Emma Wykes’ work within the drinks industry spans more than 30 years. It includes working across all areas of the industry, from famous fine wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd to her cutting-edge brand development work with spirits brands such as Absolut Vodka, Don Papa Rum and Bloom Gin. But right now, Emma is focusing on the canned drinks market, and Sabi Phagura caught up with her to discuss more.
Luxurious Magazine: Tell us about how you began your career in the drinks industry.
Emma Wykes: About 30 years ago, I more or less fell into the drinks industry. I went for an interview at Berry Bros & Rudd and joined their in-house PR department, working on one of its most prominent brands: Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky.
LM: When did you decide to go into the non-alcoholic drinks industry?
Emma: After 25 years of building alcohol brands, I wanted a new challenge and met Ben Branson. I was so impressed with his vision for Seedlip and changing the way the world drinks by solving the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking. I wanted to learn more and was intrigued by the non-alcoholic movement.
LM: When you worked at Seedlip, how easy or difficult was it to convince people that non-alcoholic drinks have their rightful place on the shelf?
Emma: It took a lot of education and a strong marketing and communication plan. It was very polarising to begin with; people either loved or hated it but getting such a strong emotional reaction to the brand was invaluable, and we worked tirelessly to get the right message across.
LM: Why do you think the non-alcoholic drinks market has gained so much popularity in recent years?
Emma: Ultimately, it’s about giving consumers a choice and helping people who aren’t or can’t drink for whatever reason, a complex and elegant non-alcoholic alternative. It means that you still feel included in social settings if you’re not drinking. People are far more conscious of what and how much they are drinking, and that is why the non-alcoholic market is gaining momentum.
LM: Do you think the pandemic had an impact on people’s drinking habits?
Emma: Yes, most definitely. I think the first month of the pandemic and the novelty of lockdown drove people to drink more than they used to. At Seedlip, we saw a change in month two when people started moderating as they realised that we might be locked down for a while.
I think the most important shift during the pandemic was the focus on improving entertaining at home and upgrading your food and drink offer: the renaissance of the dinner party.
LM: How did you come about getting involved with Longbottom & Co tomato drinks and Vin du Can?
Emma: On my last day at Seedlip, Ben told me about this amazing tomato juice brand and its founder, Ed.
I was intrigued as it’s incredibly rare to find a category that hasn’t been modernised to fit today’s consumer looking for authentic brands made from real ingredients. I spent six months getting to know Ed and the team and couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity and how fun it would be to build Longbottom into a global brand.
LM: What is your role there, and what does a typical day look like?
Emma: As a CEO and Co-founder, there is no typical day as we are growing so fast. We are currently building and training a team and getting ready to launch into the US this October.
My day can be anything from investor meetings, marketing plans, interviewing potential new team members and looking at all elements of the overall business. I see my role as the person who ‘conducts’ the business, removes obstacles, and keeps everyone pointing in the same direction.
LM: Now, you have many bows on your belt, and the drinks market is not the only one you’re skilled at. Tell us about your yoga teaching and how that helps with your current role.
Emma: I’ve been practising yoga for 22 years; it’s the perfect antidote to a busy brain and allows me to move out of mind and into my body. It’s a great workout, and I truly believe it’s the fountain of youth in terms of keeping your body strong and flexible.
I did my teacher training two years ago, a life-long dream, and it’s deepened my practice. I don’t get to teach too often, though, as Longbottom & Vin du Can keep me very busy, and I prioritise time with my family.
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