James Shillcock, Founder of Vivid Drinks, worked for Deloitte on their Scholars scheme for 4 years before founding Vivid Drinks which is now a successful drinks brand stocked by retailers, premium health stores and online delivery services. Between leaving Deloitte and starting Vivid Drinks James worked for an independent tea company in London where he was sent different teas from around the world. When James came across matcha and discovered its powerful properties he decided to create a genuine alternative to artificial energy drinks. James has successfully grown the company in just over 2 years and has grand plans for the future.
Getting to Know James
What inspired you to set up Vivid Drinks?
I wanted to create a company that emphasises the importance of clarity of mind and concentration. People are constantly bombarded with an overload of health information telling you what you should be eating and how you should be exercising, yet we neglect how to nurture a healthy mind. In reality, if your mind isn’t healthy then you don’t stand a very good chance at focusing on other areas of wellness. When you think of daily activity for the majority of people a lot of us are stuck behind a desk all day. It’s not productive for us to be starving ourselves nor accumulating vast amounts of energy; what we need is to sit down with clarity of mind and good concentration so that we can get on with our working day. Being able to focus is key. This is the message that forms our brand… we promote vivid minds, productivity and clean, natural energy.
How is matcha associated with benefits such as focus?
It is a lot to do with the natural journey of the leaves. In Japan the leaves are purposefully grown under shade as this means more chlorophyll will be produced, therefore creating a more vibrant green colour of the leaves. The richness of this colour is a result of the increased natural occurrence of amino acids, caffeine and L-Theanine. In terms of how this is beneficial, it is the caffeine that carries the benefits of improved cognition and concentration, whilst the L-Theanine is a unique amino acid encouraging the slow release of energy to keep you calm, relaxed and alert.
Are you threatened at all by competitors?
There are more and more people coming out with matcha based products – this is a great thing because it raises awareness of matcha. We need other brands to help us grow the category. We want more people to buy into matcha and to understand it – some coffee shops are now selling more matcha lattes than coffee! This is bound to continue as people make the switch and realise how much better they feel from drinking matcha.
What challenges does Vivid Drinks face?
Our drinks contain caffeine and unfortunately caffeine now has a bad reputation because its use and volume have been abused. There is very little out there to say caffeine is bad for us and in actual fact, in modest doses it can be very good for us due to its antioxidants. Of course, we would never suggest replacing water with green tea but we would say that drinking it in moderation is not harmful. The one thing feeding the caffeine addiction is high doses of it being pumped into drinks and mixed with sugar, but unfortunately this is what you tend to find in energy drinks and is also what many leading coffee shop chains are doing. In stark contrast to the convenience drinks in the UK, vending machines in Japan typically stock unsweetened green tea drinks… hence the launch of our new unsweetened drinks!
Is there research supporting the benefits of matcha?
There is lots of research on herbal tea when it comes to supporting evidence of the health benefits, but much of it is focused on green tea rather than matcha as it is still very new to the Western world. You have to remember that matcha is simply green tea in its purest form/in higher doses so the research into green tea can be applied to matcha but with magnified effects.
How do you appeal to even the healthiest customers?
We recently launched an unsweetened version of matcha green tea with zero sugar and zero sweeteners. Usually zero calorie drinks make up for the lack of sugar by pouring in countless sweeteners but it was very important for us not to compensate in this way…adding sweeteners does not provide consumers with more choice! Vivid Unsweetened is essentially water with the benefits of green tea.
How did you decide on the packaging for Vivid Drinks?
We considered glass at first but ruled this out because it would not appeal to busy entrepreneurs and business people on the move. We then considered plastic as it was lighter and more convenient but again ruled it out because it is often associated with unhealthy drinks. The material we now use is great because it’s not only light and convenient but it’s also recyclable.
In terms of the design we wanted the brand to be bold and to say ‘this is what we believe in, this is what we care about’. Ironically, we did consumer testing and the design we went with was the one the consumer tester told us would gain the worst results but we chose it because we needed to stand out as a challenger brand. It was also important that our design appealed to men and women; so many brands are either patronising in an overly feminine way or in the case of energy drinks are heavily geared towards men.
Have you adopted any habits inspiring entrepreneurialism?
I think mindfulness is a great movement which is only going to continue. Unfortunately there are cynics because some businesses monetise the concept in inappropriate ways, causing others to think of it as a fad. It really does have the potential to help people if it is taken back to its most simple premise. Taking time to pause, reflect and simply be in the present has surprisingly significant effects on your state of mind. It might sound simplistic, but being able to appreciate the moment is extremely difficult to do in this day and age when people are constantly switched on to what is happening next. For me Mindfulness is ultimately an attempt to gain perspective and not get carried away by my thoughts!
Rebel Wrap Up
How is Vivid Drinks different from normal green tea?
Vivid’s range contains a unique ingredient called matcha; this ingredient entirely differentiates our drinks from the standard green tea usually found in stores. With normal green tea the only nutrients you get are those which the water absorbs from the leaves, whereas with matcha green tea you are ingesting the actual leaf (which has been ground into a fine powder) rather than just an infusion.
How can consumers trust the matcha you use?
Recently there have been a few counterfeit matcha products coming from China. Our green tea leaves are grown in Japan and all of our matcha is certified Organic. Originating from Japan, matcha has an incredibly rich history to be explored as Japanese monks established a ritual of drinking matcha before meditation due to its naturally energising characteristics. When starting up Vivid I went to Japan to meet our matcha supplier. Whilst I was out there I spent a few days in the tea fields and the production site learning as much as I could about the Japanese approach to mindfulness… needless to say I returned to London feeling very Zen!
Where can we find Vivid Drinks?
Vivid Drinks are available from a whole range of stores including Wholefoods, Waitrose, Selfridges, Planet Organic, Amazon and Ocado. Most recently Boots have also begun to stock Vivid Drinks as part of their meal deal which is fantastic to see as it shows mainstream retailers are also recognising the potential for matcha green tea.