#21interviews: Direct to consumer is the future for some brands

by Louise Burgers. An increased global presence is what BOS Brands is aiming for after their business was disrupted this year, says CEO, Will Battersby.

by Louise Burgers. An increased global presence is what BOS Brands is aiming for after their business was disrupted this year, says CEO, Will Battersby. From the postponement of their 10-year milestone brand celebration, to launching a new product for summer, and restructuring business operations; Bos Brands, which make Bos rooibos iced teas, is hopeful about the opportunity to introduce the health benefits of rooibos to the rest of the world, as it refocuses business operations.

Bos recently launched Rooibos Ice Bites. “It was touch and go whether we should launch them given the rocky time this year. We have been developing the product for a number of years. We were ready this year and were due to launch September, but after everything we went through this year, we wondered whether it was the right thing. Everyone was stepping back and focussing on the ‘core’ as you do in times of strife. Feedback we had from trials, was that we should go for it,” said Battersby.

Bos has been in iced tea for 10 years, but for the brand to scale, it needed to take a step away from just being an ice tea brand. The strategy last year, was to expand out of tea only and leverage rooibos as an ingredient. Then Covid hit. Battersby explains: “We have launched great iterations, but the rooibos platform opens up lots of innovation. This was supposed to be a bumper year with four new products to market; one we parked, and the first major launch in March was the range of Rooibos Wellness Shots in 50ml glass bottles – a collagen shot, an immunity shot, a CBD shot, and one for gut health. We picked up the trend in the US that these type of health shot products were becoming more popular; and we also wanted to develop something that elevated rooibos; and for consumers to see us as a health brand that can be fun.”

In this instance, the pandemic worked in their favour as consumers focussed on health and Bos was able to get their ‘shots’ listed in Pick n Pay in record time, followed by Spar, despite their plant being shut for two months during hard lockdown. COVID-19 changed their business strategy. “We have been impacted and we had to respond: 60% of our business is in South Africa, 30% in Europe, 10% in the US. Lots of our business is also through restaurants and delis and that went down to zero.” Despite pantry loading by consumers with the bigger pack sizes in retailers, the brand was still 50% down in sales volumes during the worst months of lockdown, resulting in the retrenchment of field sales staff and the restructuring of some business operations in Europe.

“We had to take a real hard hack at our fixed costs. Marketing is another big cost where we extracted costs. We stopped all spend on marketing unless it was revenue generating; and we made an enormous ramp up to ecommerce. Covid has knocked everyone five to 10 years ahead in ecommerce thinking, than where they were before. This year online sales were 5% of our business, compared to last year less when it was less than 1%.”

Battersby says Bos is now gearing business to deliver direct through its relaunched web store on their own integrated platform across all three regions. He projects that online sales will make up 10-15% in the next year. “We have regeared the business to focus on the channels to get us to the consumers. No one really wants to hang around a retail store right now and shop for cold drinks. We need to go direct to the consumer and there are three parts to it for us: our own web store; through pure play retailers like Amazon and Takealot; and working with retailers on their own platforms.”

He says they are cautiously optimistic; planning for the worst but hoping for the best. “One of the things we have reflected on during this Covid time, is that we are a very proud South African brand. We have the opportunity to take rooibos to the world and become a real big rooibos beverage player; and that in turn should have a positive impact for South Africa. Where we can, we should produce locally, source locally, and employ locally. Our mission is to take inspiration from our SA roots and share rooibos with everyone to simplify living a more conscious life. That sums up our product offering and innovation. It is ironic that health is something we wanted to focus on and somehow Covid has given us a bigger stage to communicate the health benefits of rooibos.”

Rooibos already has a “health halo” in South Africa, but the bigger opportunity is to take it globally, as there is a lot more to say about the health benefits of rooibos. “There is a mystique, a sense of heritage… it has a great backstory,” Battersby emphasises.

The biggest challenges under Covid

People shopped totally differently under lockdown, loading up bigger pack sizes, and making less shopping trips. Battersby said retailers were telling them they couldn’t even sell beverages across the board in cans and single packs. The biggest shift was to home consumption. “We learnt we can do more with less from a marketing perspective. The beauty with ecommerce is that you eliminate that uncertainty, as data analytics back your spend: cost per click, conversion, sale. It is much quicker to measure. That has been something that has been interesting, that we have learnt throughout Covid – influencers work. Consumers like to buy from other consumers. Gone are the days of brands telling people why they should buy their product. We have to create the platform for consumers to find out for themselves and then buy into the product. Influencers to some extent allow brands to communicate indirectly. That is working for us. Many of them are unpaid influencers who love the brand. That is another learning.”

His personal key learning over the past months as a marketing leader, is that having a flexible remote workforce is as productive as five days in the office. They have now introduced work flexibility with only two days in the office. “That work flexibility will be a big thing that will stay. The other thing I realised during lockdown, especially top down as a leader, is that communication is everything. What we really lost during lockdown – and I’ve spoken to my peers who felt the same – is that as a business leader, it is very hard to convey operational context and the thinking behind decisions. The other big change is marketing strategy. We always had a lot of events, around sampling, which worked for us in the past. But we have realised that is very expensive; and in building a global brand, we need to focus more on our digital presence and the right SEO. We won’t go back to the ‘old days’ of high touch marketing (sampling, events, stunts).”

Covid definitely surfaced things that are here to stay, he says, like selling direct to consumer, which has propelled them five years forward in their business strategy. “I don’t see how it could get as bad as it was in 2020, maybe it’s my South African optimism kicking in… There will be a whole lot of businesses that won’t be here next year, but those which will be, will be very resilient, and emerge stronger. What is happening between the US and Asia has sparked strong interest in SA products from Asian markets looking for unique products. That is something to lean into,” Battersby concluded.


For more insights from retail and brand leaders in the #21interviews series publishing 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:


#21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer, by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com.

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave, says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix.

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value, by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar.

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021, says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group.

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion, by Craig Bellingham, Founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack.

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability, says Elouise Brink, Senior Marketing Manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings.

#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’, with Economist and Author of the post-pandemic book, FutureNEXT, Dr Iraj Abedian, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Embrace technology at all levels, says Thabani Maluleka, Business Development Director for Rogerwilco.

#21interviews: It will not be business as usual, by Dave Nemeth, Trend Forecaster & Founder of at Trend Forward.

#21interviews: Lessons from an unprecedented year in retail, by Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO, Teljoy.

#21interviews: Beware ‘Covid fatigue’, by Guy Yehiav, General Manager, Zebra Analytics, part of Zebra Technologies.

#21interviews: Be deliberate in listening, says Zizwe Vundla, Marketing Director of Diageo South Africa, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Critical factors for retail growth, by Enver Groenewald, Group CEO, Ogilvy South Africa.

#21interviews: The future of micro-commerce in Africa, with Vahid Monadjem, CEO and Founder of Nomanini, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Consumers are investing to connect, says Shani Naidoo, Group Director, TFG (The Foschini Group).

#21interviews: Plan for a ballet of black swans, by Rachel Irvine, Founder & CEO, Irvine Partners.

#21interviews: Data is key to the future of shopping, by Nompumelelo Mokou, intelligent customer experience executive at Dimension Data.


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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