Birmingham start-up battles covid-19 impact to launch new hard seltzer drink.

A Birmingham start-up company is attempting to steal a march in a burgeoning drinks market in the UK which is already worth billions in the US.

Island Bay Hard Seltzer was founded last autumn and the team has spent the past few months preparing to go to market only to be plunged into one of the worst economic and health crises the world has ever seen.

Undeterred, founder and managing director Mudassar Aziz told the BusinessLive he was determined to proceed with the Aston-based company’s launch this week.

Hard seltzer, also known as spiked seltzer and hard sparkling water, is a category of alcoholic drink containing fizzy water, fruit flavourings and crucially a much lower calorie count than, say, a pint of lager.

It is usually marketed as a lifestyle product to the younger, more health-conscious drinker.

According to a report earlier this year, analysts were predicting sales could hit $4.3 billion in the US in 2020 but at present it is still relatively unknown this side of the pond.

Mr Aziz, who has worked for two decades in sales and bringing drinks to market through his company Hydrate Drinks, has set up this new venture with the backing of a network of private investors. He told BusinessLive: “It’s a category that’s about to explode in the UK, it’s going to be huge. Current circumstances have obviously slowed things down but in the long term it’s something that is exciting buyers and especially the supermarkets.

“I think it will be big in the UK because I see the trends in the market. For many years, my job has been to attend trade shows around the world, try to  understand what’s working in other markets and look at the historical data. What works in the US tends to come to the UK a couple of years later and work here very well too. There’s a recognisable pattern in the launch of products and Tesco has already said it plans to have a dedicated hard seltzer section on its shelves later this year.”

Island Bay Hard Seltzer has three flavours – mango, strawberry and watermelon – which were created by Mr Aziz and a team of consultants working with him on getting the company up and running.

Mr Aziz is now planning to have his online store ready on the company’s website to take orders this week and is continuing to work with retailers and big-name supermarkets in a bid to ensure the drinks are on their shelves.

He said: “We had hoped to launch through trade shows but that has been an issue because they have all been cancelled although many of them are planning to rearrange them for the autumn. We have, more or less, been able to hit the dates and deadlines we were expecting to in terms of preparing to launch but the biggest challenge for us has been haulage. It is very difficult to get a driver.

“I have also had to learn to adjust my expectations running a company during this crisis as people are working from home, trying to juggle that with having children there and homeschooling. The notion that everyone is in front of their computers at 9am and stays there until 5pm just doesn’t work anymore.”

Island Bay Hard Seltzer is available to purchase from 22nd April 2020. Click here to visit the online shop.

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