LONDON, United Kingdom — healthy beverage brand UGLY Drinks has completed a multi-million dollar financing round to support global expansion, with a focus on the US and Europe.
The investment, from Pentland Ventures, Steadman Partners (owned by Martin Dickie, the founder of BrewDog) and others, follows a period of rapid growth for the startup, which recently secured 5000 new stocking points in key retailers Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as surpassing sales of 5 million cans in the UK since launch.
“This is a really significant fundraise for us and will be instrumental in taking the business to the next level. The investment will not only help us to establish ourselves further in more competitive markets like the US but strategically build our presence in Europe,” commented co-founder Hugh Thomas.
“We’ve had a phenomenal start to our journey, and are really pleased to have such a fantastic team behind us as we move forward into new territories and innovations. Recent wins with Sainsbury’s and the prestigious Tesco Incubator means we will be working closely with key retail partners to spread the ‘UGLY Truth’.”
The brainchild of Thomas and co-founder Joe Benn (both previously at Vita Coco), UGLY, which started life in 2015, aims to reinvent the sparkling water category as a healthy alternative to sugary, fizzy drinks.
Sold in over 10,000 locations worldwide, its products are a best-seller in the UK. Having launched in the US just one year ago, the bold brand hopes by doubling down on marketing, product innovation and its D2C business it can replicate that success internationally.
“When we launched in the UK, UGLY was pioneering the sparkling water category, since then we’ve seen more than 15 brands follow suit and come to market. Consumers were immediately struck by our branding and packaging. Our bold colours and signature UGLY tongue truly get people’s attention. Our great taste and flavour range keep them coming back,” said Thomas.
“We’re now proud to be taking on the established brands in the US, where people are connecting to UGLY Drinks’ British origins, bold 1980s street art-inspired look and no sugar, no calorie message,” he added.
To support its growth within the US, UGLY has also launched a new line of energy drinks; UGLY Energized, which it says are the result of insight from its direct-to-consumer business. After analyzing feedback regarding trends, the startup found significant demand for a cleaner source of energy. UGLY Energized — a fusion of its no sugar drinks and 160mg of natural caffeine, is its response.
The direct-to-consumer product, which is currently available in RTD drink cans via its website, comes in 4 flavours including peach and lemon and lime. And sits alongside a growing cohort of brands, including Coca-Cola, which are aiming to secure a foothold on the sugar-free, energy drinks category.
Just last month, the beverage behemoth launched its own energy drink; Coca-Cola Energy, in the US, after identifying the category as an area with high-growth potential. It’s banking on its familiarity and customer loyalty to give it the competitive edge over its newer, less established rivals. However, Ugly is confident it has what it takes to make its mark.
“We’ve always felt that Ugly had the potential for mainstream appeal,” Thomas recently told BevNet.
“(Energized) has exactly the same message that we put out there with (the sparkling water) — we are not positioning ourselves as a traditional sparkling water brand. We are very much a fun, exciting, healthy alternative to soda, and that’s what we are seeing consumers excited about and relate to, and that was always the mission of the business: to create something that really brought in consumers of all ages. We are taking on our incumbents with our messaging in the soda space, but now in the energy space as well.”