Interview : Craig Strachan, Founder of Foal Drinks

Interview : Craig Strachan, Founder of Foal Drinks

Photo : Craig at our #ThisIsMe Rooftop Garden Party at The Glasshouse in Edinburgh | Credit : John Dyer

We love orange juice and we love lemonade so imagine our delight when we stumbled across a new soft drink that combined the two. FOAL is a new craft soda brand that has been developed by entrepreneur Craig Strachan in Glasgow, Scotland. Inclusive Networks have partnered with the brand on our #ThisIsMe Rooftop Garden Party this summer and more recently, at our #MakingEqualityHappen exhibition with Stonewall Scotland. We love the drink, and so have our event guests. We caught up with Craig to find out more about the FOAL journey.

TELL US MORE ABOUT FOAL

FOAL Drinks is a proudly Scottish brand which aims to bring the flavours of old bar favourites to the ready to drink market so these can be enjoyed, but without the need for a bartender. We are passionate about bringing these fantastically nostalgic tastes to a market which is largely dominated by global brands, so we believe there is definitely room for the little guys making craft soda. Our first flavour, fresh orange and lemonade, was the inspiration for the brand, which is an acronym for Fantastic Orange And Lemonade. This flavour also comes at only 80 calories per bottle, which is around half of a mixed fresh orange and lemonade in a bar. We’re planning on launching new ‘old bar favourites’ before the end of 2016, so watch this space!

WAS IT ALWAYS YOUR DREAM TO PURSUE A CAREER IN SOFT DRINKS?

I wouldn’t say soft drinks were always in my dreams, but I have always loved the idea of being my own boss and starting my own business. The fact that we are able to bring a tasty soft drink with an exciting brand to the market while fulfilling this dream is an added bonus!

HOW WOULD YOU ROUNDUP THE JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW WITH THE BUSINESS? ANY SIGNIFICANT MILESTONES?

It has been a total whirlwind and I can’t quite believe we have now been trading for seven months! However, it has been ever enjoyable, exciting and a steep learning curve.

There have been a number of milestones – from having a product in hand in March to launching in April; from working evenings and weekends in my flat, to now working full time and being part of the Entrepreneurial Spark programme; from making our first sales to our fantastic stockists, to now having a listing with one of Scotland’s best wholesalers; from supporting small events such as local podcast sponsorships, to supporting awesome events such as Inclusive Networks summer ‘#ThisIsMe Rooftop Garden Party’ and The Icon Awards.

“There have been a number of challenges and setbacks along the way, but I believe it is extremely important as a start up business and entrepreneur to be agile and seek the positives from these situations, regardless of how stressful they may seem at the time.”

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED MANY CHALLENGES?

There have been a number of challenges and setbacks along the way, but I believe it is extremely important as a start up business and entrepreneur to be agile and seek the positives from these situations, regardless of how stressful they may seem at the time. One particular example came when I was developing my recipe. The company I had engaged were dragging their heels and it was delaying production significantly. However, off the back of this I was introduced to an awesome company who took on the work and now remain a key part of our operation. Without the initial pain I would have never met our new partner.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY SUPPORT ALONG THE WAY – FAMILY, PROFESSIONAL, MENTOR…?

I have had some amazing support along the way, particularly from my family! Each of them have given up days in their weekends to help me with various exhibitions and events, sometimes with only a nice coffee for payment. Without their help I wouldn’t be where I am today so am hugely grateful. I’ve also had some awesome support from other bodies, such as Entrepreneurial Spark where my enabler is constantly giving top advice and a perspective which I don’t always see due to being so involved in the day-to-day running of the business. Entrepreneurial Spark has also introduced me to some great mentors who have used their connections to allow the business to continue to flourish.

YOU RECENTLY LEFT YOUR JOB TO CONCENTRATE ON FOAL FULL TIME. WAS THAT A SCARY THING TO DO?

I am a Chartered Accountant by profession, so to leave a well respected job with a stable lifestyle was certainly a scary decision to make. I’m still getting used to not being able to say “yes” to every social event, however, I do think that some short term pain will (hopefully) bring long term gain. While I left some great colleagues behind, I don’t regret the decision because in the two months I’ve been concentrating full time on FOAL I’m already seeing the benefits with more stockists coming on board and general acceleration of the business.

Photo : Foal drinks at our and Stonewall Scotland #MakingEqualityHappen event | Credit : Hannah Houston

FOAL IS GETTING OUT AND ABOUT AT EVENTS ALL OVER SCOTLAND. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS ENGAGEMENT TO YOU?

This is massively important to the FOAL brand and the engagement and support we get from the various events are invaluable to the business at this early stage. I am a strong believer that without people knowing you are there, they are never going to buy you. This is so important to FOAL as I think people are infinitely more likely to pick up our drinks and buy a bottle if they have chatted to me, tried a bottle at an event, or engaged with the brand on social media. The opportunities to support events in collaboration with Inclusive Networks, as well as many others, have therefore been of great importance and will continue to be going forward.

WHO DO YOU ADMIRE IN THE WORLD OF BUSINESS?

There are a number of people in business who I have massive admiration for. I believe the entrepreneurs, such as Sir Tom Hunter, are hugely inspirational as they essentially started with nothing and built multi-million pound businesses. However, I also have huge respect for the likes of Jim Duffy and others who establish social enterprises given that they are running huge businesses, but with the intention of giving back rather than purely for personal financial gain.

WHERE DO YOU HOPE THE BUSINESS WILL BE IN THREE YEARS TIME?

My hope is that the FOAL brand will be known throughout the UK within three years, with stockists across the country so more consumers can enjoy the refreshing tastes of our drinks. I also hope to be penetrating the export market by this point with interest in our fantastic flavours from across the globe!

“It’s amazing that you can one day think of something that you think ‘might be a good idea’ to having a real, physical product which other people actually want to pay money for.”

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF TO DATE, PROFESSIONALLY AND PERSONALLY?

My proudest moment to date is probably taking an idea from a concept in my head to having a physical product which people actually want to buy. It’s amazing that you can one day think of something that you think ‘might be a good idea’ to having a real, physical product which other people actually want to pay money for.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?

My work/life balance has probably tipped slightly more towards the work side in recent months, but I do still find time to undertake a couple of hobbies. I play football with an amateur team, so manage to train and play twice a week. I also enjoy going to the gym early in the morning before the working day and spending time with family and friends.

WHAT DOES 2017 HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS?

2017 should be another exciting year for FOAL! With the new flavours planned for the end of 2016 or beginning of 2017 it will be massively exciting to let our consumers try the new tastes and get their feedback. With the new flavour range in hand, we will also continue to engage more and more people with the brand, which should see further stockists pop up across Scotland and, hopefully, down into England. I can’t wait!

Photo : Craig at our #ThisIsMe Rooftop Garden Party at The Glasshouse in Edinburgh | Credit : John Dyer

KEEP CONNECTED WITH CRAIG AND FOAL :

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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