Earlier this year, Darius and Emily Darwell gave up their full-time jobs to focus on their start-up company, Sipful. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it numerous challenges for the entrepreneurs but they faced them head-on and adapted their business model accordingly. Unable to showcase their range of alcoholic canned drinks at summer festivals and events, the ambitious duo focused on online sales and now, their delicious beverages are being enjoyed across the country.
As part of our series of interviews with Yorkshire business owners, we spoke to Darius to find out more about their first year in business and their plans for the future…
What inspired you to start your business?
I was a brewer for 10 years and was fortunate enough to have been part of the craft beer revolution in the UK whilst working for some forward-thinking breweries. Living between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, my wife and I leave quite active lives and when we go on adventures in the hills, attend music festivals or go camping, we would always bring a few canned craft beers with us. My wife loved beer and the variety and quality that was available, but the beer made her feel uncomfortable, so she stopped drinking it. We then started looking for canned alternatives that weren’t beer and cider but were full flavoured, well balanced and had the same quality and province that craft beer had, there was nothing. The offering widely available in both canned RTD’s and canned wine was disappointing at best, so this is where the idea for Sipful started, to create drinks which use only quality and natural ingredients, which taste fresh and authentic and above all have high levels of drinkability.
Have you faced many challenges on your business journey so far? If so, how have you overcome them?
Yes, like all businesses we have. January 2020 changed our lives forever, we welcomed a son into the world and gave up our full-time employment to concentrate on Sipful. Like everyone with all the hope and dreams for 2020, we didn’t see a global pandemic around the corner, which has proved to be a significant hurdle. We had a number of festivals and events lined up for the summer, so had to change those plans pretty quickly. We were lucky that we were small and able to change our plans quickly, so changed our focus to predominantly online via our web-shop. Our web-shop sales were great during lockdown, but as things opened up again it has been tricky to get out there and meet with potential customers and promote our products the way we could have in the past. It has certainly been an odd time to start a business with some unique challenges. Over the summer we have built an incredibly talented team who are putting together some formidable plans which we are excited to start rolling out over the coming weeks and months.
What do you think the main challenges are for Sipful, going forward?
The continued pandemic is naturally an ongoing concern but we have now been able to build our business around it and planning on operating within a new type of normality. The other big one for us is Brexit, we get our Organic wine from Spain and our Oranges and Blood Oranges from Italy and we still have no idea what trade relationship we will be in. Challenges are all a part of business, I am confident that with our team and positive attitude we will meet our challenges head-on and get through to the other side.
Do your drinks differ in any way to your original vision?
Not at all, I really couldn’t be happier with the way they have turned out and the reaction to them has been overwhelming. They taste super fresh and dead quaffable, which is what we set out to do. We are super excited about bringing our new production and canning facility online which will allow us to develop some other product concepts, so watch this space!
What sets Sipful apart from other canned alcoholic drinks?
I think in general, the ready to drink canned products which are widely available taste overly sweet and use a lot of synthetic ingredients and lack in province and narrative. At Sipful, we only use natural ingredients and strive to make the drinks taste as if they had just been poured by a bartender. The canned wine market in the UK has not been fully developed yet with the main offering being generally poor quality. Commercial wine is often back sweetened where various flavours and stabilisers are added to give wine consistency year after year. We are committed to being the anti-dote to this, using only organic, quality wine and selecting it on its natural attributes rather than forcing it to be what we want it to be. We also work directly with the producers in Spain, ensuring we get the very best wine possible. In both the canned wine and canned ready to drink cocktail markets there are some exciting new companies coming up, which we are super excited to be working alongside to open up the market to quality and provenance in canned alcoholic beverages.
If you had one piece of advice for someone thinking of starting a business, what would it be?
Never do it for a quick buck, instead, find what you care most about and what makes you passionate. It is the passion you have for what you do that will give you the determination that will spur you on when the times get tough. Your natural passion will also be what will sell your product/ service, dreams and vision. Other than that…. Go for it, life is too short to think “what if”.
Finally, what do you hope the future holds for Sipful?
We have so much we want to achieve as a company and have so many product ideas that we cannot wait to make a reality. The next few weeks and months will be crucial in ensuring our ambitions are fully met, so please keep up to date on social media @sipfuldrinks for the latest goings-on, or keep up to date by visiting our website www.sipful-drinks.com