‘Maine Man’ Derrick going back to the future to add fizz to sales in Britain

Derrick Harkness, sales director of Maine Soft Drinks in Ballymoney
Derrick Harkness, sales director of Maine Soft Drinks in Ballymoney

Derrick Harkness is contemplating a move which will see one of our oldest producers of soft drinks go back to the future in the interests of the environment.

Derrick is the sales director of Maine Soft Drinks in Ballymoney, a family business that’s been producing fizzy drinks to households and retailers here since 1949. He’s currently exploring business opportunities in Britain to expand sales by replacing plastic with returnable glass bottles for its wide range of soft drinks, a review in line with current market trends away from plastic to easier to recycle glass.

The company currently has an extensive and growing market in Northern Ireland and especially in the Republic of Ireland for its broad range of soft drinks in plastic bottles. It began life producing minerals in glass bottles.

Derrick explains: “While we already supply soft drinks in areas in the north of England, we are conscious on the developing interest in recycled products there and

wish to expand our returnable glass bottle sales to the rest of Britain.

“There has been a recent noticeable increase in glass bottle milk home deliveries in England where more and more consumers are demanding reusable packaging. I

believe our soft drinks in returnable glass bottles would tie in well with this. We are currently in talks with some independent dairies in England using glass bottles and hope to start supplying them early in 2020.”

The company currently delivers minerals in glass bottles to around 40,000 households here on a weekly or fortnightly basis and is known throughout Northern

Ireland as ‘The Maine Man’.

Maine has a range of over 30 flavours including sugar free varieties and Refresh still waters, for virtually every possible taste.

“While our plastic bottles are fully recyclable, there is growing perception in the GB market that returnable glass bottles is the preferred option of those concerned about the environment,” Derrick continues. “We’ve long been concerned about preserving the environment.”

A fourth generation family business, Maine Soft Drinks employs around 100 people and is among the best-known Northern Irish locally-owned companies.

In addition to providing minerals in plastic bottles – ‘pop’ in Britain – to customers in Liverpool, Newcastle-upon Tyne and other parts of Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Maine Soft Drinks has also supplied minerals to retailers as far away as Australia.

It has long specialised in returnable glass bottles for home delivery in Northern Ireland, which still remains an important part of its business, and the Maine green lorry is still a familiar sight on roads here. The enterprising business launched plastic bottle ranges in one litre and 500ml sizes in response to requests from supermarkets keen to stock such a local household name.

As a result, major retailers like Asda, Tesco and Spar are now among its expanding customer base. It also led to the decision to refresh the brand in line with

the requirements of the retailers that it is targeting in its focus on the profitable growth of the business. The company, which has its roots in soft drinks in county Antrim stretching back to 1919, began processing at Ballymoney in 1959. Maine is currently the only business delivering soft drinks directly to doorsteps across Northern Ireland on a weekly basis. It’s a nimble business that has been quick to respond to consumer and market trends over the decades.

Derrick adds: “While we will continue to offer the home delivery service in Northern Ireland we had to adapt to the requirements of retailers for more convenient plastic bottles that they store and move to the shelves easily. We decided to focus resources on this business by repackaging the range in one-litre plastic bottles and to look at established channels to grow our sales outside Northern Ireland. Australia is a real bonus because we didn’t anticipate doing business in such a distant and important market so soon.”

The company, in addition, has again responded to consumer trends by introducing Maine Refresh, flavoured waters that contain only natural flavourings, are sugar-free and are designed for packed lunches and consumption’ on the go’.

Derrick adds: “What we did with Maine Refresh, for instance, is to use our reputation of over 60 years in soft drinks to exploit a gap in the market that we pinpointed for flavoured waters in 330ml format. We’ve always produced still waters and saw an opportunity to expand this. It was also the first time that we produced these in a handy six-pack format. The evaluation of recyclable glass bottles is another example of our willingness to explore and adapt quickly to new market opportunities.”