Yumbo Soda Co: A zesty journey of innovation & hand-peeled lemonades with founder Ben Frazer

Interview and intro by Carolina Pasini 

Photos by Jack Gruber.

During Melbourne's rollercoaster of lockdowns, Yumbo Soda Co. emerged as a testament to resilience and innovation. Crafting artisanal lemonades from locally sourced ingredients, Yumbo stands as a testament to the spirit of the Yarra Valley community. We sat down with Ben Frazer, the founder and all hands behind Yumbo to explore his journey into the world of lemons, being a sole trader and hand-peeling skills.

CP | Yumbo Soda Co started as a lockdown 2.0 project. Why did you choose lemons as your new adventure?

BF | I was never really allowed to drink soft drink as a kid, and when we were allowed it it was always lemonade (often homemade by Mum) so to be perfectly honest with you it was pretty much the only soft drink I knew!

Out in the Yarra Valley my good mate Walter, a 78-year-old lemon farmer who lived over the hill from my parents place was dealing with an orchard overflowing with lemons due to the covid related restaurant closures, so I swung past one morning and bought a couple of tonne off him and went home and googled “how to make lemonade” and here we are.

CP | Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing before and how that influenced your journey as an entrepreneur/independent producer?

BF | I grew up in and around hospitality, working in bars and restaurants in my early 20s before sliding into the world of hospitality marketing and photography. I absolutely love the hospitality industry and the characters you find in every venue, and knew I wanted to be a part of that world but couldn’t quite workout where I fit. Photographing producers and growers was where I was happiest, so when COVID hit I thought why not, let’s make something. Growing up in the Yarra Valley I figured everyone’s making wine, gin and beers so why not make soft drinks and slide into a cheeky gap in the market? I’d never planned on expanding beyond Coldstream but Melbourne started ordering and then Sydney and it sort of just organically grew from there!

CP| Is there something you wish was more normal in the hospo world?

BF | Oh, there are plenty! One key thing is that I wish Australians could view hospitality as a career, and not just a means to an end. There are a myriad of incredible paths you can take within this diverse industry that I feel a lot of people, especially the younger generations, aren’t exposed to in terms of it being a fulfilling career choice.

CP | Has your diverse career informed any of your creative decisions with Yumbo?

BF | The slogan I’ve always had in my head is “Yumbo is for everyone”, and while it may sound a bit rudimental it’s permeated every decision I’ve made for the business. Yumbo is (imho) a high end product purely due to the way it’s made and the ingredients used, however the branding, flavours and marketing have always been focussed on ensuring the product is approachable. I see companies launching with a hyper-fixation on ensuring the brand presents as ‘high end’ which is amazing for them, but for me I remind myself that I make lemonade and it tastes pretty good: let the creative be fun and easy.

CP | What is the toughest part of being a sole trader in a saturated market like the drinks industry?

BF | Ooof there are a few but I’d say simply staying on top of everything. Yumbo is just me, so managing brews, logistics, invoicing, marketing, emails etc whilst also striving to grow the business can get pretty hectic.

In terms of the saturated drinks market I actually love it! There are so many amazing producers releasing delish drinks that the whole industry feels really alive. When you consider the massive list of beer and wine producers in Australia, the non-alc market is actually fairly light on (for now!) so it’s fun. My motto is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.

CP | We understand that Yumbo’s brewing style is similar to brewing beer. Did that make it easier to blend your product with our Quiet XPA? 

BF | Yeah definitely, when it came time to start experimenting with the Shandy the initial idea was to play with a citra-hops or a lager and really get creative with it, but Ben (Holdstock) and I found pretty quickly that the XPA was the golden ticket as it held its own as a classic tasting ‘beer’, with the tropical notes of the XPA blending really well with the lemonade. Some things are meant to be.

CP | Describe Tough Stuff Shandy in 3 words.

BF | Refreshing. Zesty. Beery.

CP | What's your go-to pub pairing for Yumbo Soda's Tough Stuff lemonade?

BF | A cheeky chicken schnitzel, heavy on the salsa verde with a good squeeze of lemon over the top: that washed down with a Tough Stuff Shandy is the go to on a Sunday afternoon!

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