30 January 2018

The gin industry is enjoying a renaissance. With the spirit more popular than it has ever been, one Edinburgh alumnus is taking on the big brands with his innovative approach.
Sam Trett

Although famed for whisky production, Scotland’s gin industry is quickly catching up, with 70% of all gin consumed in the UK being distilled north of the border. In 2010, UK gin sales were at £774m, jumping to £1.2bn in 2017 and forecast to continue to grow to £1.5bn by 2020.

“The market in the UK is saturated and as a result, you need to be smart to navigate it well,” says Sam Trett (MBA 2013), who set up a challenger gin brand, Minus 33 in 2015.

Sam has carved out a niche for Minus 33 as a low-calorie alternative to traditional gins without compromising on taste. He explains: “In tests we found that reducing the alcohol levels to 33% improved the taste of the spirit and we didn’t have to add any sugars or preservatives to counteract the burning taste of alcohol.”

Despite being juniper-based, Minus 33’s lower alcohol level means it isn’t technically classified as a gin, but is made using many of the same processes and a unique combination of botanicals.

Because the spirit challenged the conventions of gin-making, the product was not welcomed by everyone. “We received a bit of heat for not being a ‘real gin’, but we realised that gin lovers liked our spirit, so I make no apologies for sticking with what customers told us they preferred. We knew it would be a difficult market to crack, but we’re up for the fight.”

This bold approach has worked and Minus 33 has received wide acclaim, and was named one of the top 20 spirit innovations of 2015.

“As a pioneer in the low-calorie space, I see opportunities as consumers become savvier about what they eat and drink. There was a bit of education at the start of the product journey, but we’ve found that with more choice and information out there, customers are willing to try new spirits.

“We provide information for our customers that other alcohol brands simply don’t. The alcohol industry is one of the few areas in food and drink where it is not legally required to publish nutritional information, but we believe that everyone should have the information they need to make better lifestyle choices.”

The innovative approach that self-confessed gin geek Sam has taken with LoCa Beverages is not an accident, but an extension of himself: “Minus 33 is unapologetically unconventional, created with a dose of healthy curiosity. We do things differently and are not scared to experiment to create great-tasting spirits.”

This eccentricity extends to company job titles. Rather than CEO, Sam goes by Proprietor and Geek. A nickname given to him by his design team after a particularly intense taste session and in-depth briefing on the qualities of niche botanicals; “I see it as a compliment. I take great pride in the recipe development, and a stuffy title like CEO didn’t suit the brand and didn’t fit me, personally.”

Sam’s vision is shared by those who backed him in making his dream a reality. Having received initial funding through the Business School’s E Club pitching competition, he’s since gone on to gain support from organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway as well as a community of angel investors and shareholders.

LoCa and Minus 33 has enjoyed significant success from the beginning, but Sam is focused firmly on the future. He says: “We have an exciting selection of recipes and products to introduce to the market in the near future, and are keen to continue to grow the company and secure more listings. There’s a lot of work ahead, but with a unique product and solid backing, I’m very excited about the next steps.”

Sam Trett is Proprietor and Geek of LoCa Beverages, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh MBA 2013.  Read more about University of Edinburgh Business School graduates in the latest edition of Aluminate.

Image source: Sam Trett