The challenger brand fighting the war on sugar: Meet Ugly Drinks

Hugh Thomas is shaking up the industry with his no-sugar, no-calorie fizzy drinks range. So, what inspired him to take on the likes of Coca Cola?

With the soft drinks ‘sugar tax' on the horizon and mounting research on the risks of too much sugar in our diets, consumers are increasingly seeking out healthier alternatives which makes sugar-free drinks one of the hottest business opportunities in the UK right now.

One start-up already capitalising on growing consumer demand for zero-sugar and reduced-sugar drinks is Ugly Drinks; the 100% natural fruit-infused sparkling water brand which was launched in 2016 by founders Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn.

Former Vita Coco executives, Thomas and Benn were motivated to develop the drinks range – which boasts “no sugars, no sweeteners, no calories, and no artificial ingredients”- after recognising an opportunity to “create a product that gave consumers choice” and act as “an alternative to traditional soft drinks”.

The company mission? Thomas explains that the business is driven by a desire to make healthy, affordable drinks “without the bad stuff in”. The consumer is a key focus: “we want to make healthy beverages accessible to as many people as possible”.

Thomas and Benn have sought to make the brand accessible via two routes; an affordable price point – its 330ml cans retail at 99p – and “fun and energetic branding”.

Thomas asserts that he was keen for Ugly Drinks to convey a sense of humour and wanted to avoid making consumers “feel like they were picking something super healthy and super boring”. He adds: “We didn't want to give someone a bland healthy option that they regret picking up afterwards.”

As a challenger brand competing with industry giants such as Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola, Thomas is confident about the market opportunity for Ugly Drinks.

This year the start-up will be adding two new flavours to its existing range, which includes lime and grapefruit and pineapple, and will then be investing time and resource on marketing the brand to “more places where people buy carbonated soft drinks” such as offices and retail stores.

London, Thomas reveals, is a prime market for Ugly Drinks as it has “good distribution” and presents the business with longer-term opportunities to secure stock listings with large retailers, groceries and supermarkets.

Closing his interview with Expert Market president Titus Sharpe, Thomas concludes that the brand's immediate aim is to “spread its footprint”.

A positive business on a positive mission to fight the war on sugar, we think Ugly Drinks is anything but its namesake. See if you agree by watching the full interview in the video…


Find out more about Ugly Drinks in our Just Started interview here.

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