Meet the Bristol founder leading the charge in the non-alcoholic drinks industry

As Bristol-based Ellie Webb wins Non-Alcoholic Drinks Entrepreneur of the Year at the Food and Drink Heroes’ Awards 2022, we sit down to hear all about her journey

A young Bristol entrepreneur has been named Non-Alcoholic Drinks Entrepreneur of the Year at the Food and Drink Heroes’ Awards 2022.

Ellie Webb, the founder of Caleño, a drinks manufacturer founded to offer fun and tasty spirit options without the alcohol content joined the very best British food and drink businesses at the national awards final.

Food and Drink Heroes was launched in 2020 by the team behind the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, but was held for the first time in person this year in Wickham.

The organisers felt that a food-and-hospitality-focused programme was needed given the high volume and quality of applicants to the Great British Entrepreneur Awards’ food and drink category, and even added three additional categories to Food and Drink Heroes’ second year in response to huge levels of interest.

Caleno was inspired by Ms Webb’s heritage and the inspiration she found in her Latin roots

So, where did Ms Webb first come up with the idea for Caleño and how did the Bristol-founded company first arise? “Caleño was born out of personal frustration,” says Ms Webb.

“I was on an alcohol-free night out with friends during Dry January a few years ago, and I felt completely uninspired by the non-alcoholic drinks on offer.

“Why should not drinking mean not having fun? I decided it was time to bring some joy to ‘not drinking’ - and that’s when Caleño was born.”

In regards to how the company got off the ground, Ms Webb says it first came to life in her kitchen in Bristol, but it was 5,000 miles later on a trip back to Colombia where her mother is from that she felt truly inspired to reconnect with her Latin roots.

“After soaking up the vibrant colours and tropical flavours, I decided to return home and bottle it,” she says. “The word ‘Caleño’ means ‘of Cali’, the Colombian city where my mum is from, a place famous for its salsa dancing, cuisine, and culture.

“The colourful Colombian towns like Cartagena and Guatape provided inspiration for Caleño’s bold and bright bottle designs.”

Caleno is going from strength to strength and is a brand to watch out for

Fast forward to today and Caleño is now a dual range of distilled tropical non-alcoholic spirits, available in most major supermarkets in the UK.

“We’re on a mission to create more moments of joy and change people’s perceptions of what it means to not drink,” says Ms Webb. “Just because you’re not drinking alcohol, doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time and enjoy a delicious drink.”

Clearly, Ms Webb is proving something right as the awards had 700 applicants that were whittled down to 14 winners by a panel of expert judges from industry-leading companies including Selfridges, McDonalds and Costa Coffee.

Food and Drink Heroes’ founder Francesca James said that all the finalists were exceptional: “The outstanding level of this year’s finalists have proved us right in thinking that UK food and drink entrepreneurs deserved an awards programme of their own to showcase the breadth of the industry.

“The competition was fierce, so those who were shortlisted should be assured that they have demonstrated an incredible level of determination, entrepreneurial spirit and drive.”

The final was held at Ideas Fest in Wickham

I wonder what this whirlwind journey of starting a business has felt like for Ms Webb. “Crazy! When I think about the fact that I created this brand just three and half years ago, it blows my mind,” she says.

“But I have loved every second of it and I’ve learnt so many valuable lessons along the way. I have a mentor who gives me great advice, including ‘fail fast, learn from it quickly and move on’.

“I think it’s important that you’re not afraid of failure; things will go wrong, they always do, and you learn from them, which makes you stronger and better at what you do.

“Remember, it’s not the end of the world. Yes there have been sleepless nights, but that’s all part of the journey, and I’m loving every second of it.”

She tells us how it felt to win the award. “I’m absolutely honored to have won this award - there were some amazing finalists in my category so it’s a real privilege to have won,” she beams.

“In terms of what’s next for Caleño, we are now a team of almost 20, and we are extremely ambitious with our plans and goals... So, watch this space!”