Get The Ballins Right

In Alcohol, Ballins Breweries, cordial, Frostee Drinks, soft drink on November 20, 2011 at 10.46

Bernhard Ballin supposedly set up this aerated water company in Byron Street of Christchurch in 1878 – manufacturing sparkling soft drinks, wine, quinine and cordials. Even “company lore” sticks to this date; so far as issuing a commemorative jug for their “centenary” in 1978.
However I have found more than one earlier ad for Ballin Brothers, that shows with no doubt  from 1876  were indeed making and selling cider, cordials and sasparilla from a factory in Auckland, two years prior to that date. Again it seems like another big story that might be better off to save for another post until I’ve investigated further.
Anyway regardless of the exact date and place they started up – they were definitely around from the late 1870s and by the 1910s they were manufacturing heavy fruit cordials, lemon squash, raspberry drinks, limejuice cordial, sasparilla, and ginger wine.

Ballin Brothers’ Cordials, NZ Truth , Issue 564, 8 April 1916 

Although far more famous for their sweet drinks like Frostee, alcohol making and distribution was always a major concern and the company soon became known as Ballins Breweries on all their products. In 1936 they expanded further when they acquired Hickmott’s Victoria Brewery Limited, of Bath Street. By the 1950s South Canterbury Wine & Spirits, a conglomerate formed with N.Z. Breweries Ltd, was housed in the old bottling plant of the brewery grounds. This new company snapped up the other old Canterbury companies like Chittocks and Cordials Ltd, to erase any competition in the marketplace. By the 1970s this venture had an arm that had branched into Inns and Hotels – Inns of Canterbury Ltd.

Ballins seems to have been quite a huge company in its day with bottling plants/distribution centres in Auckland; Rotorua; the Canterbury area – Christchurch, Oamaru, Timaru; Masterton- Wairarapa; Nelson in the South Island; Palmerston North area – Manuwatu and Pahiatua, to name some mentioned by former employees.
I vaguely remember Ballins as being a less prevalent brand than others that were around in the 1970s like Leed, L&P, Fanta, Jucy, Frist, Schweppes, and Coke, and probably remember seeing it more away from Auckland, on our many family holidays. It sort of seemed a bit “mock” to use a slang expression, it didn’t have a strong brand presence and it wasn’t down with us kids like “Stud”, “Spaceman” and “Kandy” was. it was just there in the background.

Nevertheless over the years they have had some great graphics, most famously the bizarre pixie dressed in fur like an eskimo, squeezing raspberries into a glass which featured on so many posters and ads, they do pop up for sale every once in a while on Trademe.
A few weeks ago this fantastic Jamaica Dry poster was up for auction. I wanted to have it, however I have been buying so much stuff lately that I need to cut back my budget somewhat – so I decided that I could try recreate it as a challenge, instead of purchasing. I love the results of the work, which was mostly done with vector shapes in Photoshop, which isn’t far removed from using Illustrator really.
Eventually Ballins was snapped up by Coca Cola-Schweppes in 1975 although an employee, Russell Lange, remembers it was Oasis Industries; most likely a subsidy of CC-S at the time in that area of New Zealand. Definitely in the late 1970s they were still manufacturing canned soft drinks such as raspberry, lime, lemonade and orange. What happened after that I don’t know – perhaps the brand was phased out as part of the larger concern as so often happens.

  1. Ballins was still trading through to about 1979 that was when my grand father passed away and the company was divided up and sold

  2. How interesting Sam, any recollections you have from a personal perspective, such as visiting any of the plants as a youngster would be appreciated – if you feel inclined to tell them.

  3. […] Punch to make you palpitate by Ballin Brothers. Who knows what’s in this particular brew? These premixed cocktail drinks – the ‘Merry Widow’ brand was another one – were quite popular in the mid Twentieth Century. This flagon with its intact label probably dates from the 1950s. I previously wrote about the brand here.  […]

  4. Ballins sold it soft drink business in the 70s and concentrated on its Hotel and liquor business. It changed its name to Ballin Rattray when it purchased Rattrays grocery business and opened a wholesale grocery chain. It changed its name to Rothmans when it also purchased the ciggarette franchise and 2 years later when it sold the cigarette franchise it changed its name to Magnum corporation – by this time it was the major player in the wholesale liquor market and founded green Bottle stores and Liquorland in the early 80s
    I am not sure when Barney Ballin sold the business but the legacy carried on

    • Thanks for that bit of history. IGA, formerly Grocers United, also segues into this history. And Woolworths were involved somehow, too. Someone wrote a thesis on it, which is available online.

  5. I joined Ballin Rattray in 1981 managing wine and spirit wholesale stores in Auckland that were, at the time, being developed into the Liquorland chain. The company indeed changed ownership several times from Ballin Rattray to Magnum Corporation with umbrella ownership by Rothmans and later DB Breweries. The company owned the large Liquorland stores at the time before franchising began after deregulation of the liquor industry and also Allied Liquor Merchants which was the second largest distributor in New Zealand. Forays into Australia and lost brand agencies led to collapse in the mid 1990s. Interesting times though and I have fond memories.

    • Interesting, I knew about the history of Magnum and Rothmans, by way of Butland’s tobacco division and Johnston Kerr Johnston which were acquired around that time, in 1982. It becomes very involved as bigger fish ate smaller fish and came to own all their divisions/brands. Some of this was remnant of old companies and merchants from way back when which had been passed on with a series of acquisitions. Very hard to get one’s head around. As mentioned above, someone wrote an entire paper on the corporate takeovers and mergers involving merchants. Thanks for your comment.

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