Ugly is the new kid on the block of the soft drinks industry. They are Ugly for a reason, and that reason is what makes us think they are a truly beautiful brand. They are honest and completely transparent about who they are and what they do. Their philosophy is simple, to make honestly healthy, delicious and refreshing drinks, readily available. They aren’t hiding behind frills and over-promising on what their drinks can do for you, they are simple, un-adorned, natural and so we guess in that way they are Ugly. Ugly is just fruit infused sparkling water, and what more could you want from a soft drink?
The Interview (London) talks to one of the founders, Hugh, about their journey of setting up Ugly, what they were doing prior to launching and their aims and ethos behind the brand.
Hi Hugh and Joe! Please can you introduce yourselves and your company?
Hello! We are Hugh and Joe and we are the co-founders of a brand new drinks company, Ugly Drinks. Ugly is a range of 100% natural, fruit infused sparkling waters with no sugar, no sweetener and no artificial ingredients. Ugly is currently available in two flavours; Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple. We launched in January 2016 and are currently available in; As Natured Intended, Selfridges, Whole Foods Market, Vital Ingredient and over 250 independent stores.
How did your partnership come about?
Joe and I never actually had the conversation ‘shall we start a beverage company?’, it just became the obvious next step for us both. We became good friends whilst working at Vita Coco and recognised that not only did we have a great complimentary skillset, but also a shared vision for where we wanted to take Ugly and the problem we wanted to solve. One day we started working on the business plan and never looked back.
Was being an entrepreneur something you always expected of yourselves?
For both us it had always been the long term goal. For myself (Hugh), it had been the goal from a very young age. I think for both of us it is the idea of creative control that excites us. Starting a business allows us to put our vision out into the world; not only for the product, but also the way we run the business, the team we hire and culture we build. The feeling you get when you see your product on shelves is pretty incredible, it’s the result of a lot of hard work.
When did you first have the idea for Ugly and what steps did you take next?
We first had the idea for Ugly whilst on a trip to Tokyo in 2013. We noticed that many of the tea drinks in Japanese drinks fridges were ‘unsweet’ with no sugar and no sweetener and questioned why it was so hard to find ‘unsweet’ beverages at home. As soon as we got back to the UK we read more about the issues and problems caused by sugar and sweetener and the impact on the health of the UK, happiness of the nation and productivity. We felt this was something that really needed change and set about developing Ugly.
It sounds a cliché, but we think it is important to break things down into bite-size chunks when setting out on such a large project as this. We saw things as a line of dominoes, and asked ourselves, which is the next domino that we can push over that keeps momentum going. This means starting on the fundamental building blocks of understanding production and product-market fit before worrying about things like trademarks, websites and detailed brand development. Those are all important things of course, but can wait for you to build the solid foundations first.
Can you tell us about your values at Ugly and how you are changing the nature of the soft drinks industry?
We started Ugly as we think it’s time for change. We think too many food and drink products over-promise with their branding and under-deliver in terms of nutritional values. An example of this are beverages that promise nutritional or functional value, but quite often are high in sugar or packed full of other artificial ingredients. We genuinely believe consumers are sweet enough already and created Ugly to contain no sugar, no sweeteners and no artificial ingredients.
Ugly stands for transparency and choice. We want to create products that are easy for consumers to understand and clear in their messaging. At the same time, we want to create a brand that maintains a sense of fun in it’s delivery. It should be fun to choose healthier options and that’s what we’ve set out to do.
We love the name and the branding! Could you tell us about your creative process for coming up with the brand image?
Thank you! Joe and I took inspiration from a lot of areas in the lead up to creating the brand including the worlds of restaurants (Momofoku), beer (Brewdog), denim (Hiut) and film-making (Casey Neistat). We feel it’s important to take ideas and inspiration from lots of different areas as it allows you to create genuine stand out without taking cues from the rest of the category you sit within.
When we were looking for a name, we wanted something simple and fun but also something that helped to communicate our mission. Ugly is beautiful on the inside and doesn’t promise to make you faster, more intelligent or more beautiful. It’s just 100% natural, fruit infused sparkling water.
In terms of branding, we were really clear with our design team that we wanted something that stood out and popped on shelf. Every time we felt we drifted towards something that fit the category norms, we tried to stretch ourselves to do something different. We’re really happy with the end results!
You’ve got two flavours of Ugly out, Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple. Do you have any new flavours you can reveal or is it all top secret?
We can’t wait to introduce new flavours to the line up, but we will have to keep everything under-wraps for the time being.
As with everything, we are more than open to ideas…so if anyone reading this has a flavour they’d like to see…just get in touch, we’d love to hear!
You’re sold in Wholefoods, Selfridges, As Nature Intended and Vital Ingredients how did you first approach stockists?
We feel it’s important that you’re very clear on what your product stands for and how it is differentiated from other products currently stocked in-store. When we first approached the stockists, we made sure that we were very clear on our offering and why it was unique from what was currently on shelves.
In addition to this, it’s important to understand who the shopper is within each stockist and why your product is suitable for them.
When we were clear on those areas, we built out all the detail expected for stockists, from pricing to route to market. It’s important to be confident on these areas when you meet potential customers.
Will we be able to find Ugly anywhere else this summer?
As we are only a few months old, this summer is all about continuing to build the foundations for the Ugly brand and keeping our focus. We’re going to try to get Ugly cans in as many hands as possible so you’ll see us about, but we don’t have any plans for anything massive in 2016!
What are your future plans for Ugly?
Our aim is to make healthy drinks as accessible to as many people as possible both in terms of geography and price point. Our recommended retail price is £0.99 and we want to take the drinks as far and wide across the UK as possible. It should be easy for someone to pick up a great tasting drink without any sugar and sweetener, and hopefully we can be part of that movement!
We’re looking forward to introducing new flavours and formats for consumers in the future and maybe one day we can take Ugly overseas!
What key piece of advice could you offer to other entrepreneurs that you have learnt from your own experience of setting up a business?
I think the main thing we have learnt so far is that it is all about being endlessly optimistic in every situation. We really believe ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ and that challenges and obstacles are an opportunity to get creative. We’ve had plenty along the way and feel that if you can overcome them then you’ll always emerge stronger the other side.