SPOTLIGHT ON: Red and Kate Johnson, Founders of Highball Cocktails

Highball Cocktails recently joined Don’t Buy Her Flowers with their delicious mocktails as part of the Create a Pregnancy Care Package relaunch. Husband and wife team Red and Kate Johnson were used to mixing non-alcoholic cocktails for themselves and decided to take it a step further in 2019 by developing a range to sell. 

In this week’s Spotlight, co-founder Kate has told us a little bit more about the business, the last twelve months, and their hopes for the future.

How did Highball Cocktails come about? 

I founded Highball Cocktails at the end of 2019 together with my husband, Red. Looking back it wasn’t a great time to start a business, but we didn’t know that a global pandemic was just around the corner! Red’s background and upbringing is in drinks. His dad is world-famous wine writer Hugh Johnson, and he also runs a drinks export business. For over 20 years I’d worked in marketing and brand-building, mostly in brand agencies. So, you might say that some kind of new drinks brand baby was inevitable for us!

Our cocktails are alcohol-free, ready-to-drink interpretations of classic cocktails that our customers already know and love. When I had children I really cut down drinking to the point that I barely drink alcohol at all now. It wasn’t really intentional, just once I’d stopped in pregnancy I never really went back to it. Somehow with young children who weren’t sleeping through the night I couldn’t face the hangover or feeling tired and lethargic in the morning. They’re now 7 and 9, and I haven’t really gone back to drinking. I still have the occasional glass of wine, but just feel so much healthier and brighter without alcohol.

Our customers choose our drinks for all kinds of reasons, obviously many are mums who are either pregnant, breastfeeding or like me, just can’t face too much alcohol with small kids! Other customers are those who have chosen to go sober, for many different reasons, as well as those just looking for choice and moderation in their lives.

How have you found the last 18 months?

It’s been a rollercoaster of course, but there have been some amazing, fun and rewarding times. Our brand officially launched just at the end of 2019 and we were beginning to have some really good conversations with pubs, restaurants and hotels. Obviously it was massively disappointing when they all had to close in spring 2020 and at the same time lots of supermarkets, independent grocery and farmshops said that they had stopped taking on new brands. The flipside was that our own website www.highballcocktails.com, which we had expected to build after getting listings in supermarkets and hospitality, went completely crazy. We delivered far more to web customers than we had ever expected to. This was fantastic and also allowed us to build a relationship with customers directly which has been a fabulous experience.

 

Have you learned anything new in the last 18 months that you will be keeping? 

We will be trying to maintain the momentum on our website. We sell in cases of 6 or 12 but other things that worked really well was a taster pack of 2 bottles. This sells for £4.99 including delivery and the customer can choose whichever 2 cocktails they’d like to try. This is a great low risk way for customers to try out the drinks. The other thing that works really well is that we allow people to do a “pick-n-mix”, so they can make their own selection of drinks, in cases of 6 and 12. We’ve found that offering this flexibility and personalisation is really popular and we will be keeping it.

On a personal level I think the last 18 months have forced me to be tenacious and draw on reserves of strength that I perhaps didn’t know I had, so it’s been a positive learning experience!

What are your plans or ambitions for the future of Highball Cocktails?

We already export to over 10 countries around the world, but currently our ambition is to really grow the brand in the UK. The market for no and low alcohol drinks in the UK is already quite well developed and it’s going to be really exciting to see it go even more mainstream. We’d obviously love to see Highball Cocktails as a go-to drink for everyone seeking a great-tasting, convenient, no compromise option.

A lot of our packages are sent for people going through something, whether that’s illness or a break up or a tough time at work. What’s your go-to product or thing to do when you’re feeling the need for TLC? 

For various reasons I had quite a difficult time in my twenties. I had been really ill with glandular fever and then suffered post-viral illness for many years. Coupled with the challenges that lots of people face after university, looking to find my feet in a new city and in a new graduate job it was a testing period. I remember my dad saying to me “try to just find pleasure in the small things” and it’s something I still live by today. When things are tough I think that a quick walk out into the garden, taking a deep breath, listening to the birds and just absorbing and enjoying the nature around me really helps, as does taking the time to really savour a good coffee (or alcohol-free cocktail!) or absorbing book. For me it really is about shutting out the noise and appreciating the small things in life that can so often be overlooked when stress and strain takes hold.

What is the best gift someone has ever bought for you, or the most thoughtful thing someone has ever done for you?

I think it’s the unexpected things; parcels or letters that drop through the letterbox that show that someone is thinking about you, even when you didn’t know it. And of course, I absolutely love the cards and presents that my children make for me, they are the most treasured. I am also always appreciative of a really decadent bottle of luxurious bath oil too, the kind of thing I would never treat myself to!

If you had to drink one flavour of High Ball Cocktails for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

I try not to answer this question, as it’s a bit like being asked to name a favourite child! However, I will whisper that it would probably be our Mojito. I love the crisp, refreshing lime and mint flavour and a Mojito was probably my favourite cocktail before I reduced my alcohol-intake. It’s actually quite hard to tell the difference between our cocktail and the alcoholic version!

What makes you laugh?

My family. I probably laugh the hardest with my sisters, there’s something about the jokes that you’ve laughed about your whole life and are embedded within the family, that means they are still the funniest! My sisters can probably make me cry with laughter with just a facial expression or a hint at a joke that’s been rehashed over so many years!

Words to live by? 

Be Kind. Don’t Give Up. Keep Trying.

Highball Cocktails can be found in our Create a Pregnancy Care Package and Create a Gift Package 

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