Entrepreneur's new drinks brand breakthrough hit by glass shortage

Henry Chevallier Guild has suffered a setback for his new drinks brand, Nonsuch Shrubs, over a worldwide glass shortage

Debenham drinks entrepreneur Henry Chevallier Guild at his Nonsuch Shrubs stand at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival - Credit: Sarah Chambers

Drinks entrepreneur Henry Chevallier Guild has been hit by a worldwide glass shortage - just as his new business takes off.

The Debenham businessman jointly owned Suffolk cider and vinegar brand Aspall before selling it to US drinks giant Molson Coors in 2018.

The brothers were the eighth generation of the family to brew the celebrated drink, which began in Suffolk in 1728 and is still based at Aspall Hall.

But now Henry's latest drinks venture - Nonsuch Shrubs - is likely to run out of stock just as he reaches the crucial Christmas period - because he can't get hold of the right bottles.

Henry saw an opening in the hospitality drinks market for non-alcoholic drinks. He tested and developed a series of sweet-sour vinegar-based flavours from his Debenham home and set up a new business in 2017/18.

Now global shortages have put the brakes on his promising new venture - just as volumes and orders were really starting to pick up ahead of the vital festive season.

"I was supposed to receive new bottles in August/September and I got told a week or so ago I would not see them until February. I will lose Christmas and Dry January which are two of the most important trading months of my year - I just can't get that back," he says.

"It took us about six months to find this bottle and that was when there was lots of glass around. There's a huge shortage of glass - it's a global thing."

Henry spent 2019 working on developing markets for his products and decided to pivot to syrup concentrates rather than ready-to-drink bottles.

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He was due to launch into the hospitality market in 2020 and was trying to develop a market across around 60 or 70 independent outlets when the pandemic struck.

During the brief interlude between lockdowns last year, hospitality businesses were focused on survival rather than innovation, and the various launch plans were shelved. In one case a small London hotel group where he was planning a launch was then offered a very lucrative deal with a bigger player and he had to pull out.

"It's tough," he admits. "You want to be really, really furious about it but I would probably do the same in their shoes."

Luckily, he has kept his cost base low - but he admits his approach now is "hoping for the best and planning for the worst".

"The whole thing has made me very, very pragmatic in terms of control the things you can control," he says. "Everywhere is pinched at the moment."

Ironically, he has just finished a "very, very encouraging" two days at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival where his products were very well received. While he believes the supply issue will pass, he is more concerned about the deeper effects of the pandemic on people's socialising behaviour and whether that will shrink potential markets.

"I think it's the economic fall-out we really don't know where that's going to go," he says. "I think there's a lot more to come out and it's really hard to get a bead on people's behaviour." This is the first time during the course of the pandemic that he has thought seriously about whether to mothball his venture, he admits. "Is everyone going to go back to the pubs as they did before?" he says.

Henry and brother Barry lost their father, John Chevallier Guild, who died aged 86 on June 18, 2020, of natural causes. Henry says he was grateful that he and wife Lizzie were able to nurse and spend time with him in his final months while the pandemic raged.

John transformed the ancient family business, building up the brand from the 1970s onwards before handing over the reins to his two sons in the 1990s. The sons were able to take it to the next level before it was snapped up by Molson Coors.