Welcome to Series 2 of Brand Growth Heroes!

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One of the characteristics common to all of the founders we’ve had on Brand Growth Heroes is that they are brave or at least, they make brave decisions.  

I’ve worked in Food and Bev all my life, working with hundreds of start-ups through my work with some super Food-Business Accelerator programmes….yet I’ve never been brave enough to found my own food company. But I’ve always admired the bravery of food entrepreneurs with a certain degree of awe.

So one of the themes I want to explore in this Series, is the BRAVE decisions that food & Bev founders make.

In this episode I’ve invited a very Brave founder to come and talk to us: Hugh Thomas from UGLY DRINKS, a relatively new brand that is setting out to challenge the Ugly Truth behind Big Soda.

Hugh Thomas, Co-Founder and CEO of UGLY DRINKS

I came across Ugly Drinks on Linkedin, where the brand is incredibly visible. I was struck by their super bright packaging and arresting name. I was really curious about what seemed like quite a risky or brave decision – to use a word generally perceived as negative as a brand name.

UGLY DRINKS was founded by best friends Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn in 2017. Coming from Vita Coco, they were concerned at the lack of healthy or unsweetened- options in the soda category for the average family. Ugly is a range of sparkling water that is flavoured but unsweetened, in brightly coloured, potentially iconic CAN. Ugly’s website positions it as “just a drink, no unobtainable lifestyles, no ridiculous promises”…and somewhat bravely (given the enormous competitors in this space) asks us to “Can the Other Cans”).

Ugly is now available in over 10,000 locations, across the UK and some states in the USA, and is also available on subscription. In the past month, they have also launched a range of “Energised” sparkling water…which to me sounds just different enough from an Energy Drink that I might even be tempted to try it.

Listen to Hugh discuss the brave decisions he and his co-founder have made around positioning, naming & flavouring; locating to the USA and funding:

S1EP2 Timestamps:

[00:28] – Introducing Hugh Thomas, co-founder of Ugly Drinks, a new range of unsweetened flavoured sparkling water that is setting out to challenge the Ugly Truth behind Big Soda.

[02:38] – How has Ugly positioned itself on the market to stand out from other brands in the flavoured sparkling water category?

[04:47] – Competitively speaking, is Ugly positioning itself against cans of soda rather than other flavoured sparkling water?

[05:41] – What does this guilt-free drink taste like and where does the flavour come from? How is it different from traditional sodas and sparkling drinks?

[08:47] – Was it a brave decision to go completely unsweetened? Did Ugly ever consider softening the drink by adding some type of sweetener?

[10:03] – We talk about the brand name, Ugly. What is the “ugly truth” that Ugly is out to expose?

[13:08] – As opposed to other healthy brands, in terms of pricing, Ugly has positioned itself in the middle of the market.

[15:09] – When starting out with low launch volumes, how do you come up with a price that allows you to compete at the middle of the market?

[17:58] – Many start-ups will have someone with experience in the food and beverage industry. What advice can Hugh give to people without this sort of experience wishing to start their own company?

[21:33] – At a certain point growing companies will consider establishing a presence abroad. When do you make that move and what was Ugly’s experience with making the move to the US.

[24:26] – How does Ugly rate against other sodas in the category in the US?

[26:03] – How do they approach distribution in the US?

[27:47] – How many people are working on their US business?

[28:24] – Given that the biggest SKU in the US soda market is a cola drink, wouldn’t a logical next step be to launch a cola drink?

[30:50] – Hugh talks to us about investment. How has Ugly managed the raising of funds and what has guided them along the way?

[34:48] – Does anyone these days hold back from looking for investment and decides to prove themselves through organic growth first?

[36:00] – Being on a shoestring budget forces companies to get creative and make the most out of the money they have.

[37:37] Investment companies need to be smarter about who they have on their teams because you need to have experience in food and beverage to be able to tell if a business plan is viable or not.

[39:57] – Does Hugh ever have those moments where gets overwhelmed by this massive undertaking?

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