Ugly drinks

Hugh Founder of Ugly Drinks

With Hugh Thomas, Founder

The food and drink industry is crying out for some new products that could really disrupt the market so I thought I’d get in touch with some of the most awesome, innovative start-ups and have a quick chat about their products, what’s to come for these new brands, and also discuss what’s been going on in the world of food and drink.

So, without further ado, here’s the first of our ‘Start-Up Stories’ series. I caught up with Hugh, co-founder of one of the most awesome drinks companies out there; Ugly Drinks. Ugly make really refreshing drinks and the best part…No sugar, no sweetener and nothing artificial!

So Hugh, how did the idea come about?

I started the business with my good friend Joe. Myself and Joe had always discussed creating a drink with no sugar or sweeteners in. We both have close family who work with diabetes patients and we came to realise just how much of an impact a high sugar diet can have on the NHS, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes and just happiness in general.

If you wanted a drink in the UK without sugar or sweeteners there was not really many options at all. Water felt a little boring and the brands weren’t that exciting and mainly based on things like provenance. Pretty much everything else, whether its fruit sugars or added artificial sugars just felt a little bit sweet and sickly. So what we tried to do was make a healthy drink without any sugars, sweeteners or artificial ingredients and that’s kind of when the idea started! We had the idea for the brand name at the same time, wanting to create a brand that felt exciting and interesting and just a little bit different. Something people can relate to and get involved with. That’s why we chose Ugly; 

“We’re beautiful on the inside but ugly on the outside.”

Did you face any challenges when you were launching in regards to the product being free of sugar/artificial sweeteners?

The first drink we developed was a still version of the drink, in bottles. This proved a challenge but we think British consumers are beginning to look for products that don’t have sugar or sweeteners in more and more. The buyers and retail outlets are beginning to realise that too. Obviously there’s things such as the sugar tax but, even without that coming into play, we feel that consumers are looking for products like Ugly. In terms of consumers and customers the interest is definitely building for sure. There’s still a lot of obstacles and work for us to do but we are certainly seeing things moving in the right direction!

In regards to the sugar tax, do you think the governments doing everything it can? I read the other day some companies are just reducing size rather than sugar content?

We as a business think the sugar levy will have some sort of impact. The thing we think is good is consumers are reading about it more and understanding what’s in their food and drink. The more people that know about this the better!

I know your products are completely free of anything artificial…Is it worthwhile companies changing to artificial or will it have similar health implications?

We’ve manged to make it taste great without sweeteners and we’re really proud of that! It might take a bit of time for tastes to adapt. We’re not an anti-sugar company by any stretch but we believe consumers should be able to choose when they eat their sugar and be informed correctly rather than consuming it unconsciously. The one thing that got us was how unaware the majority of consumers are about the amount of sugar in a lot of products. We’re here to give people an option.

What piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into the food and drink market?

Rather than one piece of advice…here’s three! The first one is to try not to spend too much money when launching. It’s too easy to spend lots of money right at the beginning because you’re excited and the temptation is there but you really don’t need to. As soon as you launch you’ll learn a lot of things that need to change anyway. Try and do it as cheaply as possible. It’s a great habit to get into.

The second piece of advice would have to be; always ask questions. Ask questions to people who’ve been there and done it, and always ask for recommendations!

The third piece would be to just be patient. It kind of ties into the first bit of advice but it really does take a long time. We had this idea in 2013 and have been working really hard but it does take time. It’s not all glamorous, there is a huge amount of effort that needs to be put in to be able to reap the rewards!

Have you always wanted to set up your own business?

I’ve always had some sort of entrepreneurial spirit. We’ve always both liked food and drink and it’s just something that really became a passion. Drinks are so fast moving and. We were two likeminded people and met each other in the right place at the right time!

What’s to come for ugly drinks in 2017?

What we’re trying to do is create a drink at a price to suit everyone. Currently, we RRP for 99p and hopefully with time that can be made even more affordable. We want the drink stocked in as many cities and shops as possible (we’re in over 1000 shops now) and to make it affordable for everyone. Our motivation and aim is to get as many drinks to as many people as possible and not just create a trend. We’re looking to grow the team and move out of our small London office to support the growth, as well as adding more flavours to our range. We really want to try and take on the big boys! It’s certainly a David v Goliath story and we’re excited to see where it leads!

I’m really excited to see what happens with Ugly drinks this year and wish them the best of luck! If you’d like to try the product Ugly are currently listed in Planet Organic, Selfridges and Holland & Barrett to name just a few. You can also buy online at I can’t recommend this awesome drink enough, and that’s coming from someone who used to love nothing more than a can (or 3) of sugary soda!