On the up · 28 February 2018

How this energy drink entrepreneur built a brand ready-made for Asian markets

Wake Drinks
Wake Drinks is tapping into China’s booming demand for sports drinks

Since launching his healthy energy drinks brand, Wake Drinks, in 2014, Alex Buckley has had one eye fixed on lucrative business opportunities in the Far East.

By positioning Wake Drinks as a healthier alternative to rival drinks with a distinctively British feel, Buckley built a lifestyle brand tailor-made for Asian markets, and has successfully leveraged the export power of the Union Jack.

Business Advice sat down with Buckley to discuss the brand’s foundation, breaking into Asian markets and what the future has in store.

  1. Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Alex Buckley, the founder of active lifestyle brand, Wake Drinks. We develop and produce active lifestyle drinks that contain ingredients such as green tea, guarana and berry, to create a unique taste.

  1. How long have you been around for?

I set up Wake Drinks in 2014, and the company has gone from strength to strength since then.

  1. How do you make money?

Our success has come from our ability to sell the product directly to distributors and direct to retailers, particularly abroad in markets such as China. We sell our product to Hong Kong’s biggest trading house, Jardine Matheson, as well as high-end supermarkets in China, and hotels.

  1. What makes you different and why should people take notice?

What sets us apart is the ethos behind our brand. I was inspired to set up a product after noticing a gap in the market for healthy energy drinks free from artificial flavours and with lower caffeine levels.

It was clear there was also a demand for this type of product as mindful consumers take more notice of the ingredients in food products. Being a quality British product also attracts interest from consumers in foreign markets such as Asia.

  1. What was key in terms of getting started?

I would say inspiration, and the ability to identify a gap in the market helped me to start the business. I was living in Malaysia when my idea for Wake Drinks first took hold. Drinks like Red Bull are very popular in Asia – to the extent that people even believe that sports drinks can cure conditions like dengue fever!

I also noticed that the Union Jack has a really strong presence and popularity in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, China and this really stuck in my mind. When I returned to the UK, I wanted to start a business as a form of passive income. I decided that I wanted to create a British-made active lifestyle drink that could be exported to Asian markets, and that’s when Wake Drinks was born.


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  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Successfully breaking into China with our product was a defining moment in the journey so far, as it’s such a huge market and therefore an excellent brand building exercise. The UK market is saturated with competitors, whereas the sheer volume of China’s population means it is easier to sell the product there.

It is anticipated that in 2019 China’s sports drink market will equal 87bn RMB in sales – which is greater than the whole of Europe and US combined.

  1. What setbacks have you had along the way?

Trying to get noticed by the buyers at the big retailers can sometimes be a challenge – it’s not enough to have a high quality product, it’s also about banging your own drum and finding ways to get noticed. You have to develop a thick skin when dealing with the bigger retailers.

For example, I had been trying for some time to secure a deal with a cold storage company in Singapore. One day I happened to be near their office for a food show, and decided to drop in unannounced and deliver some drinks for them to try. Surely enough they let me take the samples up to the reception of the building, and shortly after the CEO and I struck a deal.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

Fully established in the Chinese market. Ultimately we would like to set up production locally as it will help us with logistics and managing timescales. We’re also hoping to explore more ecommerce opportunities using online platforms such as WeChat Wallet.

  1. What one exporting tip would you give to others brands wanting to grow?

Starting the process can be a minefield – as there are various processes you need to nail such as finding partners, organizing shipping, and so forth. Networking is key to identifying the resources you need to get started.

I found support from governance bodies such as the Department of International Trade, the China Britain Business Council, who I met with when I attended the International Business Festival in 2016.

There I was able to meet with potential buyers, as well as people in the same situation as me, who could introduce me to useful contacts for logistics and shipping. As a small business owner, it’s important to recognise that you don’t have to go it alone – and attending events such as this can set you on the right exporting path.

  1. Who are your business heroes and why?

I really admire what Elon Musk has achieved with Tesla – he has truly revolutionized the automotive sector and encouraged a broader movement of consumers to get excited about electric vehicles after decades of indoctrination about motor power. People really believe in what Tesla can offer. I also take inspiration from the way Tesla has secured so many investors to back what they are doing.

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Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.


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