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A drink with… Ben Iravani, Whitebox Cocktails

The co-­founder and CEO of Whitebox chats about the RTD brand’s £450,000 (US$572,345) crowdfunding campaign, US expansion plans, and triple­-digit growth success.

*This feature was first published in the July 2023 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.

Canned cocktails in the Whitebox range include a Pocket Negroni and Freezer Martini

What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Whitebox?

My role spans new product development, recipe development, sourcing, finance, and investment. A typical day is spent in our production site in Edinburgh working with our team, for example tasting/developing new recipes with our head of R&D, Jack Wareing, running through sourcing with our production manager, Ryan Rhodes, and planning finance and investment with co­founder Chris Masters.

Tell us about your £450,000 crowdfunding campaign. Why now?

We’re growing quickly, and have a huge opportunity ahead. Cocktails are a global phenomenon, and we truly believe that Whitebox has the opportunity to be a global cocktail brand. Since we launched 18 months ago, we’ve grown the distribution of our cocktails to over 1,000 UK independent retailers and five international export markets, and now we’re looking for funding to scale up our production and expand our product range.

How will the funds be used?

Our success has come from a handful of cocktails, such as our Pocket Negroni and Freezer Martini. But we want to make sure that Whitebox is a one­-stop-­shop for anyone looking to elevate their cocktail game. This means we need to release some of the heavy­hitters like the Espresso Martini and Daiquiri. We also really need to expand our production facility so that we can quickly fulfil larger orders and keep our customers happy. Sourcing bulk spirits and investing in a faster production process is crucial to our ability to scale up.

Whitebox saw 400% sales growth in the first six months of trading in the US. Can you share any more specifics about volume/value sales?

Our first full container of cans is going out to the US this summer, and given how small the size of our cans are, this equates to around 70,000 units. We only have two cocktails registered in the US right now so the opportunity to expand the range is huge, and we’ve got a fantastic importer there who’s really behind the brand.

Where in the US are you looking to expand?

We started in New York, but our importer can service all US states. We’ve seen our cocktails pop up across the US in places like Oklahoma City and Boston, but next on the target list is California. Cocktails like the Dirty Martini and Margarita are also much more popular in the US than they are in the UK, so we’re working hard to get these listed in the US in the next six months.

What challenges do new brands face in the US?

A key challenge is the lead time for recipe approvals, which require all elements of our product to be registered with the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Given the nature and complexity of cocktail recipes, this means that sometimes we can spend a few months registering one particular component of a cocktail to get the recipe approved by the TTB, only to find out that there’s an issue with that ingredient. It can be quite frustrating but, luckily, we have a great import partner who has been guiding us through the regulations.

Besides the US, where else is Whitebox keen to expand to?

A recent IWSR survey found that a third of UK alcohol drinkers would rather treat themselves to a better-quality drink at home than go out. We believe this trend is going to continue globally, and, if it does, then it presents a huge, global opportunity for Whitebox. We’re already in discussions with importers in the Nordics, Malaysia, and Australia with a view to continue our global distribution trajectory over the next few years.

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