Ugly Drinks

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Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn are shaking up the UK soft drinks market with their new 100% natural, fruit-infused sparkling waters. We speak with the founders of Ugly Drinks to get their insider knowledge, brand insight and top tips when speaking to stockists.

Can you introduce us to Ugly Drinks – what inspired the brand and what makes you special?

Of course! We are Ugly Drinks, a new drinks company that launched in January 2016. Joe and I co-founded the business in 2015 and set out to change the soft drinks industry for the better. Ugly is a range of 100% natural, fruit-infused sparkling waters. Currently we are available in two flavours; Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple. The product is sparkling and comes in a 330ml can, but unlike most traditional fizzy drinks, it contains no sugar, no sweeteners and no artificial ingredients. It’s still super refreshing and you can still enjoy that 3pm ‘cold can moment’, but this time without worrying about sugar or sweetener!

We believe the UK is sweet enough already and the impacts of sugar and sweetener on the UK population need to be lessened. Not only are there impacts to the health and wellness of the nation (more obesity and more diabetes), but there is a huge impact on the happiness and productivity of the nation. Everyone’s felt that slump after an overly sweet lunch break, and we feel like it should be a thing of the past. We’re driven to make our drink as accessible to people as possible, both geographically (we’re working to bring it across the UK) and in terms of price point (we’ve tried to create something sugar- and sweetener-free, that tastes great, yet remains affordable).

Our RRP is £0.99 and we are currently available in As Nature Intended, Selfridges, Whole Foods Market, Vital Ingredient and over 250 independent stores across the UK.

Ugly Drinks

What made you choose the name ‘Ugly’ for your brand – and do you ever worry it could create negative associations in people’s mind? 

Great question! We really feel it is time for change. Too many drinks over-promise with their naming and branding, yet under-deliver in their nutritional or functional delivery. Many products promise to make you faster, healthier, stronger or more energetic, but generally they’re still packed with sugars, sweeteners or artificial ingredients that your body really doesn’t need.

We wanted to create a product and brand that went against this status quo, and hence chose to call our brand ‘Ugly’. Ugly is just 100% natural, fruit-infused sparkling water – no crazy promises – and if that makes us Ugly, then so be it! We’re beautiful on the inside! 

At the same time, we’re trying to move people away from the negative association of ‘Ugliness’. For us, Ugly is all about standing out from the crowd and being proud of our unique quirks (we all have them!). We want to celebrate those good, mad and Ugly moments of everyday life and encourage people to be ‘beautifully different’ in the way they try and put a positive impact into the world!

Ugly Drinks

You both used to work at Vita Coco and have several years experience in the drinks industry. What have you learnt along the way that you’re now bringing to your own business, and how do you see the industry changing?

We both had an amazing experience working at Vita Coco. We were there from early on in the brand’s journey in the UK and learnt a huge amount in helping to build that brand into the phenomenon it is today. 

The three main things that we would take away from our time at Vita Coco are the importance of team, hard work and passion. Vita Coco brought together a great group of people with a common goal (to bring coconut water to the world) and we were all excited to do so on a daily basis. The energy never faded. 

At Ugly, we want to build an awesome team, who are aligned with our mission, and who come to work every day to have fun and build something that we believe has a positive impact on the world.

At Ugly, that’s what we intend to do. We want to build an awesome team, who are aligned with our mission, and who come to work every day to have fun and build something that we believe has a positive impact on the world.

In terms of the industry, we believe we are right at the start of a big shift in terms of what consumers choose to drink. Consumers have become more and more aware of what they put in their bodies and the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is well known. We now believe this will be complemented by ‘you are what you drink’ and consumers are going to become more and more aware of what they are drinking. With Ugly, we wanted to offer a fun, positive and healthy choice for those times where you’re not looking to drink sugars, sweeteners or artificial ingredients. We hope to see more brands with ‘unsweet’ offerings in coming months, and see products like cold-brew coffee and unsweetened iced teas hitting the same note for consumers.

Ugly Drinks

How did you go about developing your drinks and getting the flavour spot on?

When we set out to create Ugly, we wanted to replicate the same taste that you would get if you were to add slices of fresh fruit to a jug of sparkling water. We loved this drink, but couldn’t find it when we were out and about!

We use the natural essences and oils of the fruits to infuse the sparkling water and played around with lots of different blends to make sure it tasted spot on. 

We’ve got plenty more flavour ideas and hopefully we can introduce more to consumers in coming years!

When we set out to create Ugly, we wanted to replicate the same taste that you would get if you were to add slices of fresh fruit to a jug of sparkling water. We loved this drink, but couldn’t find it when we were out and about!

You’ve just launched into Selfridges and Whole Foods Market. What would be your top three tips for brands when speaking to potential suppliers and seeking out stockists?

Here are our top tips for new brands speaking to potential suppliers:

  1. Be clear on your product or brand differentiation. What makes you different to other products currently available in-store? Why is your product exciting for the buyer and why is it exciting for consumers? What does it add to the stores offering? It’s definitely worth thinking about this and working out how to present this clearly and concisely.
  2. Be energetic and enthusiastic. It goes without saying, but bring your passion to the table. Your energy and enthusiasm for what you have created should be clear and will be infectious.
  3. Present a clearly defined plan. Make sure you’ve done the correct amount of pre-work and understand your business well. Understand the customer, their shoppers and how your business will fulfil its needs (including pricing and logistics).

Good luck – it’s hard work, but a lot of fun along the way!

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