Inspired by the colours and culture of her Colombian roots, one Bristol entrepreneur single-handedly set out to prove that not drinking can be fun.
It was while taking part in Dry January in 2017 that Ellie Webb noticed a gap in the market for a decent non-alcoholic drink that isn’t packed full of sugar.
She started out experimenting with botanicals in her St George kitchen and, in just two years, has perfected a recipe, secured finance and brought her non-alcoholic spirit, Caleño, to the market.
Meeting in Society Café on the harbourside just a week after the vibrant bottles hit the shelves in Sainsbury’s, the 28-year-old seems exhilarated by her runaway success but is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.
“I just started experimenting in my kitchen and learning,” says Ellie, who was working full time for major drinks distributor Matthew Clark while developing her own product.
“I know a bit about the gin-making process, so I bought some botanicals and started trying to extract different flavours.”
It was during this process that she took a trip back to see family in Colombia, where her mum is from and where Ellie spent every summer as a child. She was inspired by the warmth, colour and zest for life of people there.
“That experience cemented what I wanted the brand to be about,” she says. “I wanted to dispel this myth that if you are not drinking alcohol then you are not having fun.
“I drew from my South American culture and those natural buzzes you get from life – music, dancing, running.”
The name of the drink comes from her family’s hometown of Cali – known as the Salsa capital of the world – and the bottle features a representation of Huitaca, the goddess of dance.
Ellie spent about a year working on the perfect blend and partnered with a distilling expert to help her get it right.
“I could create something in my kitchen, but I needed something that could be scaled up,” she explains.
“It’s more difficult to make than an alcoholic spirit because alcohol is a very good extractor of flavour. I wanted to get a good balance of citrus, spice and tropical flavours.”
A Tweet that advertised funding opportunities for anyone with a good idea for a non-alcoholic drink helped propel the entrepreneur into the big time.
She worked tirelessly on her pitch and got the funding, as well as mentors. This led on to her securing finance for the business and landing a deal with Sainsbury’s.
The supermarket giant first approached her at the Mindful Drinking Festival that showcases non-alcoholic drinks. “I went with a few bottles and an early stage label and the stand was rammed form start to finish, I had to rope in friends to help because we couldn’t cope with demand,” remembers Ellie.
“Come January of this year, it was a race to fulfill the order from Sainsbury’s. It’s been in stores for a week now – that was a really exciting moment, going and seeing it in store.”
She admits it has been tough being the sole founder of a business, but says she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit – as a child, Ellie would make branded products and sell them on to her sisters.
On future plans, Ellie reveals her sister Christie is joining the business, which is set to move into offices on Feeder Road.
“One day it would be great to have my own distillery but, in the meantime, I have partners who I know and trust,” says Ellie.
“The plan is to get a good foothold in the UK and continue to spread the word that you can have fun without having alcohol.
“I’m getting a lot of interest from overseas so there is definitely a demand outside the UK. The vision is to grow the brand outside the UK.”