‘For something to taste good, it doesn’t need to be sweet!’ Ugly water eyes up new opportunities for unsweet beverages

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

'Ugly isn't promising to make you faster, stronger or even more beautiful. If that makes us Ugly, so be it"
'Ugly isn't promising to make you faster, stronger or even more beautiful. If that makes us Ugly, so be it"

Related tags: Cold brew coffee, Sugar, Flavor

The founders of Ugly, an unsweet, fruit infused sparkling water brand, believe consumer palates will become less focused on sweet in the coming years. This can open up opportunities for beverages such as unsweetened iced tea, unsweetened cold brew coffee, and further innovations in bottled water. 

Ugly water is the brainchild of Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn, who launched the brand with the aim of “pioneering a new, unsweet category in the drinks market.”

Thomas told BeverageDaily that soft drinks can go beyond sweet, with consumers looking for different, more adult flavors.

‘We’re excited about this unsweet space’

Thomas and Benn both previously worked on brand building at Vita Coco coconut water. They have launched Ugly to tap into an ‘explosion of healthy eating’ and increased consumer awareness of the effects of both sugar and sweeteners.

Ugly water comes in two flavors: Lemon & Lime (an unsweet alternative to traditional lemonade) and Grapefruit & Pineapple (to appeal to fans of tropical flavors). The products use natural flavors and are free from sugar, sweeteners, artificial flavors and preservatives; and contain no carbohydrates, fat, salt or calories.

The brand has been launched in the UK in 300ml cans, with initial listings with Selfridges and Whole Foods Market.   

“Many consumers are looking for alternative beverages without sugar or sweetener (for health reasons) and shop accordingly,” ​said Thomas.

"Alongside this we’ve also noticed a number of consumers looking for more grown-up flavors and tastes, without the sweetness that’s prevalent in so many beverages on UK shelves.

“When we set out to create Ugly, Joe and I shared the fundamental belief that for something to taste good, it didn’t need to be sweet. We looked at the beverage shelves in the UK and noted that the vast majority of beverages here contain either sugar or sweetener. 

“We think there is space for a new type of beverage category. Drinks that taste great and ultimately make you feel good, but without the sugars and sweeteners.”

Thomas believes the unsweet category has plenty of potential to expand, seeing consumers’ tastes set to evolve in the coming years.

'Ugly isn't dressed to impress. It's not lightning bolts, clever jingles and zingy catch phrases.'

“There are other beverages beginning to fit the bill, things like unsweetened iced tea and unsweetened cold brew coffee alongside the developments in bottled water. We are excited about this unsweet space and believe consumers’ palates will become less sweet over the coming years.”

‘Too many drinks over-promise and under-deliver’

Functional drinks are booming in the beverage industry, with brands boasting various health benefits in the hope of attracting new consumers. Thomas and Benn have decided to go in a different direction, saying they want to focus on a simple, transparent message.

ugly inset pictures
Thomas and Benn

“We have felt for a long time that too many drinks over-promise and under-deliver,” ​said Thomas.

“Too often products promise functionality and yet remain high in sugar and other unnecessary ingredients. This is reflected in the naming and marketing of many brands and we wanted to do something different.

"Ugly isn't promising to make you faster, stronger or even more beautiful. It’s just sparkling water infused with the essences and oils of fruit. We want to be transparent with consumers and make sure they are clear what they are drinking when they pick up a can of Ugly.

"No sugar, no sweetener and nothing artificial. If that makes us Ugly, then so be it!”

On a crowded beverage shelf, Thomas hopes the ‘Ugly’ brand name will attract attention of consumers, encouraging them to pick up the brand and engage with the unsweet idea.

“On shelf, Ugly needs to stand out. We sit alongside beverages that are artificial or sweet and a number of household names. When a consumer sees our brand name and packaging, we want them to pick it up, engage with the packaging and understand more about our ‘unsweet’ proposition.”

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