Product idea #10: Victor’s Drinks

The founders tell Startups how their great tasting and easy-to-make cider will appeal to the inner brewer in all of us and become a winning business idea

Founders: Ralph Broadbent and Alex Dixon
Location: London
Date launched: October 2013
The product: Brew your own cider and ale kit
Website: www.victorsdrinks.com

Breaking into the densely populated drinks marketplace is never easy but after successfully managing their first start-up – festival production company Count of Ten – to reach nearly £4m turnover, founders Ralph Broadbent and Alex Dixon are confident they can make their fledging cider business succeed. After initially experimenting with the idea of home-brewed cider way back in 2009 while at university, it’s taken five years of R&D to get the product market-ready, with the duo conducting extensive market research, as well as constant product development to create their great-tasting and customer-led drink.

Now confident that they have an intuitive product with a strong brand, Broadbent and Dixon are not the only ones who believe they are on to a winning product idea, after appearing on Dragons’ Den earlier this year and impressing notoriously tough Duncan Bannatyne to secure £40,000 investment.

Prior to this the firm was self-funded but had already proved successful with merchants, securing a presence in leading retailers like Firebox.com and Debenhams on the high street as well as looking at opportunities abroad.

The product itself is based on bag-in-box technology; with home brewers only needing to add warm water and the provided yeast to create 20 pints of ale or cider. Currently the company offer five flavours: apple, mixed berry, and elderflower and apple cider, alongside a dark and pale ale.

Startups caught up with the founders to discuss complicated manufacturing processes and developing a unique, well-targeted product…

Can you briefly describe your background?

We met at university and have been in business together since 2006, growing our festival production company, Count of Ten, to an annual turnover of almost £4m. Count of Ten is responsible for the organisation of six music festivals across the UK including Truck Festival in Oxford, Tramlines in Sheffield, Brownstock in Chelmsford and Y-Not in Derbyshire, all of which are award-winning and successful events.

In 2009, after a number of unsuccessful (and a couple of successful) homebrews made at university, we decided that the market needed a simple, great tasting and well branded make your own kit to challenge the current market leaders. Victor’s Drinks was born and is now fully in production and retailed both online and on the high street.

Where did the idea for Victor’s come from?

As the brainchild of a university student from a sleepy rural village, Victor’s Drinks has been in the pipes since way back in 2009 but took a few years to formalise.

Having decided that off-the-shelf drinks were boring, and home brew kits were too much hassle, we embarked upon making something that makes cider making easy.

Everyone knows if you want something right, you have to do it yourself and with our product the secret of great-tasting drinks is in your hands. Well, actually, it’s in our boxes. And it’s not much of a secret. You just add yeast, water and wait 10 days. Then enjoy 20 pints of your very own home-made cider or ale with a deep sense of pride and accomplishment.

Describe how your brew kit is disrupting the marketplace?

Victor’s Drinks is entirely customer-led. What our customers want is at the heart of everything we do. Exceeding their expectations is our passion, and knowing we have surprised and delighted them with our products is our greatest pleasure.

Therefore we have gone to great lengths to ensure that our products are as intuitive as possible, cutting out every complicated step that is associated with making your own alcoholic drinks at home. Our customers do not want any hassle and we are proud of our reputation to be able to offer the easiest make-it-yourself kit in the market.

What market research did you conduct to learn more about the drinks company sector?

Over the past few years, whilst developing Victor’s Drinks, we have undertaken a significant amount of market research, predominantly with our core target market (18-30 year olds).

Through a series of focus groups, we have covered a wide range of topics ranging from how the product looks and tastes versus the competition and the perception of the homebrew industry as a whole. We have also conducted a number of competitor analysis studies to understand what other companies in a similar space are doing or plan to do.

What have you done to protect the IP of your products?

We have looked into trademarking the brand and this is something we wish to revisit. Protecting and enforcing our intellectual property rights around the world will be challenging so we will need to give it some thought before we proceed. 

How did you finance Victor’s?

We were self-funded up until a successful appearance on Dragons’ Den.

Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your cider product to bringing them to the market.

The idea first came about in 2009 when Alex would make his own cider to take to parties. Everyone loved the cider and were always interested to hear how it was made but didn’t want to do it themselves because of the high start-up costs, variable results and large storage requirements afterwards.

We saw a gap in the market and over the next five years developed a make-it-yourself drinks kit to solve all these problems. The fact that it took almost five years of R&D to bring the product to market goes some way in showing the amount of work required and challenges faced.

The major challenges centred on finding the right components (and suppliers for those components) and ensuring they worked well together:

  • The bag liner – a lot of research and testing went into finding one which was able to host the brewing process
  • The valve, which is built into the bespoke cap, vents at atmospheric pressure to allow us to produce a still drink. There was nothing on the market that could achieve this so we had to develop a solution ourselves.
  • The water resistant box – we worked with our box supplier, BoxMart, to make our cardboard packaging ‘waterproof’. The eventual solution was to introduce reinforced board throughout the entire box, add film laminate to the outer surface and rotate the direction of the flute so that if water should touch the visible raw edges, it would simply run down the box rather than gather in the creases.
  • The syrup and yeast combinations which deliver the rapid brew that makes the product accessible for millions more people (who do not have months to invest).

The product definitely evolved over the five years, but we have very much tried to stay true to the ideas we initially had when back in Manchester as students.

Do you manufacture the kits entirely yourselves?

Yes we make the kits ourselves and use selected suppliers for the components, all of which had excellent product knowledge and manufacturing capabilities – and who were able to supply us with innovative solutions for our unique product.

How do you distribute your products – is it exclusively online or is it currently stocked elsewhere?

Victor’s Drinks kits can be found both online (e.g. Firebox) and in store (e.g. Debenhams and Fenwicks). We also sell directly to customers through our website.

Do you have plans to take Victor’s Drinks overseas?

Absolutely! And we have already started getting some interest from stockists abroad so we hope this will be sooner rather than later.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching their own drinks company?

Take the time to research and develop a great tasting and unique product, think about the branding and how the drink will be perceived and received by your target market – and do lots of testing!

What are Victor’s future plans?

We have some great new products coming out in the New Year, plus some additional flavours to extend our current cider and ale ranges – lots of great things to look out for! We also have a few big deals in the pipeline with large UK retailers so it’s an exciting time for the team.

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