A Birmingham start-up company is attempting to steal a march in a burgeoning drinks market in the UK which is already worth billions in the US.
Island Bay Hard Seltzer was founded last autumn and the team has spent the past few months preparing to go to market only to be plunged into one of the worst economic and health crises the world has ever seen.
Undeterred, founder and managing director Mudassar Aziz told the BusinessLive he was determined to proceed with the Aston-based company’s launch this week.
Hard seltzer, also known as spiked seltzer and hard sparkling water, is a category of alcoholic drink containing fizzy water, fruit flavourings and crucially a much lower calorie count than, say, a pint of lager.
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It is usually marketed as a lifestyle product to the younger, more health-conscious drinker.
According to a report earlier this year, analysts were predicting sales could hit $4.3 billion in the US in 2020 but at present it is still relatively unknown this side of the pond.
Mr Aziz, who has worked for two decades in sales and bringing drinks to market through his company Hydrate Drinks, has set up this new venture with the backing of a network of private investors.
He told BusinessLive: “It’s a category that’s about to explode in the UK, it’s going to be huge.
“Current circumstances have obviously slowed things down but in the long term it’s something that is exciting buyers and especially the supermarkets.
“I think it will be big in the UK because I see the trends in the market.
“For many years, my job has been to attend trade shows around the world, try to understand what’s working in other markets and look at the historical data.
“What works in the US tends to come to the UK a couple of years later and work here very well too.
“There’s a recognisable pattern in the launch of products and Tesco has already said it plans to have a dedicated hard seltzer section on its shelves later this year.”
Hard seltzer is not completely new to these shores with big name breweries such as Swedish giant Kopparberg and Budweiser owner AB InBev making inroads with Balans and Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water respectively, among several others now available.
Island Bay Hard Seltzer has three flavours – mango, strawberry and watermelon – which were created by Mr Aziz and a team of consultants working with him on getting the company up and running.
They are being manufactured at plants in mainland Europe and stored in a warehouse in the South East ready for distribution although getting the products to the UK has proved problematic following the breakout of covid-19.
Mr Aziz is now planning to have his online store ready on the company’s website to take orders this week and is continuing to work with retailers and big-name supermarkets in a bid to ensure the drinks are on their shelves.
He said: “We had hoped to launch through trade shows but that has been an issue because they have all been cancelled although many of them are planning to rearrange them for the autumn.
“We wanted to start with wholesalers and also get the product in universities and had a big plan based around that but it has all gone out of the window.
“We have, more or less, been able to hit the dates and deadlines we were expecting to in terms of preparing to launch but the biggest challenge for us has been haulage. It is very difficult to get a driver.
“For example, if a truck driver from Poland comes to the UK to deliver goods, when they go back home they could be asked to self-isolate so they might miss out on income for up to 14 days before they’re back on the road again.
“A lot of these drivers work for themselves so it’s been very difficult to secure normal rates for transport on the usual timescales.
“We have opted instead to move goods via the sea which takes considerably longer but is much cheaper.
“I have also had to learn to adjust my expectations running a company during this crisis as people are working from home, trying to juggle that with having children there and homeschooling.
“The notion that everyone is in front of their computers at 9am and stays there until 5pm just doesn’t work anymore.
“I’ve learned that, to get the best out of the team, I must treat every individual according to their individual circumstances. That has been the biggest adjustment for me.”