Enter the Alumini: Sustainaholics launches breakthrough miniatures

By Luke Barras-hill |

Sustainaholics is reporting soaring interest for ‘The Alumini Collection’, a trailblazing miniatures range of sustainable spirits.

Made from 100% PCR (post-consumer recycled) aluminium, the ultra-compact and lightweight, shatterproof 5cl miniatures were launched in June and are being billed as the only proposition of their kind in the global DF&TR market today.

London-based spirits disruptor Sustainaholics says that while the now trademarked recyclable miniatures format is not currently available to customers, it is eyeing listings onboard airlines, cruise shops and in duty free stores in late 2023/early 2024.

“This is an industry-first innovation for both the spirits industry and the travel industry – true innovation is rare in on-board retail and it’s being widely recognised as a game changer and generating a lot of interest,” David Mills, Founder, Sustainaholics told TRBusiness in an exclusive interview.

“By creating The Alumini, we’re offering the industry a sustainable option that’s also the most profitable, specifically to destroy the stigma that sustainability can only ever be a cost for retailers to absorb. It will improve profitability, customer engagement and retailers’ own brand equity.”

More stock, improved profitability

Aside offering stand-out shelf appeal and great taste for buyers, Mills urges travel retailers to stock the liquids for several reasons.

Operational efficiencies mean The Alumini Collection reduces distribution costs and emissions owing to the ability to transport 14,000 units per pallet, versus 4,800 glass/PET bottles for the traditional 5cl miniature equivalent. This means a single airline service trolley drawer can hold 90 units compared with 54 for glass.

“The drawer still weighs less than glass and, being so light to carry, reduces fuel costs,” explains Mills.

Enhanced ranging opportunities translate to greater variety for customers while reducing the risk of stock-outs, he continues. Ultimately, all this helps the bottom line.

The Alumini Collection of ultra-compact sustainable spirits miniatures use 100% post-consumer recycled aluminium to tackle space and weight obstacles encountered on airlines.

“Even at exactly the same retail price (and even at our higher unit costs) by fitting 36 more miniatures in a drawer than existing shaped bottles, the gross profit of an Alumini drawer is 40% higher than the total sales value of an existing miniatures drawer.

“Other miniatures formats need to be given for free with a large additional listing fee to even match the Alumini financially and even then, they can’t match us on sustainability credentials.”

Sustainaholics, recently named a finalist in the 2023 consumer-voted Global Travel Retail Awards, deals in more than just miniatures.

Its eclectic spirits portfolio includes carbon-negative rums and gins and sustainably sourced and farmed English rye whisky to zero-waste vodka and gins and more.

Among the collection is Black Cow, a pure milk vodka produced in West Dorset, UK that takes its inspiration from using leftover grass grazed cows’ milk after making cheese; Cooper King, a zero-waste gin made using local ingredients at a self-built Yorkshire distillery powered by renewable energy; and B-Corp certified Avallen calvados, available in a fully recyclable paper bottle that is reportedly six times lighter than the most lightweight glass.

“We’ve already added sustainable brands in the wine, beer and a no- and low-alcohol categories,” enthuses Mills. “These brands all form part of a huge collection launched in partnership with Condor Ferries in July, which we’re excited about. It’s probably the single biggest dedicated collection of sustainable brands in the travel industry.

“We have two other great drinks brand innovators we hope to announce imminently and, while we’re not actively looking for brands right now, we love to chat to innovators.”

That recent deal with Condor Ferries has resulted in Sustainaholics supplying a 12-strong collection of tasty, planet positive drinks brands to the ferry operator spanning 24 skus.

Guests stepping onboard will discover the likes of Pentire Drinks, Black Cow Vodka, Penrhos Spirits and Two Drifters Distillery.

This is just one example of a flurry of listings secured in recent times for the London-based sustainable drinks company.

