According to Statista, the revenue in the non-alcoholic drinks market stands at $1,607 million in 2023. The market is expected to grow annually by 2.90% between 2023 and 2027. The segment is riding a big change and perhaps the biggest being women entrepreneurs grabbing a strong footing in the category to reinvent the taste and flavour with a dab of innovation.
A good example is a new entrant in the UAE’s non-alcoholic beverage segment – Caleño. The brand specialises in a range of distilled tropical non-alcoholic spirits inspired by the sun-drenched spirit of Colombia.
Caleño and its Founder Ellie Webb are on a mission to bring ‘the joy of not drinking’ [alcoholic beverages] by capturing the intense flavours, rhythms and colours of her vibrant motherland through a diverse range of beverages. Every beverage seems like holiday in a bottle!
Women on a mission
Webb is determined to change people’s perceptions of what it means to not drink. “Just because you’re not drinking alcohol, doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time and enjoy a delicious drink. The brand is a solution to my own problem and the necessity to try interesting non-alcoholic drinks,” she added.
Back in 2017, Webb was “highly disappointed” with the unavailability of interesting flavours and choices when it came to non-alcoholic drinks and that’s when she took things into her own hands and wanted many like her to access beverages that suited a healthy lifestyle without compromising on flavours.
Experimenting with flavours
Webb began to experiment with different botanicals in her kitchen and took a trip to Colombia for more inspiration and research, before starting the brand. This helped her create the right selection of flavours for the brand.
Before moving ahead, a backstory seems imperative. So, here it is. The word ‘Caleño’ means ‘of Cali’, the Colombian city where Webb’s mother is from, a place famous for its salsa dancing, cuisine and culture. The colourful alleys and culture of Columbia inspired Webb to further experiment with her concoctions, finally pushing her to leave her full-time job and take up entrepreneurship.
“What keeps me constantly inspired with Caleño, is our unique mission. The brand exists, first and foremost, to show people they can still have fun when they choose not to drink alcohol. I feel as if that joyful factor has been hugely overlooked. In addition, we feel there is genuine lack of availability of more exciting non-alcoholic drinks, reflected on a global scale. We are keen to change that with our relentless focus on delivering joyful category experiences through our non-alcoholic beverages,” Webb shared.
“As a female entrepreneur in the beverage industry, I’ve really leaned into connecting with what my friends in their 20’s or 30’s and I want to see in the world of drinks that better reflects a lifestyle and can truly combine uncompromised socialisation with health and wellness,” she added.
Retailing with purpose
Caleño was unusual in the fact that they actually were in retail right from the beginning. For the brand’s first big listing, they went into 500 UK Sainsbury’s stores, and combined that with a strong digital presence and D2C offering, so that they could better understand what consumers were looking for. The plan was always to adopt an omnichannel approach and they had planned to build out the on-trade channel for business. But unfortunately, the 2020 pandemic had other plans, so they had to pause these for a few years and focus predominantly on retail and online.
During that time, they launched with two other national retailers, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose and have gathered important learnings as the non-alcoholic category has expanded. Caleño has since re-entered the on-trade channel and are beginning to thrive in this space, with 120%+ growth predictions for this channel.
The brand has now stepped into MENA to mark a new innings and talking about the thought behind this expansion, Webb noted, “Outside of Europe and Australia, the MENA region, in particular the UAE has always been a key target market to launch the Caleño brand into. We’ve seen a huge amount of interest and demand coming from this region and there is clearly a growing demand for premium non-alcoholic spirits both in retail and in the thriving on-trade channel which has some of the world’s leading bars and restaurants. We hope to be able to replicate the success we have seen in the UK market, and the launch into Waitrose and Spinneys is just the beginning of that”.
Strategy for future
In order to launch Caleño in the Gulf region, it was essential to repurpose both of their two liquids to 0.0% alcohol that involved an in-depth period of research and undertaking new and innovative processes to arrive at a 0.0% liquid. It took almost two years to develop the first Caleño bottles. With years of painstaking efforts, now the brand has launched in Spinneys and Waitrose, both online and in 30 physical stores.
In terms of the bigger plans, the brand looks to launch into the on-trade channel in the UAE this year, where they will partner with a local distributor, which will in turn aid the brand’s expansion into the wider Gulf region.
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