West Pier Drinks is a new business startup aiming to pack a punch in the rum drinks market.
Founded in 2019 by three Business School undergraduates, William Roberts (BSc Business and Management) Thomas Gray (BSc International Business with Finance) and James Howes (BSc International Business), they have created a great tasting rum, which also aims to benefit the environment and the community. They aim to challenge the rum industry with their bold local brand of flavoured rum with a sustainable focus.
We were first introduced West Pier Drinks when the company won fourth place of the Start Up Sussex 2020 Award, receiving a £6,000 prize. Will, Thomas and James spoke to Nicole Waobikeze (BSc International Business with Spanish – currently on placement year) about their fledgling company, the challenges of starting a business, and how they are adapting to operating in a global pandemic.
Product choice and availability
Why did you choose to produce rum?
Will: A lot of people overlook rum as a spirit because they recognise it with large white rum brands. People don’t know the full potential that rum has, and West Pier Drinks is here to showcase that.
James: Rum is often seen as quite stale and limited in variety, lots of people have tried Captain Morgan’s spiced rum once and then decided that it’s not for them. However, there is almost no limit to what you can put into rum, so we want to use that opportunity to create something new and unexpected.
Is your product available for sampling?
Will: We have sent out samples to people of interest, influence and investment but samples are not yet available to the public.
James: We recently received our rectifiers license, so will hopefully be able to send out samples in the coming months.
When will your rum launch to market?
Will: We are planning to launch at the end of June, where you will be able to buy the rum online and from off-licences and independent retailers in Brighton.
Thomas: As Will said we are hoping to get our product launched in late June and are currently in talks with a number of independent retailers. As we currently have a very small still we are limited with our current demand but once we get people excited about our rum we are looking to do a big crowdfunded expansion next year!
Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business planning and product development?
Thomas: Our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered from the current health crisis. We are lucky that at our current stage we still have lots of work we can do whilst communicating over zoom. As a response to the lack of hand sanitiser we have been looking into what we can do to help provide hand sanitiser using some of our distillery equipment and suppliers. Look out on our social media for updates on when our hand sanitizer is for sale.
Will: We already have a very strict hygiene process so we have experienced little change in product development. Combined with this we also use UK suppliers so our supply chain is still effective. However, we have had to change our implementation due to the closure of bars and restaurants meaning the rum will be available online for home delivery and in off-licences that operate with Deliveroo.
James: We hope to provide subscription box services too.
How does your product fit within the circular economy model?
Will: We use a bottle deposit scheme, this means when bottles are returned to us the customer will receive money back or a discount on their next purchase. We are also going to have refill stations this means that customers can bring their own vessels. We have zero food waste, ingredients used in our manufacturing turn into scented candles and when this is not appropriate it will be composted.
Can you explain how you are recycling/repurposing?
Will: We are using methods derived from Precious Plastics, an open source plastic recycling community. We are also working on resources that our customers can use to repurpose bottles into other items such as glasses, vases, lights and bird feeders.
Where do you source the materials from?
James: Currently we use waste plastic from our own households, friends, and family. However, in the longer term we’re looking to partner with marine clean-up charities to use plastic taken directly out of the local marine environment, to give people a real sense of their impact in buying our product.
Building a brand through web design
How did you build your website?
Will: In February 2019 I set up my own marketing agency Dystopia Design which we used to develop the site. With input from Tom and James we created our overall aesthetic vision for the site, keeping it minimal and clean. Dystopia Design produced a cost effective Wix website. Being experienced they were able to produce a website quickly and effectively meaning we have a highly visible website.
On winning Start-up Sussex 2020
How has the competition helped you develop your business?
Will: It was an amazing process and one of the things that really helped is being introduced to a community with so many like-minded individuals from all over the world. The support from our mentor Helena has been amazing in helping us develop our business plan.
We plan to release new flavours in the future. We are currently working on seasonal drinks that are produced with seasonal British ingredients. We are also looking to expand into non-alcoholic drinks as well as other spirits.
James: Not gin though. In the long run, we don’t plan to compete with global drinks giants, but we do plan to retail nationwide as far as we can uphold our sustainability goals and culture.
How are you different to your competitors?
Will: As previously mentioned we have unique flavours that are unlike any on the market. We also have a strong foundation in sustainability. We are working towards an entirely British supply chain to reduce our carbon footprint. We are also engaging with the circular economy creating zero waste and bottle deposit schemes.
James: Our small size and artisan process allows us to be more experimental and creative with our flavours and brand, meaning we can take risks with more unconventional combinations. Within the rum market, which still focuses almost solely on Caribbean fruit flavours, we’re ahead of the curve. Our cycling seasonal batches using exclusively local, in-season ingredients are also entirely new to the sector.
These young entrepreneurs have shown inspiring innovation and uniqueness around their business structure and values. By combining their skillset obtained from their education at the University of Sussex Busness School and external experience, they have been able to create a slick eco-friendly rum drink with a unique taste, setting them aside from competitors.
Not only are they different in taste, but they’re able to remain sustainable by reusing and recycling their waste products. It is clear that the three co-founders have assessed the market well enough to plan how to minimize any potential threats from competitors, such as global drink giants.
I think West Pier Drinks has the potential to reach retail and scale to a national brand. With plans to expand in the future, we are excited to follow their journey of success in the mixed drink industry.
Follow West Pier Drinks on social media @westpierdrinks for product news and new flavour releases.