Earlier this year, Tourvest Retail Services listed five sustainable spirits brands under the Sustainaholics’ umbrella on British Airways for pre-purchase via its ‘Highlife Shop’: Two Drifters Carbon Negative Rum, Oxford Artisan Distillery (heritage grain English rye whisky), Cooper King (carbon negative gin), Hyke (surplus grape gin) and Black Cow (pure milk vodka).

Following swiftly was a further four brands for sale onboard BA via Speedbird Café, with sales “performing way ahead of expectations”, confirms Mills.

Elsewhere, Penrhos Gin made its airport retail debut in June this year at the new flagship Aelia Duty Free store at London City Airport.

“We’ve been working for a long time with Lagardère Travel Retailan introduction that happened as a result of Travel Retail Sustainability Week in 2021 – and they’ve been both progressive and supportive in terms of their sustainability agenda, so we’re delighted to be part of this amazing new store launch,” said Mills.

“We’ve launched not only Penrhos gin in their light, shatterproof recycled aluminium bottle  – the perfect format for duty free purchases for passengers: no more heavy glass bottles to lug around and break – but also Two Drifters Carbon Negative Rum, Cooper King’s Carbon Negative Gin and Black Cow’s Pure Milk Vodka.”

The same four brands listed at London City have been quickly rolled out by Lagardère as part of a further sustainable spirits collection now live at London Luton Airport.

Mills remains tight-lipped on further business, suffice to confirm the company is “in advance stages of launching more listings”.

A circular mission

The Sustainaholics range at London City Airport with Aelia Duty Free.

But his passion is not borne purely out of profit chasing – as important as it is. He remains a passionate advocate for sustainable products and collections, which he argues should occupy their own space within a standalone category in global travel retail to pique the interests of global retail buying teams.

That’s no easy feat. Any company entering DF&TR, notably a start-up, has to run a gauntlet laced with seemingly insurmountable challenges before heads start to turn in the desired direction.

“The biggest issue is convincing retailers there is a bigger picture about total profit and growing their own brand equity than the narrow obsession on lowest cost unit, but as advocates of sustainability we also need to come up with solutions for retailers that help change the misconception that sustainability equals more cost and less profit, as this doesn’t have to be the case,” argues Mills.

“The whole value and supply chain needs to embrace and adapt to change: the brands, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, agents, consumers but – most importantly – those at the top of the tree with the decision-making power: the retailers. I’m convinced that the progressive retailers doing this now are going to see huge benefits, those who don’t will get left behind.”

The duty free and travel retail industry is frequently reminded of the cost of ‘going green’, but amid rampant inflation hitting consumers’ wallets, companies are racing to guard against downward pressure on margins.

“Sustainability has to make financial sense,” agrees Mills. “One of the key motivations in developing our Alumini Collection was to ensure that it was more profitable for retailers at the same RRP as current non-sustainable products, so we don’t need to increase the price to generate more profit, we do it through more efficient design.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that sustainable products will cost more; in fact if they don’t there is probably something not stacking up in their claims. Retailers and consumers need to take the long-term view and support brands trying to do the right things, while we should all try and innovate to make sustainable options profitable choices that don’t cost consumers or resources the earth.

“With growth, brands can significantly reduce costs through scale and efficiency rather than sharp practice or exploitation, and this is where travel retail can play such an important role right now by giving ethical brands a massive platform to grow awareness and succeed.”

For a company vocal about working with and offering its clients only ‘authentic brands with sustainability in their DNA’, reputation matters.

That consumers are demanding more ethical, transparent and purpose-driven brands and services means businesses should listen to their consumers, says Mills. But sustainability should be a basic requirement that retailers insist on when negotiating listings.

“Some dominant brands are publicly making sustainability claims that they may become carbon neutral, use renewable energy, reduce waste, apply to become a B Corp and so on –but only by 2030.

“It’s simply not good enough so we need to keep differentiating on sustainability to make consumers aware there are brands who are already doing today what more established brands are suggesting they might get around to doing in the next decade. We look forward to the day when sustainability is a given, not a nice to have, and then we’d love to stop talking about it.”

