They’re taking over office vending machines and shoving big brands off supermarket shelves.
If sugar free is life, Ugly Drinks are your new BFFs.
As part of an interview series, based on health food startups, I decided to mix it up a bit with a non-foodie company this month. My mission right now, is to learn about how health food startups are still growing so rapidly, in such a saturated market. And how these usually young, Founders, are managing to keep a-float, in an over-crowded social media space, let alone stay healthy themselves.
Setting up for my Skype Interview with Health Drink- preneur, Hugh Thomas last week was exciting.
Could this be the non-alcoholic, fodmap friendly drink I’ve been searching for? Is he hot? ( yes) Will he be young or old? How did this genius idea come about?
All these really deep questions, were floating around my head.
Luckily, professional(ish) brain kicked in, when Hugh’s friendly face flickered on the screen.
Who’s Hugh (and Joe)?
Hugh is the Co-Founder of Ugly Drinks and he’s on a mission to un-cover the ‘ugly truth’ of the sugary drinks industry, one recyclable can at a time.
With his Co-Founder and mate, Joe and a 6 man team, Ugly operate from two shipping containers in Elephant and Castle, London.
Hugh, is kind of a Northerner ( he’s from the midlands… so not sure it counts) and Joe is from Bristol town.
Their business bromance, began back in the day at Vitacoco, ( they’re only 28…still not the youngest health-preneurs I know, though). Hugh is a marketing genius and creative, whilst Joe is the perfect partner, with a head for sales and partnerships.
They learnt their skills, whilst helping grow the USA company Vitacoco within the UK. Hugh drove the van and headed up the marketing, whilst Joe, with a thing for sales, literally went ‘door knocking’ at stores. They really learnt from the bottom rung, up.
Where did the deal with sugar start?
Both aware of how sugar has the potential to be so detrimental to us humans, ( Hugh’s Mum’s a diabetes nurse and Joe’s sister works for Diabetes UK ) they started to notice, just how present it is in popular drinks. (Even some labelled as ‘healthy drinks’!)
In 2013, they also started to take note of how the market for health food and drinks was increasing, especially in the UK.
Their entrepreneurial, millennial cogs, started churning.
Using their perfectly combined skills, they carried out market research, into exactly what drinks were missing from the UK market, and why people were drinking carbonated sugary drinks.
Turns out, some people, just love the cold , sweet refreshing taste, of their first sip from an icy can of pop.
After lots of idea storming, they found a product that provided a solution: A sugar-free, sparkling fruit drink. In a can. Now, you’ve not seen that before in the UK.
So, the idea was there, the mission; to take down the sugary drinks industry and educate those about what’s actually in these drinks, was there.
Now they just needed to figure out how to make them…
With no operative skills ( it’s tough, I’ve been there) they simply, had to ask everyone how to do everything. They called contacts, manufacturers and started to figure out how the hell you get started with making this kind of product.
By making mistakes, learning, re-evaluating and repeat, was the reoccurring answer.
I know first hand, that this industry likes to throw painful hits every now and then.
When I asked Hugh what was their biggest hurdle to date, he doesn’t dissapoint:
‘We had a major manufacturing f*ck up. We had developed a still version of the drinks, right at the beginning and made 30,000, 500ml drinks. Due to a shelf life issue, all of them went off overnight. We literally had to destroy everything. It was a major set back and took 6 more months to figure it all out. But we did.’
Hugh lives by a quote ‘The obstacle is the way’ by Ryan Holiday. Which he’s interpreted for himself; if there are going to be challenges, then what are you going to do about it and learn from it?
The Ugly Drinks product
I have to admit, when I checked their products online, I thought the nutrition table online was wrong. How can a sweet tasting, fizzy drink, have literally, nothing but water and fruit essences and aromas in it? No carbs, calories, fats or sugars? There must be a catch?
When I asked, Hugh confirmed that seriously, there is NOTHING bad in it. That doesn’t mean they’re claiming it’s the next best thing for your health either, ( although any water is good if there’s no sugar in it ). Their product’s are great for non-drinkers and can be enjoyed mid-afternoon, without that guilt you try to ignore, when you drink a sugar filled can of crap.
It’s definitley a millennial type drink, but in fact, Ugly Drinks are great for anyone. I can just visualise being organised (lol) and packing them for days out, whilst trying to be healthy and not opt for the usual ‘diet coke’ in the country or at the beach. The drinks with their bright, fun packaging, stand out. Especially if they were to be placed in vending machines at; gyms, schools, and in the workplace. A drink to replace the sugar filled energy drinks people seem to opt for.
That takes us to the prettttty epic branding and message.
Hugh says, ‘Our buyers are tired of being lied to and misled by major corporations, we’re giving them a transparent alternative. Plus, it’s affordable, colourful, fun and looks good. They also look epic on our customer’s Instagram feed.
‘In a world of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act’ – George Orwell
‘We’ve recognised, that our market, genuinely want to change the world they’re in. If we can help them do that, then we’re already ahead.’
I have to mention his logo too, which is a cheeky pic of a stuck out tongue. Ugly Drinks are literally ‘sticking their tongue out at the big sugary drinks companies on the shelf’.
Their long-term mission, is to: uncover multiple ‘ugly truths’ around the world and for information to be widely available to all, about what the nation is actually consuming.
Ugly Drinks aren’t just a product. They’re a movement not to be reckoned with. Taking their Instagram following in to consideration ( 12.3k+) they’re well backed up too.
I ask all my health foodies how they manage to maintain a healthy life, whilst building their empire?
‘Balance is the concept I, and my team live by. I just ran 2 half marathons, but still go for a pint after work on a Friday. I also play footie with some of our other foodie-preneur mates.
He says; ‘I’m not anti-sugar by the way, I just believe there is way too much of it and it’s too available.’
This doesn’t mean I won’t eat any, but I really limit my intake, apart from occasions of course and that’s what I recommend others do to stay healthy, too.
What’s next for Ugly?
Ugly Drinks are in the process of launching into the massive, USA health food market in 2018. With Hugh, Joe and their Ugly following behind them, I have absolutely no doubt that this, is only the beginning.
You can check out and buy Ugly Drinks on their website, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They’re also on the shelves of stores like; Holland and Barret, Planet Organic, Selfridges & Co and they’re available on Amazon too.