Interviews

Why would this founder leave the comfort of a centuries old family drinks business?

7 min read

24 January 2019

Reporter, Real Business

We catch a quick break with Henry Chevallier Guild, an entrepreneur who's left a legacy cider business behind to strike out on his own. The product he's making? A vinegar based alcoholic alternative, (did he say vinegar?) Read on here...

We hear about legacy brands all the time. But how often do we hear from those entrepreneurs, who, after leading an iconic (and long-standing business), launch another that disrupts the first?

The answer is rarely. This is because entrepreneurs can be ego-centric at times, often wanting to go down in business history as the person responsible for the creation of a certain, or the continual survival of a seemingly perfect brand.

Well, Henry Chevallier Guild is not one of those entrepreneurs.

Despite heading a centuries-old cider or cyder making company (Chevallier Guild prefers the olde English vernacular), he wasn’t content in merely steering a legacy brand further down the seas of time.

His family has brewed cider from their Suffolk based ancestral seat, Aspall Hall since 1728. Whilst the Aspall brand has been a nationally recognised tipple for a long time, more recently, the Aspall cyder brand has since become the recipient of worldwide acclaim.

This global recognition culminated with the brand being bought out by US beer giant Molson Coors Brewing Company in 2018. But Chevallier Guild didn’t want to retire after such an acquisition, (it was an undisclosed amount, – so you get the gist). Stepping out from the shadow of his family business, he wanted to produce a drink that was very much his own.

His new business

Making use of his generational experience in the drinks industry, Chevallier Guild wanted to target the ‘alcohol alternatives’ market, (that’s been growing with unrelenting pace due to increased focus about mental health and self-care).

This new direction is what I’m here to talk to Chevallier Guild about. The new product in question? Nonsuch Shrubs – an alternative to alcohol that promises the drinker the same slow-sip flavours and full body of a boozy beverage.

Have you come across any massive market differences in the ‘alternative booze’ world?

There are a lot of similarities to when we re-launched Aspall in the late ’90s; back then we were told no one would pay £2.00 for a 500ml bottle of cyder, and we proved that wrong, and premium cider continues to thrive.

Similarly, there is a lot of resistance to pricing levels within the non-alcoholic market, which again, we are proving is a mindset that can be challenged.

Happily, as in the 90’s, there are many smart operators who understand that the market is changing and there is a need to adjust to consumer demands.

As before, if the product is good enough, consumers are not averse to paying for it. Value has never necessarily meant cheap.

What are the biggest business lessons you learned at Aspall – and how have you applied these to running Nonsuch Shrubs?

Make sure to keep checking that the aspirations of the business are aligned. You need to have a very clear idea of what the endpoint might be.

Quality will get you a very long way, but size always adds a risk of commodification within the marketplace. These two things do not always sit comfortably with one another.

How did you come to believe in the power of drinking vinegar?

This comes from personal experience, I always found giving up drinking relatively easy, however, it was the choice of what to drink when you don’t that is the most challenging.

I now find that I drink alcohol way less often than I used to, and I think that’s true with many people. I wanted to reflect this consumer trend at Nonsuch Shrubs, where we now have a range of shrubs that satisfy a number of needs – as an aperitif, as a food accompaniment or for a midweek night in.

Non-alcoholic vinegar drinks are a unique premise, how do you ramp up that crucial, initial curiosity in the product?

Delivering a product that’s unique in design as well as in taste is even more important in the alternative drinks market says Chevallier. Source: The Craft Drink Company

People drink with their eyes, so it is crucial that the packaging draws people in – the design and the name do this quite well.

We have found that the vinegar element can be a little off-putting for some people, and it also has a tendency to take us into gut health territory, which is not a claim we want to make or an area we want to operate in. So we are making more of a play on the Shrub, a soft drink technique dating back 5000 years to Babylonian times. Farmers would preserve leftover produce from the date harvest in vinegar to create a “very sweet, sharp syrupy, cordial-type liquid”.

Little has changed since then, and it is a drink that is massively versatile, the joys of which are waiting to be re-discovered.

How much time do you dedicate to balancing flavour?

Weeks, months, years – these drinks have been in development for at least 12 years, and my kitchen is a constant rolling recipe experiment.

The non-alcoholic beverage industry has become highly competitive. What’s your strategy for standing out in the crowd?

Make liquids that are intriguing, deliver on taste, are worth the money, have a great back story and offer extremely good value.

What’s your advice for getting a product stocked on retail shelves?

Persistence is a key element, but also giving retailers a reason to buy them is important. Start by offering clear proof of a successful strategy with key outlets, and illustrating how a rate of sale can be achieved and maintained.

Also having a clear plan for how you’re going to get on the shelves in the first place is crucial. Start with the basics.