Naughty Water builds up momentum in the burgeoning hard seltzer category

25 March, 2021

An ambitious start-up aims to turn hard seltzers into a hot summer drinks trend within the UK market.

The category has taken the U.S. market by storm in recent years, and off-trade sales surged 160% year-on-year to hit $4.1 billion in 2020 (Nielsen, 12 months to 26/12/20).

It is still a niche category across the Atlantic, but Kantar research suggests hard seltzers could be worth £75 million in the UK by 2023.

Entrepreneurs Charlie Brake and Simon Horth created Naughty Water in a bid to drive demand for hard seltzers among health-conscious British drinkers.

The range includes Sparkling Cranberry, Sparkling Mango & Passionfruit and Sparkling Blood Orange variants, all with an abv of 5%. It contains just 72 calories per 25cl can, with zero sugar and added vitamin C.

Horth sells CBD products under a brand called Green Stem, and Naughty Water is produced at the same flavour lab.

The brand was initially launched via an exclusive with online retailer Drinks & Treats, and the first batch quickly sold out. The company has now signed a deal with a major food and drinks wholesaler, and appointed Lighthouse Brands as its UK distributor.

Former Bibendum PLB executive Willem Hunter set up Lighthouse Brands in 2018, and it already distributes brands such as Dooley’s, Coole Swan and Marques de Caceres.

Hunter says: “We were looking for a UK produced product with creative and unique standout branding. The cool, vibrant retro style packaging was the first thing that attracted me to Naughty Water.

“Once I tasted the liquid, I was hugely impressed with their quality versus other hard seltzers I’ve recently tried, their flavours are perfect for the UK consumer taste profile. I knew it would be a great addition to our Lighthouse Brands portfolio.”

Horth met Brake when he was trying to drum up publicity for Green Stem. Brake previously found fame by appearing on hit TV show Love Island, so he is an influencer, replete with a blue tick.  

They hit it off and decided to create a hard seltzer brand together. Brake came up with the name Naughty Water, and they spent several months in 2020 perfecting the taste of the liquid.

Horth tells Drinks International: “My mother sent me an article on hard seltzers and how well they were doing in America. I mentioned it to Charlie and it hit home straight away, being a low-calorie, sugar-free alcoholic drink. He said vodka, lime and soda is my go-to drink, why don’t we give it a go.”

Brake adds: “I’m very conscious of what I consume. I had never heard of hard seltzer, but my brother has just got back from a four-year economics degree in Arizona so I called him up and asked what it’s all about, and he said, it’s rife, it’s all us students are drinking. Millennials are picking it up instead of beer out there.”

They were keen to ensure the branding was suitably striking in order to stand out in what promises to be a crowded market.

Horth says: “Hard seltzer brands and popping up weekly. People are jumping on the bandwagon, big companies are launching their own versions, and we wanted something different, playful and staying away from the corporate look, so we went down the 1960s and 1970s postcard route. It’s colourful, happy, playful and hopefully brings a bit of visual artwork into a sort of depressing time that we’re in.”

The initial plan was to serve the UK market, but they have already received interest from around the world, and Horth light-heartedly suggests that global domination is the goal.

“The international interest is amazing,” he says. “A big American distributor has shown interest in taking Naughty Water on exclusively in the US. Somebody wants exclusivity in the UAE. Someone in Denmark is interested.”

When asked why he thinks it has proved successful, he says: “I think it’s the branding and the name. A lot of the brands from the corporates are quite similar-looking and bland, whereas ours is completely different, and a beautiful can that you might not actually want to throw away. It looks so nice, almost like a piece of art. A lot of thought has gone into it.

“The flavours are clean, we’ve added vitamin C, there’s zero sugar, 72 calories a can, and they just taste really good. Everything is made in the UK. We have used natural ingredients. The vodka is seven times distilled.

“As a package, we’ve obviously done something right. We’ve nailed the wholesale and distribution side. We’re only a few months old, but we’re already thinking about new flavours and new designs. We’re trying to make Naughty Water a popular brand and making it people’s go-to choice.”

Brake naturally moves in influential circles and his combined network has a large online following, which could present opportunities for publicity in the months and years ahead. However, right now he is firmly focused on perfecting the brand.

“We are trying to build this brand organically,” he says. “Simon and myself are already starting to try new flavours with our chemist. I’m just really excited to see where it goes. When people start to see us in a major wholesaler, hopefully the big retailers will start to notice it and look into it.”

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