In 2018, casting a glance around the world can be a bit disheartening. There’s global leaders who espouse racist, offensive views, companies with corrupt practices and food and beverages being created with some nasty ingredients in the mix.
Enter No Ugly wellness tonic. Its founders, Auckland-based Aaron Taylor and partner Jo, have worked in the advertising sector for more than 20 years, working on clients that span from banks to beer, and from fashion to food.
They’d noticed the rise of the conscious, health-minded consumer: a growing group of shoppers who were cutting out products, ingredients, behaviours or beliefs that didn’t align with their own values and were negatively impacting on them or the planet.
“We felt there was something interesting about a brand that became the clarion call for people who rejected ugly,” Aaron Taylor says. “A brand that was brave and spunky with a higher purpose: to wage a war on ugly.”
After looking into the untapped potential of the wellness category, the pair decided they wanted to launch a wellness drink.
“It was easy to identify: people love drinks, hydration is critical and people are far more aware of it,” Taylor says.
“Wellness beverages were booming globally, over 28 percent growth between 2010 to 2015 (according to a 2016 Euromonitor Report), the average price for a wellness beverage in New Zealand was around $12, and beyond the ‘energy’ segment, there was exponential growth in segments that solved a real problem for people. It was a no brainer, really.”
As well as this, they had taken a close look at the branding of pre-existing drinks and felt they lacked excitement.
“We want wellness to be fun and accessible, and doing something good for yourself that can make you feel good like a fashion or booze brand can,” he says.
He says New Zealand’s increasingly populated Kombucha market is evidence of this.
“The brands in that segment are hanging their hat on a recipe or flavour profile. And it’s easy to copy. But that goes for most beverages. We need a strong brand to rise above the sea of sameness that the entire category is fast becoming. Before 42 Below, vodka in New Zealand was ho-hum. Before Lewis Road Creamery, milk was very commoditised. The same goes for wellness. No Ugly is the lighthouse brand that stands out from the rest.”
Taylor says they decided the problem they wanted to tackle was people juggling many responsiblities in life and feeling as though they’d burned the candle out at both ends.
After bringing food technology consultant Jan Wuis on board and trialling different formulas, flavours and nutrients, 30 iterations later, No Ugly had found its magic ingredient: enzogenol, an antioxidant extracted from the bark of New Zealand grown pine trees.
Taylor says all the health benefits touted by the brand are pre-approved claims by the Food Standards Authority and are well researched.
The extract has been proven to increase alertness, cognitive performance and improve memory. It’s also often used to treat brains after a trauma, such as a concussion or stroke. Research by AUT University has found people with brain injuries who took it were three times more likely to recovery everyday memory than those who took a placebo.
In December, the team tweaked its production systems with a few hiccups (one flavour wasn’t ready in time for launch due to a key ingredient not being delivered). No Ugly started off just online with a small audience, but once it hit Farro Fresh and other shops, Taylor says sales have gone “absolutely nuts”.
“It’s amazing how influential Farro Fresh can be for start-ups,” he says.
The other initiative that sets No Ugly apart from its counterparts is its subscription service. When the Taylors realised the bottle they’d chosen looked a bit like a quart milk bottle, they imagined what it would look like in a crate.
That sparked the idea to set up a subscription service where people can receive a regular delivery of a crate of No Ugly drinks, with the empties being collected and recycled by the brand too. For each Swappa Crate returned for recycling, No Ugly donates a lunch to Eat My Lunch.
Taylor says the subscription model is similar to what Eat My Lunch and My Food bag have built their businesses on, as people love convenience and brands with a higher purpose.
He says it also helps with the issue of recycling being notoriously difficult to sort.
“No Ugly is waging a war on ugly, this is our way of doing something good for the environment. Hence, we now have No Ugly Swappa Crate and it’s grown at 500 percent each month since we launched – of a tiny base of course, but it’s growing very quickly and people aren’t falling off.”
About 20 stores are stocking No Ugly’s beverages currently, with about five more signing up each week. The drink is currently available in two flavours – ginger and cucumber.
Taylor says the plan is to continue expanding, as well as rolling out a new flavour and new summer formats in 2018. Eventually, they’d like to move into new product categories as well.
“Our vision is to be the most valuable wellness brand on the planet,” he says.
“There are many verticals we can go into – we just have to stick to the plan, not get distracted by too many shiny things and by 2020, we’ll be on fire globally.”
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