On the up · 28 June 2018

Ugly Drinks: The fizzy water with a fast-growing fan base hits the US market

Ugly co-founders Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn | Photo: Luke Cole – www.lukeandline.com

Disrupting the current market of fizzy drinks, the Ugly brand bursts onto shelves and into the hands of many, offering an all-natural fizzy flavoured water alternative.

Ugly is 100% natural, flavoured sparkling water, made from fruit extracts, essential oils and natural aromas. Containing no sugar, sweetener,  calories or anything artificial.

The drinks brand has took the London market by storm and has a fast-growing fan base on Instagram where Ugly consumers often pose with their cans.
After recently launching in the US,  co-founder Joe Benn is excited to share what’s been going on at Ugly HQ.
Business Advice caught up with Benn to find out the difficulties Ugly faced when starting out and why retailers didn’t know where to stock it.

Who are you and what is your business?

I am Joe Benn, co-founder of Ugly Drinks. Ugly is a range of fruit flavoured sparkling waters. We are on a mission to disrupt the big dogs of the drinks industry and provide people with genuinely delicious, exciting and healthy drinks.

Where did the concept come from?

Ugly was born out of a genuine frustration at the sugar and sweetener laden drinks that are so often marketed as being healthy. We wanted to expose The Ugly Truth and challenge people’s perception of what a fizzy drink could be. We wanted to create a drink that was as pure and hydrating as water BUT had all the attitude, flavour and refreshment of a soft drink.

How did you fund your business?

Hugh (my co-founder) and I funded the development of the liquid and our original branding ourselves from our own savings. We were working on the concept for 18 months whilst still in our day jobs and were trying to keep things as lean as possible.

Once we were convinced we had something special, we raised a small amount from friends and family to get the product into market and prove the concept. A year in, we then raised funds from some experienced industry pros to help us scale the business to the next level.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

Retailers didn’t know where to put Ugly! We look like a sweet canned drink, but we are as clean and healthy as a water. We’ve had to do a lot of work with our retailers in finding the right space in the fridge and maximising our visibility in stores so that consumers can find us. These days there are a few more flavoured sparkling waters hitting the market which is great for the category and helps raise awareness for everyone.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

We launched the business in America less than a month ago! It’s always been a dream of ours to take Ugly to the US and it feels surreal (but amazing) to see our cans on shelves and consumers loving the brand and the product. We have a D2C subscription service out there and seeing the orders flooding in every day is the best feeling.

 

What marketing strategies have you used?

Ugly is a punchy and disruptive brand and this comes through in all of our touch points. Our fans love to be seen with the cans, they buy our merch from the website and they stick our stickers everywhere!

This word of mouth excitement around The Ugly Truth platform has been our best marketing by far. Ugly is more than just a beverage and while we are focused on tackling the Ugly Truths in the food and drink world, we’re also committed to driving positive change and standing up against even bigger Ugly Truths.

The first facet of this platform is our partnership with gender equality charity, Girl Up – for every can of Ugly you buy, we donate 1 pence (or 1 cent!) to their amazing initiative. Overall, we invest heavily in all our brand assets, make sure we have an awesome tasting liquid and then let our fans do the work!

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Taking The Ugly Truth worldwide! We have such an awesome group of people involved in the business and I’m so excited to grow the team, extend the range and really challenge the big incumbent drinks companies on a global stage. (Hopefully I’ll be able to take a few more holidays too!)

Who are your business heroes and why?

Bill Simmons is a US based sports journalists who has built the most amazing network and brand around doing what he loves! He’s become an absolute maven and has transcended sport at this stage. He get’s the biggest names on his podcasts and has recently teamed up with David Chang (another one of my heroes). Both Bill and David are amazing examples of people who have had highs and lows but fundamentally love and believe in what they do. They’re creators and I love that.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

The market changes quickly! Make sure that you’re ready to adapt, learn and change or you’ll get left behind. For example, when we started Ugly the idea of selling drinks online direct to consumers would have been crazy. Now our own webshop is one of our most successful sales channels and it’s growing like crazy!

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

If I’m not working, chances are I’m eating. I’m afraid I’ll never be one of those entrepreneurs who drinks Huel for breakfast, lunch and dinner! London’s restaurant scene is so exciting right now and I try and eat out as much as possible.

Last series you binge watched?

I just re-watched The Soprano’s for the second time and it was even better this time around! It’s in the top 3 TV series of all time in my opinion.

What three things can’t you live without?

Good coffee, good olive oil and…..5 cans of Ugly a day!

What app do you use the most?

I don’t even want to know how much money Uber have made out of me. What song is always on your playlist?

Well… the honest answer is that the Ugly team always tease me because I love Whitney Houston! So, How Will I Know I guess!

Photo: Luke Cole – www.lukeandline.com

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

Business development