dalston cola

Premium soft drinks brand Dalston Cola is expanding its range as it gets ready to scale up -with backing from serial entrepreneur Giles Brook.

Brook, who as a partner in Urban Fresh, owners of Bear and Urban Fruit, earned a big payday last December when it was sold for £71m to Lotus Biscoff, has taken a “significant” minority stake in the drinks firm to help in its expansion.

Dalston’s, as it will now be known, has also poached Cawston Press sales director Dan Broughton - a former alumni of The Grocer’s Top New Talent awards - to act as MD and spearhead the commercial side.

The all-natural, hand-made brand, founded by former chefs Duncan O’Brien and Graham Walker in 2013, has added cream soda and fizzy apple variants to the three-strong range of cola, lemonade and ginger beer, with a sugar-free cola in the works.

Dalston’s has also reformulated its drinks, which are made with fresh ingredients such as cola nuts and spices, to lower sugar content to less than 5g per 100ml, half that of traditional rivals such as Coca-Cola, as well as redesigning the branding. “We are looking to grow as quickly as possible, pushing the new range to be five times bigger and to move more product,” O’Brien said. “The demand is there.”

Dalston’s, which employs six staff and manufactures in-house, is about to move into a bigger factory in East London capable of producing three million bottles a year. The investment from Brook is the first serious funding the business has had, with cashflow in the early days coming from payday loans and a government start-up loan.

Brook, the former Innocent Drinks commercial director, who continues to be involved in Urban Fresh and is also European CEO of Vita Coco, will be a background adviser and not involved in day-to-day operations. The plan was to expand the network of stockists from London pubs, restaurant and cafés to across the UK and also into the supermarkets, he said.

“Every category needs a challenger brand to buck the trend and shake things up,” he added. “If you look at what has gone on in craft beers there is a big opportunity for someone to do craft soft drinks well - and Dalston’s can do in that space what Fever-Tree has done in mixers.

“Dalston is in talks with a number of high-profile trade customer and the response has been good,” he added. “The key thing is the sugar credentials are much stronger than market leaders in those categories, so the sooner we get it out there the better for the consumer.”

The company is concentrating on the on-trade in its initial push, but Brook and O’Brien also have ambitions to target the supermarkets as well.