Elemental Cornish Gin: a local brand with a big, sustainable, dream

WeWhoDo sat down with Joe Woolley, Owner of the Cornish Gin Distillery, to discuss how sustainability is built into the very heart of the product.

Tell us about your Elemental Cornish Gin journey so far…

Joe: The idea to take over Elemental came about in summer 2019. I wanted to change what I was doing and I was looking into acquisition. My wife and I had been living in London and more recently Witney. When I happened across The Cornish Gin Distillery something just drew me in and with Nicki being the gin-drinker in the family, let’s just say she didn’t take much persuasion…It had initially been set up as a semi-retirement project by the previous owners with the distillery at the back of the garden. With a lot of planning and many a gin (of few) later, my wife and I, with our toddler, took a leap of faith. The dream has always been to raise our daughter in the country and near the sea – but we certainly hadn’t envisaged having a gin distillery at the bottom of the garden!

As you can imagine, COVID threw everything into turmoil. Before we took it over, the company had virtually no online presence. The majority of our trade was local markets and events with a little wholesale. This meant that with everything shut, it was hard to generate any revenue or get anything new off the ground. We (well, Nicki) got to work on the, almost dormant, social media side of things and we started shipping across the country. Within the first 6 weeks of this launch, we’d sold more online than the company had in over 2½  years. Combined with our recently launched website, our significantly improved online presence and access to the online market is something we’re very proud of. 

I’d also like to add that it was brilliant how welcomed we’ve felt down here by our neighbours and community as well as the local markets that we’ve been able to continue Elemental’s presence at. They’ve done a great job of getting open and supporting the communities while complying with the constantly shifting COVID complexities.

What are you doing in the sustainability space? 

Joe: Sustainability has always been important for us and we’ve always tried to be environmentally conscious. Whether that means picking up other people’s litter left on the beach, or choosing to buy the more sustainable product, when we can. This mindset has really come to the forefront since having our little girl and the realisation that if change doesn’t happen, soon, the world we are leaving to her, and future generations, is not the world that they deserve. Our hope is that the more ‘little guys’ doing sustainable things, the more precedent it will set, and it will slowly but surely become the norm for small and large businesses alike. It is all about shifting a culture and we are excited to be a part of that.

To that end, we’ve begun changing and improving the way we do things at the distillery. We’re small and doing this with minimal resources, but we have to start somewhere. Distilling uses a lot of electricity, so we’ve switched on to a 100% renewable provider. We have worked hard with our designer to create a beautiful new bottle (which, obviously, is recyclable) but ultimately, we hope, reusable. 

We’re moving to use FCS certified paper for all of our labels; biodegradable corks; as well as switching from wax seals, which although look lovely, are not biodegradable. We will be switching to topping each bottle with a biodegradable eco-seal. 

We’re tired of seeing plastic bags on our beaches, so you’ll find us using paper ones if you buy something from our market stall(s). Almost all of our packaging is recyclable, if it’s not, it’s likely because we’re reusing material that has been sent in packages to us. We have recently started sourcing all of our retail packaging from Felxihex, a local Cornish brand that makes awesome eco-friendly, all cardboard, packaging.  

We’re excited that we are in a position where we can make a change and actually make a product that people can enjoy. 

Where do you see the company in 5 years time?

Joe: We would like to be entirely carbon neutral and aim to be a carbon negative company. We are super aware that it is one thing to talk about and another thing to do it, and we are exploring ways of getting there – as well as planting trees.

We would also like to become a national brand, and although we haven’t yet branched out of Cornwall, we are confident in our product and brand. It has been a conscious decision to keep our gin at a reasonable price and it is a comfortable price point for people to enjoy it.

While the ambition is to grow substantially, it is important for us not to lose our local, community feel. So while we expand, we will still be at markets and events down here in Cornwall. In the next 5 years, and hopefully sooner, we would love to build a fully eco distillery and visitor centre. It would be amazing to share our gin’s story and also show how we operate, powered by our own little renewable energy project.

This article has been posted as part of the Sustainable Start-up Series run by WeWhoDo:  building a community of world-leading experts to help sustainable businesses thrive. For more information about Elemental Gin, check out their site here: https://www.elementalgin.co.uk/

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