Interview – Launching Berczy Hard Seltzer During A Pandemic
This conflicted sparkling drink has certainly been an interesting trend to watch in the industry but will it continue to ‘fizz’ as well as it has in the US?
Following this state of the art 2020 drinking trend, we have been lucky enough to speak to one of the first British hard seltzer brands, who are providing a positive and alternative drink for both consumers and the environment, and they certainly have an interesting story to tell.
Not to mention they launched during the pandemic, in the midst of a lockdown, and in a fairly new and disputed drinks category. Kudos!
With innovation and a drive to push boundaries, the company is simply refreshing – striving to stand out in the rapidly moving market through their plant-based, natural combinations and sustainable endeavours.
This interview is inspiring, educating and helps us dive into the interesting hard seltzer journey here in the UK.
Keep reading to learn about their beach cleans, charity partners, brand ambassadors and future predictions for this alcoholic category.
Interview with Berczy Drinks
Berczy was founded by three friends, Nick Graham, Nick Johnson and Matt Richardson. After tasting hard seltzer in Toronto’s Berczy Park in the summer of 2019 and seeing the impact of hard seltzers across the country, they unanimously decided to come back and craft their own concept to the UK.
For those of our readers who don’t know Berczy, can you tell us a bit about the brand? Where did you begin?
Initially launching in the first lockdown in June 2020 as NATRL, we were one of the first British hard seltzer brands (better known in the UK as alcoholic sparkling water). Over the summer, a flurry of names came to the market, including well-known US hard seltzer brands, larger UK corporations as well as smaller British indie brands too.
The market was swimming with white cans and little storytelling, so we decided it was time to stand out from the crowd. Berczy Park in Toronto is where our journey began, myself and two good friends first tried hard seltzer there in front of the famous dog fountain, so we wanted to incorporate this into the story.
Together we decided to bring an innovative and refreshing approach to alcoholic drinks, providing a positive alternative for our customers, and the environment. We currently have three light and fruity flavours: Lemon & Lime, Peach & Raspberry and the latest addition, Passionfruit & Turmeric. Our recipe is simple, we use triple-distilled sugar beet alcohol (similar to sugar cane), pure Herefordshire water and real fruit flavours. Each variation has 75 calories and 3.5 grams of sugar per 250ml can.
What inspired you to start your company in this fairly new category of alcohol, the hard seltzer industry?
The three of us spent a few weeks travelling across the US and Canada in 2019 when the category was exploding. Everywhere we went, people were drinking hard seltzer. We popped into a liquor store in New Jersey, and three entire aisles were lined with hard seltzer. There were over 25 brands and hundreds of multi-packs, as you couldn’t buy any single units. It amazed us that the concept hadn’t reached the UK, and as friends do, we made a spontaneous decision to go back and craft our own version.
Rather than succumbing to post-holiday blues, we started our market analysis that week. We discovered that hard seltzer sales were minimal in the UK, in the shadows of the $1.5bn US market. The UK ready to drink market is clustered with swathes of sugary, pre-mixed cocktails and G&T mixers, so we knew there was an appetite for hard seltzer.
It’s been a tough time for the drinks industry recently, however you launched your brand during the pandemic, how have you found this as a start up? What hurdles have you had to overcome?
It’s been an odd time to launch. Initially, our focus was retail and wholesale, however, the pandemic forced us to pivot our business model to prioritise direct to consumer. For us, it’s been a great way to learn more about our customers and build relationships that we wouldn’t otherwise have through retail.
Manufacturing is never easy due to the high demand for ready to drink products, which has soared during the pandemic. We frequently refine our production forecasts and logistics to manage supply and delivery as parcel carriers have seen their demand shoot up overnight.
The biggest challenge has to be educating the British consumer about “hard seltzer”. Not only are we trying to showcase our brand, but also the category.
So previously your brand was called NATRL, what was the thought process behind the recent rebranding? Do you think you would have rebranded if the pandemic wasn’t ongoing?
In November we received private equity investment and digested the data from a 2,500 person sampling survey. We changed from NATRL to Berczy for three reasons:
1) to stand out in a rapidly-moving market
2) to ensure our brand had global appeal and could move seamlessly across various countries
3) to incorporate our learnings from the first 6 months
As a young UK start-up, we strive to be distinctive and we had a fantastic opportunity to tell the world about our story. Irrespective of the pandemic, I think we would have undergone a rebrand, perhaps not to the same size and scale.
How did you decide what the right brand image was for Berczy?
As a team, we decided to look at every small detail of our branding. We are working with a fantastic designer who helped us map out the current market, understand our key customer groups, assess shelf appeal and develop our core values.
We went through various iterations and concepts of the brand, using small focus groups for each stage. The final design, Berczy as we know it today, ticked all of our boxes as a core team, and for our current and prospective customers.
There is no doubt that hard seltzer’s are on the rise and it looks like they will only continue to grow, how are you planning to stand out and stay above the competitors?
As a brand we have created three core values that transcend in everything we do at Berczy:
Be real to the last drop: We only use the highest quality ingredients, and aim to keep our drinks as low calorie and low in sugar as possible without sacrificing the flavour.
Be good: It’s a promise we make in everything we do. Good means: ingredients, taste, service and sustainability.
Be bold: We are innovative and won’t settle for less, we’re here to push boundaries.
These values help us develop what’s really important to us as individuals, and as a brand.
We’re an authentic brand with real people, and always put our customers first. Our fantastic ambassadors Nick Butter (the only man to run a marathon in every country on earth) and Aimee Fuller (British Olympic snowboarder) help represent our brand and raise awareness about our sustainable endeavours. Additionally, a portion of our sales go to our charity partner, Plastic Oceans.
Last year we organised a socially-distanced beach clean, and we were featured in the Sunday Times’ Green & Ethical Checklist. We use recyclable packaging, and have a compact supply chain in the UK. We’re also aiming to become B-Corp accredited by the end of 2021.
Our drinks are all made with plant-based, natural ingredients. We’ll never add sugar, sweeteners or artificial flavouring. Our latest flavour, Passionfruit & Turmeric, has been a real hit. Keep your eyes peeled for our next, exciting and curious flavour combinations.
What can we hope to see from you in the future?
We have plenty of exciting plans for this year! First and foremost, growing our awareness and customer base online, in retail and on-trade here in the UK. We have also closed an investment round from the US, and we’ve begun our plan to expand our business there.
We’re hoping to attend a number of food and drink events over the summer (pandemic dependent, of course), where we will be able to tell more people about Berczy, our sustainability initiatives and events with our ambassadors.
What are your predictions for the hard seltzers category in the UK?
After receiving definitive data in our consumer survey over the summer, we’ve been able to learn more about our audiences and their interests. As the category awareness increases, we’re excited to see this develop. Interestingly, there was a large percentage of drinkers experiencing ‘gin fatigue’ and even beer and wine drinkers opting for a lighter, less calorific drink. Something that has been exacerbated by the swinging in and out of lockdown.
The US market has proven that the hard seltzer demographic is growing exceptionally wide. We believe there will be an interesting hard seltzer journey here in the UK; especially as ingredient provenance and exciting flavour combinations become more prevalent.
Nick Graham – Co-founder of Berczy Drinks
Hard seltzers have continued to grow with predictions that it will witness the highest growth rate in the RTD market between now and 2024. Watch out for more 2021 drink predictions on our Cocktail Hub.
Feeling inspired? To find out more about Berczy Drinks visit their website to purchase some of their curious flavour combinations. And look out for them at food and drink events once the industry opens back up!