Artificial and sugary soft drinks once dominated the supermarket drinks aisles. In recent times, however, the landscape has changed dramatically.
As consumers have grown increasingly aware of the health risks associated with soft drinks, demand for natural, healthy and ethical alternatives has grown.
Along with larger brands embracing this shift, a raft of smaller UK-based beverage producers have emerged, offering a range of products that claim impressive health credentials.
This trend saw coconut water become widely available in UK stores, and now, birch water. Tapped directly from the sap of birch trees and containing a wealth of revitalising micronutrients, birch water is a traditional drink in many European countries. It’s now taking off in the UK thanks to companies like TreeVitalise. We caught up with TreeVitalise founder, Anna Skopets, to learn how a childhood memory inspired her startup journey.
How would you sum up TreeVitalise in a sentence?
Nature’s drink of spring and vitality.
Can you briefly summarise your background and what you did before TreeVitalise? Have you always had an entrepreneurial spark?
Having worked in business development and international distribution for many years, initially in Ukraine and later in Russia and the UK, 4 years ago I moved on to become a freelance consultant. This gave me the sense of freedom having your own business can provide. Being independent has also given me an opportunity to research the market of natural beverages and to see if birch water fits in.
I grew up in a family of engineers. My mum is someone I have always looked up to. There has always been an enormous amount of energy in her as well as the desire to improve and make things or processes better, which professionally resulted in her being numerously awarded for innovation in engineering.
It is from my mum that I have learned that even a seemingly impossible idea or project can be turned into a ‘can-do’ as long as one puts enough effort and dedication into it.
What was the inspiration behind TreeVitalise? Was there a lightbulb moment when it came to you?
Foraging school trips and weekends away with family and friends tapping birch trees for sap in early spring is something I have been missing a lot having settled in the UK many years ago.
The starting point was a childhood memory of the silky and refreshing drink, which is called a ‘living water’ locally. The lightbulb moment came at one of sporting events where I still struggle to find a healthy and hydrating drink for my son. I have always found it astonishing to see the abundance of artificial and sugary drinks being sold and marketed to the public and especially the young generation, so TreeVitalise was born!
What were the challenges around launching your products? Where did you find your time being spent?
There have been many. Being a startup business is tough. If it’s your first first experience it’s even tougher because you are plunging into a total unknown.
I was not new to logistics, purchasing and accounts and operational matters, so they were my areas of more comfort. But the peculiarities of consumer product manufacturing, labelling, regulatory matters, marketing, branding and PR were all totally new. This is where decision making is hard.
You end up endlessly doubting yourself about what’s right and what’s wrong, and making decisions becomes a rather stressful process.
Talking to other businesses of a similar kind but which are a little ahead in their development is something that can certainly help. Small food and beverage producers are a very friendly bunch with lots of people willing to help or share their experiences. So do not hesitate asking for advice. Trade shows are especially great for sharing and learning.
How has the business evolved since your launch? Have there been any particular milestones?
It’s been a very steep learning curve with many milestones. I would probably single one out, which was acquiring the support of a mentor and industry expert who has been adding professional insight into our operations and helping us navigate our future aspirations.
You’re stocked in stores such as Holland and Barrett. What are your tips for getting your products stocked in both big and independent stores?
It’s a combination of perseverance and having the right product proposition for the market and / or specific retailer that obtains a listing. You have to also be very patient and listen to feedback they provide.
Thinking about social media and marketing, what are your tips for boosting brand awareness and ultimately sales?
I am grateful to have a member of the team now who is excellent in thinking through our social media needs. Not being an active user of social media platforms myself I had to start running them on my own and quickly found how time consuming this is.
A brand’s presence on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is a must these days – it’s what consumers are now more likely to look at when checking a new brand out, rather than a website.