“Australia is playing catch up”: Heaps Normal bags $1.3 million, as investors get ahead of the booze-free beer trend

Heaps Normal

Heaps Normal co-founders Andy Miller, Ben Holdstock and Peter Brennan. Source: supplied.

Aussie alcohol-free beer startup Heaps Normal has bagged $1.3 million in funding from an eclectic group of Aussie angel investors.

The startup has secured backing from the likes of Adore Beauty co-founder Kate Morris, Culture Amp co-founder Rod Hamilton and Linktree co-founders Anthony Zaccaria and Nick Humphries.

Airtree Ventures’ Jackie Vullinghs, James Cameron and James Blair have also jumped on board as angel investors.

Founded by chief executive Andy Miller, along with pro surfer Jordy Smith, brewer Ben Holdstock and branding expert Pete Brennan, Heaps Normal isn’t designed to sell an alcohol-free lifestyle.

It’s about offering a viable alternative, Miller tells SmartCompany, and about making it cool.

And, while it’s early days yet, that seems to be working.

Heaps Normal tinnies launched on the market in July 2020, mid-COVID-19, while the co-founders were in the middle of the Startmate accelerator program.

But, even in a challenging environment, Miller says the business has been profitable since month two — and continues to be.

The business was created, first and foremost, to have a positive impact on Aussie drinking, he explains. But, in order to make maximum impact, you need to have maximum reach.

“To achieve our impact objective we need to also grow our distribution, so we’re able to reach more people.”

This funding will be partly used to ramp up production. The team has sold out of stock twice in the past three months, Miller says.

The founders will also be making some key hires, he adds, “to help us bring different perspectives and different ways of thinking, and add to the diversity of our team”.

Branding first, sobriety second

Heaps Normal was born out of perhaps an unusual conversation in the pub, when all four beer-loving co-founders realised they wanted to cut down on their alcohol consumption.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, they realised just how common that position was.

The lengthy lockdowns in parts of Australia highlighted the need for balance for a lot of people, Miller suggests.

When you’re not able to socialise in the same way, and you’re only drinking at home, alcohol starts to have a slightly different effect, he adds.

That may have contributed to the strong sales so far, but the co-founder stresses that’s not what this brand is all about.

“We don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the negative effects of alcohol,” Miller says.

“We don’t exist to demonise alcohol or present sobriety as the end goal … We think it’s very much up to the individual.”

This is a growing sector. Even since Heaps Normal launched in July, Miller says he’s seen the number of non-alcoholic beers available in Australia more than double.

Markets such as the US and the UK are also much more mature, he notes, and “Australia is playing catch-up”.

But, as it stands, there are not many small players in the category. There are multinational brands that “haven’t put a lot of love into it”, Miller says.

Or, there are products that focus on sobriety and are designed to appeal to non-drinkers.

That wasn’t going to work for this startup.

“To achieve that goal to have a positive impact on drinking culture, first of all, we had to be part of drinking culture,” Miller says.

“It’s about being a fun beer brand first and foremost and having a great product. The rest of it is up to the individual.”

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