Covid-19, job loss and the great epiphany was a perfect blend for an Honest Rum. Luke Jones and his childhood friend Dave Lincoln talk to Rahul Bhattarai about starting their own rum company.
What does your business do?
Luke: We make Honest Rum. It's a delicate infusion of six botanicals, citrus, vanilla from the tonka beans, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
What was the motivation for starting it?
Luke: When the world was in lockdown and both of us had limited work, we wanted to start a company. And rum was always there as an option for consumers but we felt that no one really quite owned it and that there was a massive opportunity. Both having different backgrounds, we knew this would help us, at least with a starting idea. So we decided to run with it, and it's gone from strength to strength.
I was living in London during my first lockdown and working as a freelance product designer. But I lost my job because of Covid-19. I was home twiddling my thumbs and scrolling through Instagram and came across this post and I had a bit of an epiphany, "Imagine how awesome it would be to distil our own rum brand", and then reached out to Dave.
Dave: We have been friends since we were 13 - we always had grand plans to start a business together. While at uni, we worked our first bar job together in Wellington, which in a way was the start of Honest. It was there we set foundations about spirits, flavour profiles, and how to make a really good cocktail.
When Luke approached me, I was in Auckland working as a marketer, at first when I heard the idea to make our own rum, I laughed it off, but after doing a little bit of research I started to think about it a little more seriously.
What's your background?
Luke: By trade I am a digital product designer, designing website and mobile apps, and have been working in the industry for about 10 years after graduating with a degree in Graphic Design from Massey University.
Dave: I am currently working as a national sales manager and a market developer at Oatly Milk. I go around New Zealand and do all the brand activations, marketing, and anything to do with the brand.
How big is the team today?
Luke: For now, it's just the two of us. We both still have full-time jobs with dreams to move full-time into our business within the next 12 months. Our respective partners and family have a big input and are huge supporters of what we are doing.
How was your business affected by Covid-19?
Luke: The majority of our customers have currently shut under level 3 or 4 restrictions which means we are, of course, unable to supply so that has been limiting but we just launched our online store and have seen a decent uptake in sales here.
How long has your business been around?
Luke: The idea of Honest started in March 2020 but we have been trading since December, so, coming up to a year.
What's your focus for the remainder of the year?
Luke: We have plans to release a few more products and we are looking to get them out into the market in time for summer.
What are your long-term plans, and where do you see the brand in five years?
Luke: We'd love to become a household name in New Zealand, this would be a huge milestone for us. Beyond this, we have plans to expand internationally. Having both lived in the UK, we would love to have a presence there and in several other countries.
If you were asking for our vision for the brand, we'd say that we want to change consumers' perception of rum. Rum to us is a sophisticated and versatile spirit that can be enjoyed by many.
How does your business stand out in comparison to other businesses in the market - what makes it unique?
Dave: We've created a visual identity that challenges the stereotypes of traditional rum, a product that sits proudly as a centerpiece on the drinks trolley. Along with an exceptional taste, Honest is proudly certified by A Plastic Planet as 100 per cent plastic-free. As our brand name suggests, Honest was founded on a commitment to being transparent, which includes environmental responsibility. By partnering with Ekos- we calculate and offset all carbon emissions, which accredits us to be a certified carbon zero business.
How are you marketing it?
Dave: We use multiple channels but we utilise a combination of social platforms, digital advertising, partnerships, collabs and help from Lomas Kerr.
What does the competition look like in this market?
Luke: The rum category hasn't quite matured like the gin market has, however, it is starting to grow globally and also locally. Some impressive distilleries are popping up all over.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start a business?
Luke: Take the leap. You don't realise how rewarding it can be until you are deep into a project, working on something you are truly passionate about with your best mate. When it's something you love, it doesn't feel like work.