Ellie Webb is the award-winning founder of non-alcoholic spirit Caleño, which she launched in 2019 after becoming frustrated with the uninspiring non-alcoholic drinks available. Since then she has added a second flavour to the original, built her Bristol-based team, seen her brand listed in a number of national retailers including Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S and Ocado and is about to launch her own podcast “The Joyful Drinker”, all in line with her mission to “bring joy to not drinking”.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I first launched Caleño in 2019, after having worked in the drinks business for several years before that. I always knew I wanted to launch my own business and it felt like the time was right for a new non-alcoholic spirit. Since then the market has really taken off but there were not many options at the time and I felt – and still feel – passionate about the idea that you can enjoy a delicious drink on a fun night out with friends without the need to drink alcohol. I haven’t looked back and since then I’ve added Caleño Dark & Spicy, a great rum alternative, to original flavour Caleño Light & Zesty, a delicious gin alternative.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The lightbulb moment came to me while I was on a night out with friends during Dry Jan a few years ago. I wanted to have fun even though I wasn’t drinking alcohol, but I found the non-alcoholic options available to me that evening so uninspiring! So I decided to do something about it. I worked on my idea for two years alongside my day job, experimenting in my kitchen with different tropical botanicals and travelling to my mum’s homeland of Colombia for inspiration, before I decided to launch my brand. It was scary but also really exciting! I knew this was the right thing for me to do.
How did you achieve awareness?
Social media is really important for us as a brand, we’ve built an online Caleño community and even have our “Joy Makers” – super fans who try everything we do first and attend events we host. Partnerships with like-minded brands are also really important. For example we’ve just started a partnership with Dan’s London for example, famous for being “London’s happiest workout” who feel very much in tune with our joyful mission. For Dry Jan this year we launched our biggest marketing campaign to date, which included OOH and a branded sampling bus which we took to key locations like London Westfield, which brought more people into our brand. And now that we’re finally able to socilaise again we’re organising a host of events to show that you really don’t need to drink to have a fun night out!
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Securing funding has been instrumental to Caleño’s growth. When I first launched the brand, we very quickly went national and into around 500 Sainsbury’s stores which meant cash was required upfront to finance the manufacturing, distilling and bottling as I hadn’t yet built up a customer base. Since then I have used further funding to build out a UK team and grow awareness of my brand.
What are the key successes?
What I’m most proud of, as a small business, is not only surviving the pandemic but actually thriving during it. We saw some major shifts in alcohol consumption during the various lockdowns. While some people drank more, others embraced a heathier and more balanced lifestyle and started to look for drinks and brands that would help them do this. We capitalised on this new trend and as a result we saw sales grow by 120% in 2021, which is amazing. I’m also very proud of the fantastic Caleño team around me, who work really hard while bringing the fun and joy, in keeping with our ethos!
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
You learn from your challenges! For example, my first batch of a thousand bottles weren’t labelled properly, so I had to get all my family working over Christmas to properly label the batch. And we did! Another time at the start I agreed to supply 500 Sainsbury’s stores, but I didn’t have a bottler lined up. But it all worked out in the end and Sainsbury’s now list both our flavours.
Being female in the male-dominated category isn’t easy either and brings its own challenges, with some people not taking me and my brand seriously, so I try to take a balanced and ‘firm but fair’ approach to all things. Because I know I’m very serious about my brand and I really do know my stuff!
What are your plans now/for the future?
There is so much more I want to do. Further develop the Caleño brand of course and also become an advocate for balanced drinking, which is why I’m launching my “Joyful Drinker” podcast on 9th March, where I’ll be interviewing various guests and experts to help and inspire people to take a balanced approach to drinking. I don’t advocate total sobriety, because I’m the first to enjoy a nice alcoholic cocktail while on a night out with friends, but I do believe there can be huge societal pressure to drink alcohol and for me it’s all about having choices and making the right decisions for you. So this is something I’m keen to focus on.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Go for it! I have learnt so much along the way, met amazing people, done exciting things. There is so much fear of the unknown at the start of course, but you have to work through that. There are also so many supportive communities for budding entrepreneurs, so you never feel alone, people have your back and can help and advise you all the way.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Be passionate about your idea – for me that’s the essential ingredient
- Be tenacious – you will get a lot of knockbacks and you may not get what you want the first time around, but keep trying and keep going
- Build your network – very often you aren’t going to know the answer to something and will need help. Chances are someone else knows the answer, so by building out your network you have a better chance of finding the people that can help you answer the tough questions
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Simon Sinek – Have recently been reading his book ‘Leaders Eat Last’ and I loved his book called ‘Start with Why’
My grandma – my Colombian grandmother has had an incredibly tough life and she still remains so strong and resilient, I’d like to think I’ve learnt my resilience from her side of the family
Holly Tucker – she’s a fantastic business women with so much personality and her conversations of inspiration are an absolute joy to listen to
The Queen – she’s 95 and she’s still working! That is one hell of a work ethic. The respect, stability, commitment she has offered this country and her entire life’s work is incredible admirable
Shakira – not only a talented songwriter and dancer from Colombia, but an incredible humanitarian and philanthropist who has done a huge amount for the country and people of Colombia.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
I love this quote by the aforementioned Simon Sinek: “Dream big. Start small. But most of all, start.”
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
@caleno_ellie on IG