Hi Team! We’d love to hear the Lemonaid origin story, could you share the motivation behind starting the brand?
It all started over a decade ago, when our founder, Paul, was working on humanitarian aid projects in Sri Lanka. Though they certainly did some good, he became keenly aware of the inefficiencies of top-down aid projects. Often the money raised was not spent effectively, and didn’t reach the most vulnerable communities to fund the projects that they really needed.
He thought that there must be a better, more inclusive way to empower these communities, and give local farmers the chance to participate in the global economy on fairer terms. That’s where the idea was born to create a drink, made with these farms’ ingredients, that would give back to the surrounding communities.
What was the first ever Lemonaid product?
The first drink produced was the Lime Lemonaid. As with so many start ups, the production had humble beginnings in Paul’s kitchen, before partnering with a local, family-run manufacturer as the company grew.
Following the Lime Lemonaid came three of the ChariTeas: green, black, and mate. This transformed the social enterprise into two brands, Lemonaid being fresh fruit soft drinks, and ChariTea being real-brewed, loose leaf iced tea.
Throughout our journey, we have continued to work and grow with the same family manufacturer, as they are willing to produce the drinks using real, fresh ingredients, unlike so many soft drinks that are made using syrups and additives. To this day, every drink is made using entirely organic, fair trade ingredients, with no nasties in sight. They also contain around 40%-70% less sugar than other standard soft drinks.
What positive impact has the brand made within local communities since launching?
5p from every bottle is donated to the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation, which funds social projects in the countries from which the drink ingredients are sourced. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every person can achieve independent, self-determined and sustainable livelihoods.
Through the Foundation, we focus on supporting education, entrepreneurial and income-generating initiatives in regions currently excluded from fair access to the global economic system. We do this by partnering with local organisations who implement projects within their communities to create positive change and strengthen economic independence.
These projects empower communities to develop sustainable livelihoods without the need for further humanitarian aid. Since its inception, the Foundation has now raised over £5 million, and is currently supporting 27 projects across seven countries.
Can you share your latest project with us and the inspiration for this?
One of our newest project partners is The Sambol Foundation.
In Sri Lanka there are currently no shelters available for mothers and their children who have been sexually assaulted, abandoned, abused or disgraced. These women have been especially affected by the disastrous outcome of the civil war which ended in 2009.
The Sambol Foundation provides supervised accommodation and training for those women and children. We are currently partnering with them to fund the construction of a shelter house, which will also serve as a workshop space for economic activities.
What are some of the biggest issues/challenges in the soft drinks industry at the moment and how do you tackle these?
As with many industries, we are challenged by shortages in all sorts of areas, including transportation, glass and more. Logistical issues stemming from Brexit are also a problem, not to mention rising costs from the cost of living crisis. All on the back of Covid, it’s been a rollercoaster few years for us alongside the whole hospitality sector, and the rest of the world!
In response to Covid, we set up a webshop to sell drinks direct to our customers.
Tackling the logistical issues is our superstar operations manager who is keeping everything ticking over as smoothly as possible in the current climate. We are also lucky to be working with patient and understanding businesses who support our brand and what we do, which makes the job much easier.
Are there any small changes or habits we as consumers can make to adopt a more ethical lifestyle?
Shop local. Buy secondhand. Educate yourself on where your products are actually coming from. Are the people who produce what you eat, drink and consume being paid fairly?
Do some research into the environmental impacts of the products you buy and consume. Are the environmental costs being externalised? Are they linked to deforestation, or unsustainable mass agriculture? What chemicals are being used and are these having negative impacts on the local communities?
Reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order.
That being said, try not to get too overwhelmed by it all. In our society, it is next to impossible to be completely ‘ethical’. All you can do is your best. Do what you can, make small changes here and there, and just make sure you are properly informed about the decisions you’re making day to day.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced, if any, as a global brand?
Covid was a huge challenge for us as the majority of our sales were through independent cafes and hospitality sites which had to close for much of lockdown. We had to adapt quickly and pivot our work strategy throughout the pandemic to survive, but luckily had the support of great businesses and customers who kept us going.
As a global brand, navigating the aforementioned logistical challenges of Brexit has been an ongoing challenge.
Closer to home, the reluctance of the UK government to implement a circular deposit scheme for glass bottles is a problem we’d really like to overcome. In many European countries, such as Germany, a two-way bottle system is operated nationwide. This is where every glass bottle is collected after it has been used (cafes and restaurants etc will put them into crates outside their shops to be collected by lorries), taken back to a facility to be washed, then back to the company to be refilled, and used again.
We would absolutely love to be able to do this in the UK, but it requires nationwide infrastructure and simply isn’t possible to conduct ourselves. If this is an issue that you care about, we would recommend writing to your MP to voice your support for this sort of scheme to be developed in the UK.
How important is sustainability to you? Could you tell us more about your upcycling initiatives?
Sustainability is one of our core values at Lemonaid & ChariTea, and we are always looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact.
Our production facilities are run on renewable energy, and instead of plastic, we use glass bottles which can be infinitely recycled. Our webshop also delivers the drinks in bespoke, recyclable cardboard packaging.
However, even better than recycling is reusing, which is why we make upcycling tools to create new career paths for your Lemonaid & ChariTea bottles after you’ve drunk from them.
From soap dispensers, to oil pourers, to salt shakers, as well as just turning them into a little vase for your flowers, there are myriad ways to give your bottles a new lease of life.
We also make upcycled stools and benches for our hospitality customers. These are actually made by those with disabilities, as part of a training scheme to develop their work opportunities.
What does the future of Lemonaid and ChariTea look like?
We’re a small team in the UK, but we are growing! We are currently looking for a sales manager in London to join our tight-knit team of Super Lemons. If you’re interested, please email us with your CV and cover letter.