What’s in a name?
The CEO and Co-Founder of Ugly Drinks, Hugh Thomas, understands that authenticity is hard to find, so he (along with his Co-Founder Joe Benn) set out to create it. With its newly rebranded retro-styled packaging and a recent launch in the U.S., Ugly Drinks is on a mission to deliver zero-sugar, zero-calorie, flavored seltzer waters directly to its consumers while also donating to important charitable causes along the way.
Read on to learn more about the Ugly truth, as told from its CEO and co-founder.
ForceBrands: Tell us a bit about your journey to launching Ugly Drinks. What inspired you to create this product?
Hugh Thomas: Ugly Drinks was started by myself and a good friend, Joe Benn, in London (U.K.) in 2016. Inspired by the journey of our former employers, Vita Coco, we had caught the beverage bug and become tired of a world where traditional beverage marketing avoided transparency and the truth, with old school beverage brands creating products laden with sugar and wrapped in fun — aspirational marketing.
Public enemy No. 1, we felt, was carbonated soft drinks. For too long big business had pushed products packed with sugar, sweetener, or artificial ingredients. We set about creating a range of 100 percent natural fruit flavored sparkling waters and a brand that would tell consumers how it is, speaking to them authentically and transparently.
In the U.K., Ugly is now sold in over 4,500+ stores including Tesco and Sainsbury’s (the U.K.’s two largest retailers), Amazon, and our own direct-to-consumer offering (among many others). We launched in the U.S. in May.
Having refined our branding in the U.K., we know how Ugly speaks clearly to our target consumer. This has allowed us to enter into a crowded market (worth over $2 billion in 2016, according to Euromonitor), with a unique positioning aimed at young, digitally native consumers.
FB: What’s in a name – why Ugly? And aside from the name, how are you disrupting the sparkling water category?
HT: Ugly stands for The Ugly Truth. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, both in what we read in the news and in what we drink, we wanted to communicate authenticity to a consumer tired of losing trust in what they eat and drink. Our pop-art style can and packaging is designed to subvert (much like the graffiti style of Banksy), and the retro-styled packaging communicates our tongue-in-cheek attitude.
We have created a brand that really communicates to young consumers who want a convenient online option and brands that talk directly to them. Through uglydrinks.com, you can sign up to our nationwide subscription service and receive cans of Ugly seltzer delivered to your door when you need them.
Ugly is a brand that makes a stand and has identified global gender inequality as an Ugly Truth in the world that we wanted to tackle. As such, we excitingly partnered with United Nations Foundation charity, Girl Up, to donate 1 cent from every can sold to their great cause, supporting girls around the world.
FB: Who is your target audience and how have you been marketing to them?
HT: We launched with a digital-first mindset, with a brand built online and a social media marketing strategy designed to communicate directly to millennial and Gen Z (GenZennial) consumers.
We care deeply about our community in both the U.K. and the U.S. and use social media to speak to consumers on a 1-1 basis as often as possible. Speaking honestly and transparently to our followers allows us to take feedback onboard quickly, whether it’s improvements to our online delivery service or tweaking the flavors in our range.
FB: You first launched in the U.K. and now have launched in the U.S. this spring. What has been your strategy for breaking into this market and what have been some of the biggest challenges?
HT: We always developed and refined the brand with a global market and a U.S. launch in mind. We have taken time to understand the local nuances and set up a full manufacturing facility and team in North America (I’m in the market, too!) to make sure we give our customers and consumers the full attention and service they deserve.
Obviously, as a young team, managing time zones and operations from 5,000 miles away has taken some adjustment, but with the right people and the right attitude, anything is possible!
FB: Let’s chat productivity and work-life balance. As an entrepreneur behind a growing startup, what’s your secret to maintaining a healthy work-life relationship?
HT: I think starting a business and growing a movement is only possible if you go all in and are prepared to make personal sacrifices to make it work.
For me, I’ve found work-life integration to be the key. It’s important to roll with the flexible schedule and deal with priorities as they come, but it’s also important to have the discipline to take time off when you need it. Recharging is vital.
Building something we are truly passionate about with people we truly care for and love to work with is vital. We have this formula at Ugly and it makes every day fun and enjoyable. I love coming into work every single day.
FB: Here at ForceBrands, we build the teams that build the brands. How have you built the Ugly team? What key roles did you hire for first and how did you go about filling them?
HT: The Ugly team has been built on the same core values as our brand – transparency and trust. These values resonate through everything we do and we share the good, the bad, and the ugly of day-to-day work, collaborating quickly to solve issues and celebrating the wins together when they come.
We take time to really identify people with Ugly values and people who fit with our way of doing things. In operations and sales, our key hires were former colleagues who knew Joe and I and the way we work.
Having people on-site who know you, trust you, and share your values is vital to building a strong culture that transcends the initial core team.
FB: What’s ahead for Ugly? Where do you hope to see the brand in five years?
HT: We are so excited to take Ugly into the next five years. This is just the beginning on both sides of the Atlantic.
We’re excited about building a global brand that truly communicates with a modern consumer who looks for transparency and convenience from their beverages.
We will continue to think with a digital-first mindset, engaging with a digitally-native consumer but maintaining an omnichannel approach to building the brand, making sure Ugly is a choice available when and where the consumer wants it.
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