‘Bloody Karen’ cocktail rejected by stores fearing complaints

‘Bloody Karen’ cocktail rejected by stores fearing complaints

A Perth mum behind a $35 million hot sauce and cocktail empire says her latest product has been rejected by retailers who fear complaints from “Karens” over its name.

Renae Bunster, whose “S–t the Bed” hot sauce was a hit with customers online but was black-listed by Woolworths and Coles over its offensive name, recently branched into alcohol and is launching a range of ready-to-drink cocktails.

But the 44-year-old hit a familiar snag with one of her 10 flavours, the Bloody Karen – a Bloody Mary flavour with 8 per cent alcohol content – deemed inappropriate.

“I just thought the name was funny, so did everyone I showed it to, but our distributors won’t take it to the major retailers because they just know there will be too many complaints,” Bunster said.

Bunster said that stores fear complaints that many other companies received after mocking Karens.
Renae Bunster claims that stores will not carry her Bloody Karen cocktail over a fear of backlash.
Bunster Drinks

Bunster said she would rather not name names but that the cocktails were presented in a range review to “one of the major retailers who covers multiple liquor distribution channels into pubs, bottle shops and even delivery”.

“Our drinks were rejected with no reason given,” she said.

“We then took our drinks to a major independent distributor on the east coast who’s seen hundreds of small alcohol brands go from inception to getting in the majors in the 15 years he’s been in the business. We asked him, ‘What went wrong here? Why didn’t we get in?’”

Bunster said she was told: “The name of that one will be a red flag on a major store shelf. You’re potentially baiting the wrong people to complain.”

He then pointed to the recent furore in New Zealand where Domino’s was forced to drop its “free pizza for Karen” promotion after backlash.

Bunster is believed to be worth $35 million.
Renae Bunster also created “S–t the Bed” hot sauce, an internet favorite.

In 2020, the pizza chain called on “all (nice) Karens” to submit a 250-word entry explaining how they were one of the “nice ones”.

Facing widespread backlash, Domino’s apologised.

“We wanted to bring a smile to customers who are doing the right thing – Karen the nurse, Karen the teacher, Karen the mum,” the company posted on Facebook.

“Our intention was one of inclusivity only. Our pizza brings people together and we only had this at the heart of the giveaway.”

According to Bunster, her distributor told her major retailers were “giving anything to do with Karens a wide berth after the Domino’s debacle and he wouldn’t even bother taking that drink to them if he was us”.

She said she “didn’t even think of that, we just thought it was funny”.

“I guess the Bloody Karen will have to be a limited-time-only drink, available just on our website,” she said.

Bunsters, which currently has turnover of $2 million, recently raised $3 million in equity crowd-funding on Birchal, valuing the company at $35 million.

Bunster said she had been forced to branch out into other product lines due to “crippling” ingredients shortages amid Covid-related shipping delays and supply chain chaos.

Her signature hot sauce is popular in the US, where it’s a number one bestseller on Amazon, but she says one shipment recently sat delayed for six months.

“Manufacturing Aussie products and trying to export them during Covid has been nothing short of a nightmare,” she said.

“Last September we finished creating four new hot sauces. But then when we tried to mass produce them, we just couldn’t get the ingredients we needed. When we finally got it all cooked, our sauce just sat on the dock for months as our shipment to the USA just kept getting bumped. That sauce has only just landed in the states, more than six months later.”

Domino's was forced to apologize for the marketing move.
Domino’s faced backlash in 2020 for a campaign asking for essays from “nice” Karens.
Bunster Drinks

The former journalist laid out a litany of factors contributing to a perfect storm for small business over the past two-and-a-half years, from manufacturing delays due to staff and ingredients shortages, logistics breakdowns due to lack of trucks and drivers, and shipping overseas becoming “nearly impossible”.

“All airfreight being grounded pushed all freight to the sea [so the] shipping price doubled overnight,” she said.

“But even if your business could wear it your container got bumped and bumped and bumped as higher bidders got the places on the ship. Shipping was given to the highest bidder, so small businesses lost out.”

Bunster said she knew she needed to produce something other than hot sauce, and something strictly for the domestic market to hedge against export delays.

“No one knows how hard it’s been to keep a small business manufacturing and exporting during Covid. I’m not surprised loads of small businesses have gone to the wall recently,” she said.

“Exporting anything has actually been near on impossible and it really affected our bottom line. I could tell last year that we were going to hit a brick wall when we inevitably ran out of hot sauce. So I knew we’d have to make something out of all Australian materials, just for the Australian market.”

She got the idea for the latest range after having a disappointing canned cocktail on a beach in Broome last year.

“Getting the cocktails off the ground was relatively easy compared to exporting hot sauce,” she said.

“Aussie cans, Aussie fruit, Aussie spirits. We already had a liquor licence after creating S–t the Bed Vodka and we already had all of these great Aussie fruit juice suppliers for our hot sauce, so it was a really easy pivot for us to get into canned cocktails.”

She added that independent retailers were “jumping to stock them” but for the major chains “it’ll be a hard ‘no’ on the Bloody Karen as it just baits the wrong kind of people”.

“Unfortunately major retailers being scared of customer complaints is a familiar story too,” she said.