An amazing business idea passed through Shirley’s mind during her father’s 80th birthday party in 2017.
As she gazed around the room full of guests her thoughts turned to the homemade drinks they were consuming – ginger beer and sorrel – and how these are often sold in understated plastic reusable bottles on the shelves of many Caribbean restaurants and takeaways. Shirley says, “I thought, surely there’s a better way of presenting this? My and my children’s generation, are not going to do what my father’s generation and the generation before did, which is making the drinks at home.”
Shirley’s background was miles away from the drinks industry. After spending time working for local government, she spied an ad in the Evening Standard that caught her eye and went along to a wine and cheese evening – which landed her a customer services role in the world of Market Data and investment banking. After 30 years working in the City for companies Telerate, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, she was ready for her next challenge – the birth of OTC Beverages. OTC offers those same drinks served at her father’s 80th birthday party; sorrel and non-alcoholic ginger beer in bottles and cans (a third flavor coming soon!). These drinks are now stocked in take-aways and corner shops across London.
Although beverages are a new industry for her, Shirley says there have been plenty of transferable skills from her former life in finance. “It’s the skills I acquired from project management and juggling a number of programs within large organizations,” she explains. “It’s also speaking to a lot of people, asking questions and ultimately doing research. I used all those skills to look for the right people to work with, networking, and assessing how the packaging and bottle design was going to look. In the end it’s all about people, and how you get on with them.”
From the start, Shirley knew she didn’t want to be brewing up drinks in her own kitchen, but says it took some time to perfect the recipes in the factory. She adopted a less-is-more philosophy to their formulation – keeping the various components to a minimum and using only identifiable quality ingredients such as organic cane sugar instead of artificial sweetener. She emphasizes the natural health benefits of ginger and sorrel, as well as their potential in an ever-growing market for no- and low-alcohol drinks. And her flavors are already proving popular, with OTC Beverages shortlisted for a number of accolades including the Great British Food Awards in 2020. In the summer of 2021, OTC received an award for the ‘Best Traditional Caribbean Drink Company’ at the annual Lux Life Magazine Food & Drink event.
Shirley is now working to bring her products to more locations in London, and has plans for the rest of the world as well. There’s a few logistical wrinkles to iron out, although her medium term goal is to bring her sorrel and ginger beer to America and Africa.. “It’s at the age where I’m growing the brand, I’m building momentum, and when consumers go to a shop to purchase a drink, I want OTC to be an identifiable brand of choice”.
For more information and to place your order, visit: www.otcbeverages.com