Ellie, founder of Caleño is on a mission to make “not drinking” fun

In today’s Behind the Biz interview Ellie from Caleño shares her business journey with us.

We talk about the inspiration behind Caleño, landing Sainsbury’s as a stockist and how her mission is to make “not drinking” fun for everyone.

Where did you get the inspiration for Caleño?

In 2017, I took part in Dry January for the first time and decided water and endless glasses of fizzy sugar was seriously outdated and dull. I had a background in drinks and an understanding of the spirit making process, so decided to try and create my own non-alcoholic spirit that I could drink in the evenings. I started tinkering with ingredients, extractions & distillations, working on my recipe for almost 18 months. A trip to Colombia then gave me all the tropical inspiration I needed for the final flavours, and cemented what I wanted my drink to be about – making “not drinking” fun for everyone, by infusing Caleño with the Latin free-spirit I had grown up with.

What sets Caleño apart from other non-alcoholic drinks?

Caleño’s mission is pretty simple – we want to bring joy and excitement to the category, and make “not drinking” more fun for people! We also want to combat that stereotype that you can’t have fun if you’re not drinking! What better way to do that than taking inspiration from Colombia has hundreds of parties, festivals and public celebrations all year round and where you can dance salsa all night long!

Caleño, is much more than just a non-alcoholic spirit. We’re inspiring people to seize the day (and the night!), because when you’re not drinking, there are no restrictions. You can still have an amazing time, do all the things you want and feel incredible the next day. We’re a non-alcoholic free-spirit so we make up our own rules.

What’s the best way to drink Caleño?

Perfect for parties, Caleño is a zingy, zesty, tropical infusion of juniper, citrus and spice botanicals, to be enjoyed in a similar way to gin and vodka. Simply serve 50ml of Caleño, over ice, twist with tonic (the ultimate dance partner!) and garnish with an Inca berry.

How did you approach your first stockist?

My first big stockist was Sainsbury’s. Weirdly, they found me?! I first met them at The Mindful Drinking Festival where I was doing some early market trials. I turned up to this festival with just 20 bottles to sample with and I got through all of them! They spoke to me and said they loved the taste and the brand, and 5-6 months later, just before I was ready to launch, their buyers reviewed Caleño for their new no & low range, and decided they wanted to put it into almost 500 of their stores – I was ecstatic! 

How do you anticipate the non-alcoholic sector to evolve over the coming years?

I think we are going to see the non-alcoholic sector change dramatically over the next few years. The main change will be size and scale. There will be loads more choice for consumers and much greater availability across supermarkets, pubs and bars. People are much more conscious about what they consume, that includes what they drink. People are becoming much more aware of the negative effects of alcohol, in particular, the longer-term health issues. That means they are now making the positive choice to drink less. This trend has been well documented in the media and press, which has therefore shone a spotlight on the ‘mindful’ category as a whole, and the drinks sector is waking it up to that now, and starting to ensure drinks like ours are stocked, to help meet demand.

What did you do before starting Caleño?

Prior to launching Caleño, I worked in the drinks industry for 4-5 years, for the UK’s largest drinks distributor. I was instrumental in revolutionising the format for their experiential drinks tasting events, attracting 5,000 customers annually, and also led the On-Trade marketing campaign for the UK’s largest beer launch for the past 20 years, Bud Light. Prior to that I worked for a Shopper Marketing agency where I worked with clients such as; Nestlé, GSK, and Estee Lauder, delivering branded and category in-store activations across travel and domestic markets.

Did you always plan to set up your own business?

In a strange way, yes, I think I have always wanted to create and run something of my own. As a kid I was always making and selling things, and loved being creative and hands on. Then growing up I was encouraged to go to University and follow a formal career path. I think, after a few jobs, and as I was approaching 30, I started to think hard about what it was I really wanted, and when I was honest with myself, it was that I wanted the independence and ability to run my own business and create something of my own from scratch.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the drinks industry?

The most important thing is not always the idea. It’s about whether you have the grit and determination to succeed and stick with it when the going gets tough. Of course, you need an idea which people are going to be willing to pay for, but most people don’t make it past the ideas stage and there’s a reason for that. Be that person that pushes on through…

Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?

In the next year I would love to see Caleño in some super fun and dynamic places, whether that’s buzzing Latin restaurants/bars or even as a refreshment after an energetic dance workout. I’d hope that the brand has really started to show people how to have fun with not drinking, and to have built a strong following of people who are embracing drinking in a different way. 

Check out cocktail suggestions on their site, grab yourself a bottle of Caleño and pop over to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to show your support.

I want to say a huge thank you to Ellie for getting involved with Behind the Biz. Life can be really busy when you’re running an exciting new business and I appreciate the time and story she’s shared with us.