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Kamila Sitwell - Kolibri co-founder is featured by Mintel
Kamila Sitwell is living her dream. She’s combining her passions for market research and the hospitality industry insights to launch the world’s first bottled drink with sweetness and flavours customised to consumers’ individual tastes.
Having worked in market insight for a decade, most recently at Britvic, and in the hospitality industry prior to that to support herself through her time at university, her lightbulb moment came when she was on a spa weekend with friends.
It was 4pm, so too early for alcohol, but too late for another coffee and the pool bar menu was uninspiring. So the barman offered to make them what he claimed was an “amazing” homemade lemonade.
However, Kamila and her friends were disappointed with their drinks as they were either too sweet, too sour or not sweet enough. So the barman listened to each one’s feedback and made new drinks specific to their preferences.
“At the time, I didn’t quite realise how momentous that moment was,” Sitwell remembers.
“I knew sugar was the number one challenge the soft drinks industry was facing and remembered reading Mintel research showing that consumers want to reduce their sugar intake but don’t want artificial sweeteners. I found that there are just as many people keen to pursue healthier lifestyle, as there are to indulge or treat themselves on a night out. Whatever their mindset, preference or occasion, consumers want choices to fit their unique moments and to be in control of what they eat and drink at all times.
“Based on this research, I believed the answer to the sugar conundrum was customisation. I talked to Mintel and found out that no-one was offering ready-to-drink bespoke soft drinks.”
Over the next few months, Sitwell decided to do in-depth research by visiting bars and talking to bartenders.
No ‘one size fits all’ solution – customisation is king
She began to notice that customisation is everywhere – from TV programme recommendations based on previous Netflix viewing to bespoke trainers from Nike.
This notion was reinforced at a Mintel London Big Conversation that Sitwell attended in 2015.
“The theme was dieting and one of the Mintel analysts said that there’s no one size fits all solution to dieting,” she recalls.
“Research from Mintel’s soft drink report, featured at that Big Conversation, really stuck with me. A line in the report was really a eureka moment for me and I quote it all the time: ‘Even those that restrict sugar, don’t do it all the time’.”
Sitwell remembers at the time, the drinks industry was saying customers want lots of choice in order to reduce their sugar intake, so the approach was to offer a variety of products. However, she wanted to give consumers a solution that’s applicable for whichever moment they find themselves in.
She left Britvic in late 2015 to pursue this solution full-time.
Soft drink innovation based on consumer research
“I learnt from Mintel that consumers claim to be adventurous, but, in reality, they’re not. And when you give them something familiar with a twist, they are more inclined to choose the product and enjoy it.
“I also incorporated Mintel consumer research for co-creation and desire for multi-sensory experiences into my drinks development to give consumers a bit of theatre and the power of ritual to help them enjoy having a soft drink, like people tend to do with elaborate wine decanting and tasting.”
Mintel has also tracked how today’s younger generation are rejecting alcohol in greater numbers and are looking for more aspirational and inspirational soft drinks to fill the void.
Sitwell worked with engineers to develop a bespoke, high-quality soft drink. The result was a patented cup at the top of the bottle which allows drinkers to add natural sugar drop by drop to suit their preference.
“I went for the most premium natural sugar product I could find – agave – and to further appeal to the health conscious, the entire bottle has just 40 calories even when all the drops are used.”
Mintel research shows that over half of UK adults (54%) now check the sugar levels on food/drink labels. Modern consumers are also far more favourable to sugar varieties which they perceive as less processed and therefore more permissible, such as agave or honey.
As a result, the brand Kolibri, which means ‘hummingbird’, was born and includes three flavours: elderflower and lime, strawberry and basil, and cardamom chilli. It’s currently available at Gaucho, M Restaurants and Champney Hotels with plans to distribute to premium hotels, bars and even cruises. There are plans to then introduce a new range of products more appropriate for the grocery and impulse channels