Just over 12 months since launching in the U.K., sparkling water brand Ugly Drinks is due to arrive on U.S. shores next year in a joint venture with Green Park Brands as part of a recently completed funding round.
Ugly, the brainchild of London-based former Vita Coco brand managers Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn, markets a line of unsweetened sparkling waters made with natural fruit flavors and packaged in 12 oz. cans. The drinks are sold in over 1,000 independent retailers in the U.K., including Whole Foods Market.
Green Park, a Los Angeles-based food innovation company, launched its first brand — the organic chickpea snack Hippeas — in 2015. In a call with BevNET, CEO Livio Bisterzo noted that Ugly spoke to a similar consumer segment as Hippeas, but will be run differently. He described the venture as a true partnership, noting that Ugly will operate as separate, stand-alone vertical with Benn and Thomas at the helm.
“We looked at the growth of the category, and we looked at how some of these 20 to 30 year old brands have become more and more relevant,” he said, mentioning Massachusetts-based Polar Seltzer as an example. “We looked at some of these old seltzer brands and we thought: why is no one building a brand that speaks to that consumer that is actually drinking this proposition, which is a millennial consumer who no longer drinks any kind of soda? We sort of kept it pretty simple in terms of where we thought the opportunity is.”
“Millennial consumers are already moving away from traditional sodas and carbonated soft drinks but they struggle to find brands that really communicate with them in the space,” Thomas in an e-mail to BevNET. “We think we are working on and developing a cool, vibrant and energetic brand positioning that will really engage and communicate with them in market and differentiate us from the sparkling water set that is currently available.”
Bisterzo said Ugly will use the final two quarters of this year assembling a U.S.-based team and preparing for the product’s stateside launch in early 2018, during which it will focus on entering the natural and specialty channels in the Northeast specifically, along with supplying independent retailers up and down the street through DSD. He added that the company is setting up a co-manufacturer and a production facility in the region to keep production as close as possible to its distribution center and to keep its carbon footprint small.
“We really want to see what kind of traction and velocity we get from trade and consumers and stakeholders and partners in the field and then see how we get on,” he said.
Bisterzo also said the company was assessing whether Ugly’s two current flavors — Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple — will work in the U.S. market, along with a further two varieties that are in development. And while he heralded the brand’s potential scalability, sparkling water will remain Ugly’s only product offering for the foreseeable future.
“I think this is a $100 million business that can potentially be built with the current proposition,” he said. “I think we have a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of work to do to get this to the [U.S.] marketplace, but I see a huge opportunity.”