When UK-based Ian Minton, founder of Skinny Tonic was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 23, he recalls that life had to change overnight. Needing to inject insulin up to 6 times per day and closely monitoring what he ate for carbohydrate and sugar intake became a big part of his life.
For a newly diagnosed diabetic, socialising is an area that can come with a whole new set of challenges too.
With an inclination for a Gin & Tonic, Ian found himself having to test his blood sugar in the middle of the bar while on a night out — sometimes after every drink.
The more he tried to find a G&T combo that worked for him, the more he discovered that even low sugar or slimline tonics could make his blood sugar spike — despite the labels promising a much healthier option.
So, seeing an opportunity to improve his social experience and an unmet need in the market, Ian, now 37, launched Skinny Tonic in 2014, a zero sugar, zero-calorie all-natural tonic water that assures it has nothing to hide.
Global Shakers caught up with Ian Minton to chat about his journey and the future of Skinny Tonic.
How has your diabetes diagnosis shaped Skinny Tonic?
Well, before I would drink full-fat coke, like a lot of people. I was then advised to switch to water and diet drinks — but diet coke is still coke.
Since then the world has changed so much with new brands and ideas popping up all the time, and this can definitely be seen in the drinks world.
Big businesses are formed out of current trends and fads. A brand like Innocent Drinks was fantastic as an innovative new product brought to market, but for a diabetic, its full of fructose and drinking one smoothie could be the same as eating 10 – 15 oranges. So much sugar, so while you think you are being really good, a lot of the time you are really not!
So, being diabetic forced me to learn to understand sugar, flavour, fructose and the true meaning of “low-sugar” and “added sugar.”
This is how Skinny Tonic started out. My goal was to be able to create something, mainly for a social environment, that would go well with a gin or vodka and truly be zero sugar and zero carbohydrates.
What makes Skinny Tonic different from other drinks brands targeting the health-conscious?
The most important part of our mission was to make it natural and have a wide variety of flavours as a lot of other brands just do straight-up Indian slimline tonic.
While they might have no calories they are compromised with artificial sweetener. On the other side of the market, there is so much variety and flavour but the products are packed with sugar, calories and carbs.
Therefore, there was only one option for us — stevia, a plant extract that contains no calories and is 200x sweeter than sugar.
We spent about 4 years working with it to get the balance of taste just right and develop flavours to compliment it.
We use natural spring water and our quinine is from the congo extracted from source — we are only the second tonic in the world to do that.
My diabetic story and the journey of how I have had to adapt my diet has become a worldwide journey and something that everyone is focussing on — so being all-natural and appealing to those with plant-based diets was a no-brainer.
Our flavours also taste great on their own which appeals to the growing non-alcoholic market.
The next big thing was to present differently. A lot of the big tonic brands have a very similar traditional, regal style.
We model ourselves on something more like Apple — sleek, simple with minimal messaging.
How does Skinny Tonic aim to compete with an iconic brand like Fever-Tree?
Although we are both tonic brands, I don’t class Fever-Tree as a competitor anymore. Its a great brand but we are so different in our look and feel and they are the polar opposite to us in terms of calories and sugar.
I’m actually proud to say that we have benchmarked Fever-Tree as our hero product.
Our biggest competitor is the 200-year-old brand Schweppes and its artificially sweetened slimline. However, with data that we have been provided from IRI, we know that we are actually outselling Schweppes on shelf — in some cases 7 to 1.
This really shows the changing ways consumers are seeing traditional brands.
Your website notes a partnership with Survival International, supporting the Global Movement for Tribal Peoples. Why was it an important cause to choose?
After having conversations about supporting diabetes charities we realised they get plenty of donations from around the world.
The Brazilian Guarani, the tribe that we support with Survival are the founding farmers of the stevia plant but they suffer at the hands of violent ranchers and their land is stolen.
They are very traditional and for generations, they have lived in the same way on the same land.
Survival offers education and works to protect and conserve uncontacted tribes, and their land. For me, this was an important cause to give back to.
What’s next for skinny tonic?
Next month we are launching three new flavours. Aiming to appeal to current market trends we have something a bit Mediterranean, something more aromatic and lastly, we have a zero-calorie, natural, premium ginger ale that can be used as a mixer.
We are now working with Muscle Foods who target people on low-carb diets and we are doing a big promotion with them next month. We have also started selling on their website and Amazon too.
My aim is to shift 9 million cans of Skinny Tonic by the end of 2019.