Meet David Mills, Founder, Sustainaholics

David Mills, Founder, Sustainaholics.

As the passionate, ebullient chief of London-based startup sustainaholics, David Mills is laser-focused on driving genuine, discernible change in the conversation around sustainability in global travel retail – and he doesn’t pull any punches in expressing ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’.

In a refreshing and candid Q&A, he tells TRBusiness that the industry should open its arms to more sustainable products and solutions and why committing to 100% PCR aluminium can foster ‘green’ confidence among consumers becoming increasingly emboldened to challenge big corporate posturing.

David, take us back to the beginning of the Sustainaholics journey and the ‘lightbulb moment’ that inspired you to bring sustainable challenger brands to global travel retail?

The lightbulb moment came on holiday wearing a pair of recycled beach plastic flip flops. They were more comfortable, more sustainable, better quality and a more ethical choice than the dominant brand in the category, but no one had heard of them. The investors had approached me for advice on travel retail as a sales channel which opened my eyes to the huge potential in aligning the travel industry with sustainable challenger brands.

Customers want sustainable products and solutions not offered by the established brands that dominate travel. Sustainable challenger brands want brand exposure and growth and the travel industry needs solutions-based sustainability partnerships and has a captive audience of literally billions of customers. I was surprised no-one was focusing on this specifically, so I set up Sustainaholics a few years ago to fill the gap with a bespoke range of products from only truly sustainable challenger brands.

You’re no stranger to the industry, with many decades’ experience working in senior roles including five years as CFO of Retail inMotion. Leaning on that experience at the sharp end of retailing has no doubt stood you in good stead to cope with the demands of running a new start-up… 

Industry experience helps having managed the challenges of growth (both well and badly!) in the past, although part of the fun of your own start-up is dealing with challenges and situations you could never imagine. We’re focused on having an authentic relevant product proposition that people relate to, execution on delivery, and having the partnerships, people and processes in place to scale.

From ‘greenwashing’ to ‘greenhushing’, corporates and smaller companies remain under pressure to consistently ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’ on sustainability. As ESG scrutiny increases, in your view is travel retail doing enough to change the current dialogue by calling out those that engage in such practices?

Next time you travel and walk through duty free airport stores or see what’s being sold on most airlines, take a close look and you have the answer. There are brands being showcased in travel retail who are not only not being called out but are being actively promoted when better alternatives exist. However, it’s not all bad news, there are many committed people doing brilliant things and introducing new, ground-breaking initiatives so things are changing, but need to change quicker.

More brands seem to be shifting from virgin to recycled aluminium. Why is that?

That’s a great question and something that’s so important for buyers and consumers to understand. Our Aluminis are made from 100% Post Consumer Recycled (PCR) aluminium. Not all aluminium is equal, and brands claiming sustainability using virgin aluminium are only telling half the story: that aluminium is a very lightweight, shatterproof & infinitely recyclable material. What they’re not telling you is that cheap virgin aluminium is the highest emissions bottle format out there, significantly worse than both glass and PET – 100% recycled aluminium is the lowest emissions bottle format by far.

The Alumini recycled aluminium 5cl bottle creates 26 grams of CO2 per 5cl bottle. The equivalent in virgin aluminium creates 174 grams of CO2 per 5cl bottle, almost seven times the amount. If you’re claiming sustainability, then you must use 100% post-consumer recycled aluminium. If brands aren’t transparent about this, consumers should challenge them.

What can travel retail expect from Sustainaholics for the rest of 2023 and if you had a crystal ball, where do you see the company in 12 months’ time?

When we listed with Condor in July we achieved our objective to be listed on land, sea and air by the end of 2023. So, for the rest of the year we’re focused on delivering success for our active listings, launching new listings where we can, and bringing the recycled aluminium miniatures to market. In 2024, I want to see the Aluminis established with flagship customers and recognised as the rapidly emerging future format for spirits miniatures. We have a couple more innovations in the pipeline too – you can’t stand still!

Stay close to TRBusiness.com for more from Sustainaholics…

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