Former Domino’s pizza franchisee takes ‘skinny’ tonic mainstream
A property developer who swapped selling pizzas for sugar-free tonic plans to shift nine million cans of his Skinny brand by the end of the year.
Called Skinny Tonic, the brand of zero-sugar tonic water was founded by UK-based Ian Minton, a property developer who once owned a Domino’s Pizza franchise.
Having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes 15 years ago, when he was aged 23, he was inspired to launched a sugar-free tonic to make it safe for diabetics to drink mixers, having discovered that several premium slimline tonics still contained too much sugar.
As a result, in 2014, he set about creating a natural, sugar free tonic water using stevia – a natural sugar substitute – that would make it suitable for those with specific dietary requirements to enjoy a gin and tonic.
“I was shocked to discover that a lot of slimline tonics still contain in excess of 5g of sugar,” he said, adding, “My inspiration for creating Skinny Tonic came from my own personal endeavour to find a natural slimline tonic that was sugar free; I was determined to find a natural substitute and stevia was the answer I was looking for.”
Acknowledging the irony of swapping a career running a pizza franchise business to create a zero-calorie tonic water, he said that he “learnt a lot about branding and marketing, as well as food and drink,” by working with Domino’s – the multinational pizza delivery chain.
Continuing he said, “Domino’s were clear about having the best serve and 100% natural products – for example, the cheese is 100% cheese, whereas the cheese used by one of our biggest competitors is actually 40% potato starch… Domino’s ingredients were 100% premium, authentic, and naturally-sourced.”
But surely there were other zero-sugar tonics on the market? Minton said that while there are “plenty of zero-sguar tonics”, “all of them are artificially, chemically sweetened; we were the first to market with a natural proposition in 2014, although others are now joining on the natural side. “
Among these is Gallybird, which, like Minton’s Skinny Tonic, is sweetened with stevia leaf extract, ensuring that it has no sugar, or calories, or anything artificial.
However, this recent new player, which hails from Surrey, is some way behind Skinny Tonic, which Minton expects to shift as many as nine million cans by the end of this year, breaking his forecast by 30%.
While his exclusive supermarket partner in the UK is Asda, he assured db during an interview last month that Skinny Tonic “will have another major retail on-board in the UK next year.”
But what about a brand such as Fever Tree with its ‘naturally-light’ Indian tonic water – surely that is a similar proposition? Minton explained that it uses fruit sugars, and “containing 5-6 grams of sugar, it is dangerous for someone like me.”
And, unlike Fever Tree, or newcomer Gallybird, which both package their mixers in glass bottles, Minton chose cans for Skinny Tonic.
“I chose aluminium as a point of difference,” he said, noting that the material is light and recyclable, while, unlike glass bottles, his format holds slightly less tonic.
“The standard glass bottle mixer is 200ml, but the perfect serve for a 25ml of spirit is 150ml, so my cans are 150ml for grocers and the on-trade,” he explained.
Admitting that it’s “not tonic wars out there”, he does acknowledge the strong competition. “Schweppes Slimline is our main competitor, as it’s the only other zero-calorie tonic in mainstream distribution, and we are there for people who are looking to trade up from an artificial zero calorie tonic to a natural one.”
As for Fever Tree, Minton told db that most people expect him to name this upmarket mixer as Skinny Tonic’s primary competitor, but he points out that Fever Tree is “doing an amazing job, and we would like to sit alongside the brand as the natural slimline – while they are the more indulgent option, because their tonics contain sugar and calories.”
In terms of pricing, he told db that there is “an awful lot of discounting” with tonics in UK retailers, making the market for mixers “very price sensitive”, with “everyone doing price offers”.
Skinny Tonic retails for £3.50 for a box of eight 150ml cans, which he said is about £1 more than a six-pack of Schweppes Slimline cans, although he added that he has seen the latter retail for as little as £2.
At the other premium end of the scale, the priciest tonics sell for £5-8 for an eight-pack, according to Minton.
Meanwhile, helping Skinny Tonic to grow is a “younger generation who are very aware of what they are eating and drinking”, he said, along with the fact “the world is changing: with the sugar tax coming in people are well aware that they are paying more for sugar, and retailers want to stock products that are better for you.”
Skinny Tonic is currently available in Asda supermarkets in the UK in two flavours: an Indian Tonic (‘The Yellow One’) and Light Citrus (‘The Blue One’), both retailing at £3.50 for a box of eight 150ml cans.
Two new flavours, Pink Grapefruit & Yuzu (‘The Pink One’) and Elderflower (‘The Green One’) will be available to purchase later in the year, with Minton also telling db that he plans to launch a further mixer called Skinny Ginger in the near future.