Just the Tonic
Paul Wallace is an advocate for putting the head down and getting through the work. It was a trait that stood him well throughout a rugby career that saw him become an integral part of one of the most iconic Lions sides of all time.
Now Managing Director at Bircroft Ireland, Wallace spends most of his time brokering debt to the Commercial Property sector. However, with the few hours he has left in his day he has jointly established an agency that will deliver a range of all natural, non-alcoholic and low/no sugar drinks to the Irish market.
It’s a health-conscious business that fits with his charitable work. As a patron of CROSS Cancer Research in addition to lending his voice to Rugby Player’s Ireland’s recent Reboot campaign in partnership with the Irish Heart Foundation, Wallace is keenly aware of how the smallest change in behaviours can have a massive impact on lives.
“I believe they call it ‘sniper alley’,” Wallace begins. “You get to 40-55 and still think you’re that unbreakable rugby player you were in your youth. I was at Tom Smith’s funeral recently on the back of Gary Halpin’s memorial mass and it really dawned on me that things aren’t what they once were. As invincible as you might still feel, it’s so important that people instil good lifestyle habits and get themselves checked out regularly.
“When I was first in discussions to set up a drinks agency, I felt there was a genuine link with some of the initiatives I was involved with. It has been established that there are some links between artificial sweeteners and flavourings and various illnesses. I certainly believe ingesting artificial ingredients can’t be good for you in the long term. There are obvious steps we can all take for the benefit of our future. Natural ingredients and low sugar are undeniably healthier for all and an easy step to take.”
Through long-established rugby connections, Wallace was sought out by business owners in South Africa who were keen to market their products in Ireland and the UK. Schalk Brits, another former Saracen, also became party to the conversation. After teaming up with the Hibernia Investments, ‘Ginsol’ came into being. Within weeks South African brands such as John Ross finest Botanicals and Barker & Quin tonics jumped aboard while Pura Soda and Pura Kids (all natural/low sugar ingredients) will be the next Ginsol products to be launched into the Irish market.
“There is a definite movement to quality all natural / low sugar products and this is the market window we are focused on. While several drinks purport to have 0% sugar, they don’t tell you about all the other negative ingredients that are included. The baseline should be all natural ingredients and then minimise the sugar level whilst maximising taste. For instance, our flagship Barker & Quin ‘Light at Heart’ has 27% less sugar than the current market leader.”
Wallace also points out that almost all non-alcohol gins currently available contain artificial additives, sugar and a trace of alcohol. John Ross is uniquely created through fermentation of botanicals such as Orange Bush, Fynbos, Rooibos that are unique to South Africa and are also full of antioxidants. The result is seven natural ingredients added to mountain spring water making a zero alcohol, zero sugar, 100% taste product.
“The younger generations in particular are much more educated in terms of what they put into their bodies. The internet pulls no punches either so various drinks are being found out. Our findings showed that the majority of beverages out there use artificial ingredients which doesn’t sit well with millennials who are much more ingredient and sugar conscious.
“Social media often points these groups to their sporting role models and in turn they follow their lead which is why rugby can play a huge role in determining behaviours. You don’t want to see people like Josh van der Flier pushing artificial or sugary drinks. It’s a growing market and sits nicely with sportspeople who are looking to champion positive behaviours.”
In recent weeks, his former teammates gathered to celebrate the launch of Barker and Quin tonics and John Ross Zero Alcohol gins while plans are already afoot to broaden offerings further. It’s been an intense period but it is one that is already beginning to pay off as it steadily chips away at the market. It’s the beginning of an interesting new adventure for the former Munster, Leinster and Ireland player.
“It has been a challenge to juggle both my day-to-day job and ensuring that my investment in this product works. There was a time when I put the head down and thought of little else but the job in front of my eyes but if anything, the modern game has taught me that everyone needs to keep broadening their horizons to stay ahead. It’s quite exciting.
“Most of the coaches I ever had didn’t want their prop anywhere near the ball,” he humorously recalls. “The front-five were expected to keep the head down, smash every ruck in sight and let the others play ball. It used to frustrate me a little bit because I fancied myself as a bit of a player and yet I wasn’t allowed try things.”
It seems Wallace may have been well equipped had he been part of the current Leinster set-up. However, the 46-times capped international believes this weekend’s Champions Cup game will nevertheless revert to the age-old battle at the breakdown.
“Leinster are very similar to the All Blacks in that no matter how many lines of defence there are, they will find a way through. They’re that good. However, no matter how good you might be, any team will struggle if the breakdown can’t be secured quickly. We saw it last year and hile Leinster technically and physically better than what they were, I don’t think they have been tested at any stage in the way that La Rochelle will come at them.
“It will be crucial that they keep their ruck ball as quick as they possibly can. Thereafter their game management and ball-playing ability will see them through. Sexton will boss and Gibson-Park will provide the tempo. With two weeks rest, no other team in Europe has the privilege of coming into a game at this stage of the season so fresh.
“I’m not quite so fresh myself these days but I would have loved to have played in today’s game,” he continues. “The way anyone can be a playmaker demonstrates how far the game has come and how advanced the coaching set-up is. It’s a much more inclusive brand of rugby and it makes for a much more exciting game.
“That being said,” he continues, “I’m not sure there’d be a place in the team for someone like me. Nobody ever asked me to throw a 25m pass like Tadhg Furlong and as much as I like to look back on my career through rose tinted glasses, I don’t think I could have ever pulled that one off! It was quite exceptional.”
Though he may see limits to his rugby game, Wallace is not limiting his entrepreneurial ambition.
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