• Shaun Bateman

Two Green Lemons leads the charge

By Lauren Hartzenberg

Hanneli van der Merwe and her business partner Chris Wium

Non-alcoholic beverages, specifically the kind served at celebrations and dinner parties, used to come off as somewhat uninspired. In terms of flavour, packaging design, and branding, they often paled in comparison when positioned alongside their alcoholic counterparts.

But the non-alcoholic segment has seen a shake-up in recent years and has truly come into its own, with compelling local offerings ranging from alcohol-free beers and ciders to virgin G&Ts, wines, and botanical spirits.

"Non-alcoholic products are not about sugary drinks anymore, it is about sophisticated sipping," says Hanneli van der Merwe, co-founder of South African specialist beverage developer Two Green Lemons.

Van der Merwe and her business partner Chris Wium are the brains behind the successful Barker and Quin range of premium tonics and mixers. The entrepreneurs have since broadened their focus by creating an alcohol-free gin called John Ross Virgin Distilled, made from virgin distilled botanicals which are blended together to create a classic non-alcoholic gin, infused with honeybush tannin.

In addition to its own beverage brands, Two Green Lemons assists prospective beverage entrepreneurs with the process of developing a unique, premium, and marketable beverage. The focus here is on non-alcoholic beverages as well as the non-alcoholic elements of various ready-to-drink alcohol mixes.

Here, Van der Merwe shares more on the Two Green Lemons business journey and the growing market for premium non-alcoholic beverages.

As an introduction, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds prior to launching Two Green Lemons?

We both used to work at a cork company that delivered premium natural corks to the wine industry. Chris was in the role of MD and I was the technical manager. That is where we met and started our business, Two Green Lemons Pty Ltd. Chris has 23 years’ experience in marketing and management, while I studied Oenology at Stellenbosch University and spent the better part of 11 years doing so.

What is the Two Green Lemons business all about and what inspired its launch?

Two Green Lemons specialises in non-alcoholic beverages and our business was first inspired by answering the question from the gin community for a local premium tonic water. Premium in the sense that we produce using natural spring water, natural ingredients, and package in glass.

From the tonic water, we built our business to evolve into more flavours of tonic water and also mixers. Lastly, we developed a non-alcoholic spirit that gives our customers the option to either pair with the outstanding gins of our colleagues in the industry or the option for the alternative non-alcoholic if so desired. Today our business has two main avenues: 1. Our brands, Barker and Quin Tonic and John Ross Virgin Distilled, and 2. Third-party beverage development in the non-alcoholic space.

How has the business grown since its inception?

Amazingly. We were quite surprised when we started. We have been growing 220% year on year across our products as well as in the development side of the business. There is a large market for non-alcoholic beverages.

What made you decide to focus on non-alcoholic premium beverages specifically?

Interestingly, when we started in 2016 we read that one of the major players in the alcohol field said that alcohol is dead. It was a bit of a profound statement to make, however, it is apparent that the non-alcoholic alternatives are appeasing across various brands.

We have realised that consumers, especially the younger legal market is very focused on healthier options. People are more fickle about what they put in their bodies.

The world has started to be very strict about drinking and driving to such an extent that even in South Africa there will soon be zero tolerance. What is interesting is that while pregnant women and recovering alcoholics are fringe customers, our core customer is all about choosing a non-alcoholic lifestyle. They prefer clean living, are health-conscious, more often vegan, and mostly fall into the age category of the millennials, however, we are seeing a lot of serious CEOs form part of our customer base.

What’s next for Two Green Lemons?

We will be focusing on our two current brands – John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals and Barker and Quin Premium Tonic Water – taking what we have currently and building onwards and upwards. We have time to work on our third-party projects which will all be launching in spring. Also, we're focusing on e-commerce and our wide export network. We are also always improving and growing. We want to set ourselves apart as leaders in the non-alcoholic segment as brand owners and developers. When life gives you lemons, make tonic water!

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