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Botivo: ‘It’s about having more, not less’

Imme Ermgassen is the co-founder of non-alcoholic aperitif Botivo. She explains why the brand isn’t about moderation and where she thinks the no-and-low category is heading.

Imme Ermgassen (left) and Sam Paget Steavenson, Botivo
Imme Ermgassen (left) and Sam Paget Steavenson

What inspired you to create Botivo?

The liquid existed before I joined as co-founder. My co-founder Sam [Paget Steavenson] makes Botivo – he still hand-makes it at Lannock Farm in Hertfordshire. The original liquid was created for his other business, called The Rum Runner, which effectively makes drinks for really high-net-worth private clients. He was handpicked to create the drinks for the Royal Wedding in 2018, for example.

His clients wanted something all natural, with no flavourings or preservatives and that tastes amazing. So he created Botivo – then people kept asking where they could buy it after the events, and he realised he should probably bottle it. That went on for a few months under an old brand.

I tried it and was completely obsessed. I’m an alcohol drinker, so I never expected to love a non-alcoholic brand. I approached Sam and said I wanted to be his co-founder, and that I wanted to redo the brand and the bottle and make it a proper business. My background is in brand building and consumer understanding in the advertising world.

For me, Botivo is such a pleasurable product. It’s so abundant in flavour. And it’s about having more, not less. The previous branding, when the liquid first launched, had a serious herbal drawing, and I wanted to reimagine it through a very pleasurable lens.

How do you think Botivo differentiates itself in the non-alc space?

For me, the key thing is that we’re not a moderation brand; we’re a pleasure brand. That’s a huge difference. It wasn’t created with moderation in mind; it was created with the idea of more, not less. It’s about adding flavours or adding joy and pleasure to your life. It’s not about making versions of alcohol – it’s not a mimic product. It’s a totally unique taste profile.

With non-alc versions of things, you always feel a bit disappointed – you’re not giving people what they actually want. But if you create something completely new, then it’s just a new category.

Was that the ethos behind your recent brand shift?

There are two main reasons we are changing our motto from ‘slow-sipping botanicals’ to ‘big-sipping botanical aperitivo’.

First, it was to bring us more in line with our tone of voice and brand, which is bold, playful and about ‘more, not less’. Slow sipping doesn’t capture the big-sip energy of Botivo.

Second, ‘slow-sipping botanicals’ was too vague for some consumers and buyers. We originally called it that as it felt premium and placed Botivo in its own category. We’re now at a stage where buyers and consumers want to be able to place the occasion more clearly. Aperitivo is the world Botivo was inspired by – and, crucially, the name Botivo comes from combining the words ‘botanicals’ and ‘aperitivo’, so it ’s a nod to our roots.

Right now you have one product – will the range extend in future?

Our focus is all about making our current product iconic. Often brands break off and have loads of SKUs early on and they lose focus. Our aim is to make our current Botivo flavour the iconic one.

We are launching two limited edition products this year, which will be collaborations with some of the best restaurants in the UK. Our first will be with Maison François, which is an amazing restaurant that’s well-known for its drinks. The team there have been massive supporters of ours and we’re creating a Maison François-inspired Botivo.

We’re hoping to do a second with another restaurant, and there are lots of exciting options in the pipeline.

Botivo is listed in a lot of restaurants. Was that part of your strategy?

100%. As a marketeer, you’re told that the first stage of growing a brand is to get awareness, and you move on from there. But when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, I think there’s a stage before, which is the credibility phase. So many people have been burned by a disappointing non-alcoholic product in the past. The whole first year for Botivo was about: how do you get people to realise that this product is really delicious?

By going into the best, fanciest restaurants and introducing Botivo to people who really respect food and drink and how it’s made was a massive part of our plan. We wanted people to discover us in those places.

You’re part of the Maker’s Alliance – what has that experience been like?

The Maker’s Alliance is currently a group of five brands. The first key element is being a company that has makers at its heart.

What people love about alcoholic drinks like whisky or wine is that they have these stories about the makers that you can gather around. But when it comes to the non-alcoholic category – because it’s such a new category, and most of them are made in factories – there are no stories. It’s quite hard for people to get emotionally attached to them.

Our aim is to champion brands that make everything in house. Another key element is not using any flavourings and instead putting hard work into our products, because that’s where the best taste comes from. If you think about buying a stock cube from a supermarket versus cooking a chicken at home – it’s a completely different taste experience.

The final thing is that everyone in the alliance has quite discerning taste profiles. We’re not easy, drinkable juices – the idea is that they’re interesting and unique flavour profiles.

We’ve created a video series on YouTube, called @MakersAllianceDrinks. We’ve got four behind-the-scenes videos that allow each of the brands to show consumers how their product is made and where it’s made, to give it a sense of place and to focus on those stories.

Distillery tours and brand homes are such a big deal for categories like whisky – is this something you would explore with Botivo?

Yes, 100% – and we already do with the trade. We invite restaurants and bars up to the farm to see where Botivo is made. There are a number of craft industries on the farm, such as this amazing craft brewery called Crossover Blendery, which ferments fruit in old French barrels. There’s a coffee roaster and a bakery. There’s really another community of makers within Lannock Farm who support each other. We do tours, and we show everyone around all the different categories.

Where do you think the no-and-low category is heading?

I think we’re moving towards what I call an ‘ABV-agnostic’ category. It’s going to be much less about being defined as non-alcoholic and more about just having really interesting, well-made drinks.

All other drinks and all other foods are about the process and how things are made, but that hasn’t happened in non-alcoholic drinks. For me, it’s about moving from non-alcoholic versions of things towards really well-made drinks, irrespective of ABV.

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