Little Ripples making waves in Europe: Australian winemaker’s mission to provide clean water

Business-class passengers in Europe will soon get a taste of what makes premium Australian winemaker Little Ripples so special. The company has won a contract with a major European airline.

Business-class passengers in Europe will soon get a taste of what makes premium Australian winemaker Little Ripples so special. The company has won a contract with a major European airline.

That is quite an achievement. But Little Ripples has a more important goal in sight. Along with partner Pernod Ricard Winemakers, it wants to provide 5 million people with clean drinking water in the next 10 years. That means selling 50 million bottles of wine. 

‘It is ambitious,’ acknowledges CEO Dustin Leonard. ‘But the target has given the business even clearer purpose. We are on track, with 24 water wells operational, providing the equivalent of 247,000 people with one year of clean water.’

One bottle of wine – one person – one year

As Leonard explains, the idea of funding clean water projects came when he was travelling in Africa. Lack of access to clean drinking water affects almost every aspect of life.

‘We really wanted to create a business that could help alleviate the water crisis for people,’ says Leonard. ‘But we knew we needed to find the right product.’

For the idea to work, Little Ripples needed to quantify the cost of providing water to someone for a year. The company connected with Wendy Tisdell OAM of the BridgIT Water Foundation. Her ability to break down the costs transparently gave Little Ripples confidence that it had found the right partner.

A challenging path to export success

Little Ripples launched at the end of 2019. Between bushfires and COVID-19, ‘that was probably the worst time ever to launch a wine brand in Australia,’ says Leonard.

Little Ripples’ success depended on its ability to make wine that people wanted to drink. That started with producing the best wine for each varietal.

The initial plan was to distribute through restaurants and independent retailers in Australia. As COVID-19 closed venues, Little Ripples needed to find another way to sell.

Turning to online sales, Little Ripples saw new customers responding to a premium product that could make a positive impact. They were sharing the brand with friends on social media.

As sales figures grew, they wondered if the idea would translate internationally.

Austrade helps open doors in Europe

Little Ripples’ first approaches to Asia and the UAE gained good responses. It started looking to European markets. The company tried different strategies but kept hitting walls.

Then Little Ripples reached out to Austrade. ‘The amount of support we have received has been phenomenal,’ says Leonard.

Sometimes the company needed practical help, like navigating customs to get wine samples to international customers on time. On other occasions, it needed more strategic advice.

‘Austrade’s market analysis identified that traditional business channels in the German wine industry, such as importers and distributors, might not be the right fit for Little Ripples,’ says Will Nguyen, Little Ripples’ Export Manager.

Austrade identified alternative channels where Little Ripples’ unique offering would be strongest. A B2B matching platform was selected where buyers are focused on the end-consumer’s perspective and constantly seeking fresh concepts. That’s where Little Ripples began its conversation with the airline.

More German consumers are choosing products that align to their values and make a positive impact on society. Little Ripples’ mission to give back not only resonates with German consumers, but premium customers across Europe.

The power of partnerships

Leonard says finding the right partners has been pivotal to its success.

Working with winemakers and wine expert Paul Henry allowed the company to start producing premium wines. To increase export success, the company made a ‘wish list' of winemakers and reached out with a proposal for a strategic partnership.

‘We didn’t really expect to hear back,’ explains Leonard. ‘But the first phone call came within 2 hours. We were blown away by the response from all these people we looked up to.’

That email led to a partnership with Pernod Ricard Winemakers, which has a great cultural fit.

‘Pernod Ricard Winemakers immediately connected with our social purpose,’ says Leonard. ‘They encouraged us to aim even higher, with the new goal of reaching 5 million people in 10 years.’

Clean water, transparent delivery

Leonard believes one reason Little Ripples has seen such a strong response is because many people want to feel they are contributing to a larger purpose. It can be hard to find the right way to do that and be confident you are actually helping. Partnering with a for-purpose business that can report transparently and demonstrate success can be attractive.

‘After every well we build, we get detailed reports from the BridgIT Water Foundation analysing the need and showing the impact of the well,’ says Leonard. ‘The pictures and videos from the people whose lives have been changed help make it real.’

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