distributed in 56 Woolworths Metro stores across the country.

"Retailers are really interested in the space," Mr Cunial said. "Harris Farm Markets and Mr Vitamins have been with us right from the beginning."

Rogue Beverages' partnership with Australian distributor Quality Food World has supported the business to be able to service customers nationally, with annualised retail sales expected to reach $1.7 million in 2021.

Rogue Beverages makes two drinks - an anti-inflammatory turmeric-infused tonic and a red ginseng shot which contain vitamins B and C for energy without the caffeine hit.

Mr Cunial saw the launch of SHOJO - which is named after a mythical Japanese sea spirit known for his healing powers and vitality - as an opportunity for Rogue Beverages to establish a high-value wellness shot category for the Asia-Pacific market, targeting domestic and Asian consumers.

In Australia, where we have a religious coffee culture, Mr Cunial said the tonics can be an alternative - or a partner to - coffee as a "pick-me-up", perfect for that "3pm dull spot where people have come to realise they shouldn't have that coffee in the afternoon".

"This has no caffeine and the energy doesn't come from sugar, it's from the B vitamins," he said.

The 100ml drinks are available in Woolworths Metro as well as independent retailers. Picture: Supplied
The 100ml drinks are available in Woolworths Metro as well as independent retailers. Picture: Supplied

Mr Cunial's team has since developed another tonic, which was recently launched in Harris Farm, that's tapped into Maori and Aboriginal botanicals such as kakadu plum and boysenberry extract mixed with vitamins.

He said the natural, functional ingredients inspired by traditional Asian remedies, such as the curcumin in turmeric, are scientifically proven to have anti-inflammatory properties and support healthy liver function.

"We're not in our garage coming up with herbal remedies," Mr Cunial said.

In developing SHOJO wellness shots, nutritionist Nikki Hart worked with the Rogue Beverages team to incorporate emerging nutritional science with Asian and indigenously-used natural ingredients used for centuries for their healing properties.

The wellness shots are backed by a nutritionist. Picture: Supplied
The wellness shots are backed by a nutritionist. Picture: Supplied

"There are so many natural, proven ingredients with incredible healing properties which, when combined, offer ongoing health and wellness benefits," Ms Hart said. "SHOJO is an example of mixing together a handful of highly effective ingredients to achieve optimal results every day."

In the 2019-2020 financial year, Rogue Beverages recorded a massive 450 per cent growth. Now the small business is making about $15,000 a month which is expected to grow to $35,000 a month on the back of the Woolies deal.

While Mr Cunial says "we have purposely taken a slower approach", he is expecting to see six figures a month eventually on the back of "diving deep with Woolworths".

"We're in a position now for really rapid growth on the back of innovative retailers that can see the trend of immunity-boosting products," he said.

"We see this being a $10 to $15 million business if consumers buy into the concept if we see them buy into it like in Asia," he said.

Companies like Coca-Cola and Schweppes are also pivoting in the healthy drinks space, as they cash in on the kombucha trend and are making plenty of money from bottled water, flavoured waters and sugar-free sodas.

"At the end of the day those companies will always thrive and grow. Those companies are also aware of the health and wellness trend. In Coke's portfolio in Japan, soft drinks are only 35 per cent, the rest are teas, water and other drinks," Mr Cunial explained.

"This is truly a different category. I wanted to be in that growing space."

 

Originally published as Unusual $4 hangover cure we need today