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New take on bespoke beverages: Kolibri Drinks

A new, high-end British soft drink is looking to bring a more theatrical experience to alcohol-free offerings – without creating more work for bartenders.

Kolibri is a bottled drink that pairs botanical sparkling water with a cap containing agave-based syrup. Guests remove the cap and squeeze the syrup into the water, allowing for the customisation of sweetness and a bit of spectacle to boot.

“The craft of making bespoke coffee, decanting with elaborate wine tasting, or the artistry involved in cocktail making are hugely satisfying for guests,” said Kolibri’s co-founder, Kamila Sitwell (above).

‘Until now soft drinks offered no such experiences. Mass-produced and standardised approach to food and drinks must change because people expect their unique preferences recognised and catered to, especially in the hospitality sector.

“You can’t control everything in your life, but you can control what you put in your body.”

In addition to this theatrical element, Kolibri is meant to give health-conscious customers a sweet drink option without having to turn to artificial sweeteners.

“Sugar, like any ingredient, is only a problem when it’s over-engineered in recipes,” Sitwell commented. “Kolibri drinks empower each customer, giving him or her choices and control of sugar and calories.

“Modern customers want a healthy, great tasting and indulgent drink. They also want experience, ritual and theatre. With a healthy dose of soft drink drama, Kolibri aims to offer both.”

The drink clocks in around 40kcal per bottle with all the syrup added, and is available in three flavours: Strawberry & Basil, Cardamom & Chilli and Elderflower & Lime. The brand expects each bottle to sell for £6-7 on fancy restaurant/bar menus.

The packaging

UK glass packaging manufacturer, Beatson Clark, has developed a new bottle for Kolibri Drinks.

Beatson Clark has produced a cone-shaped 300ml white flint flask at its facility in Rotherham of South Yorkshire.

Beatson Clark marketing manager Charlotte Taylor said: “We’re finding more and more companies, particularly small businesses with big ideas, approaching us for unique bottle designs.”

According to Beatson Clark, the new flint flask is made by using 30% recycled glass on average.

Kolibri’s Sitwell said: “At a time when consumers are incredibly discerning and expect premium experiences in all aspects of branding, standard off-the-shelf bottles wouldn’t work for Kolibri Drinks.

“Beatson Clark worked with us from the very beginning, all the way through consumer and industry testing and the complex incorporation process with the patented cap which enables customisation of sweetness.

Interview with Kolibri co-founder, Kamila Sitwell

Kolibri drinks are very unique, how did you come up with the concept?

I spent many years investigating trends and insights for many leading soft drinks brands. Sugar has been a massive challenge, not just in the UK  but globally and across many food and drinks categories.

However, all the industry solutions seemed painfully inadequate to me– penalising sugar tax, smaller bottles, controversial sweeteners, niche and often weird-tasting alternatives.

I had a ‘eureka’ moment when out dining with friends. We ordered the same drink – homemade lemonade. It should have been an easy order, except it wasn’t!

The drink created by the barman delighted my taste buds, but none of the other girls liked it. They fussed over sugar content and the taste of lemons. We all expected the drink to match our own preference. The barman had to re-create the order but this time, one drink at a time, mixed to each individual taste

How did you take it from a concept to a reality?

I came back from the holiday and dived straight into data, analysis and research, but found no evidence of bespoke bottled drinks anywhere. I spoke to every leading insight agency in the UK, no one heard about customisable softs.

I approached a couple of colleagues I admired greatly in the beverage sector, they thought the idea was great but impossible to execute.

“I become obsessed. Most manufacturers declined to work with us because the concept was too niche, complex and risky.”

It took a very long time to find the right partners, and then we spent three years in testing and product development, but bespoke soft drinks are now a reality.

What mistakes have you made along the way? What did you learn from them?

I was so excited when I finally found a bottler who seemed to get the concept and was keen to work with us, I paid him upfront for the recipes’ development as he asked. He organised a product tasting session for us where he elaborately mixed some juices from Tesco with extracts and then carbonated the concoctions.

“I was speechless, the guy clearly had no idea what he was doing! But paying upfront – what a rookie mistake!”

Always, always check the credentials of the people you go to business with, don’t let anyone pull wool over your eyes, there is a lot of amateurs out there!

What do you think the most important trait an entrepreneur should have?

I read somewhere about the 4Ps of a successful entrepreneur and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since.

“Passion. Perseverance. Positivity. Patience.”

There are so many hurdles and challenges to overcome that without all 4Ps, any Kolibri drinkentrepreneur will struggle. One more thing worth mentioning is self-education.

There is no need to re-invent the wheel, every business challenge has been analysed and then written about in detail and from every angle. I read voraciously, 100+ books a year. All business subjects from strategic planning, finance and funding, selling strategies, pitching, social media hacks, inspiring biographies and brand stories as well as books on mindset and motivation.

Where can people find your delicious drinks?

We launched a few weeks ago, end of May, but we are already stocking some of the best bars, restaurants and hotels from the likes of Harrods’ restaurants, Champneys SPAs, M Restaurants, Gaucho and many others.

How do you see drinks trends evolving; what are the next trends we should be aware of?

Alcohol will continue to decline and the quality of all drinks will be scrutinised. Those who increasingly abstain, and there will be more of them, will require healthier yet more adventurous alcohol-free drinks.

The likes of Seedlip – alcohol-free spirits, will continue to excite trade and consumers with new alcohol-free possibilities.

Water is currently the winning category but in the war on unnecessary packaging and consumers becoming more ethical, bottled waters – healthy but delivering zero experience – are being increasingly replaced with jugs of garnished tap water.

This will hurt operators bottom line while consumers will feel ‘cheated’ on the overall dining experience. No one wants to go out and sip tap water in establishments which should delight with gourmet experiences across all food and drink categories.

Where do you see the business in 10 years?

I’m a believer in the power and importance of big dreams. Big aspirations that take hold of you and your life and won’t let go.

In 10 years’ time I see an exciting product range, well-established category of bespoke drinks and international presence. Bespoke will be the future. It just makes sense.

Kolibri Drinks: Check out its website here

Sources:; Kolibri Drinks,

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