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Q&A: Joyce and Raissa de Haas

Dutch twins Joyce and Raissa de Haas founded premium mixer brand Double Dutch in 2015 after securing an initial investment from UCL to develop their first two flavours: Cucumber & Watermelon, and Pomegranate & Basil. Today the twins sell 750,000 mixers a month from a 10-strong range in 26 global markets.

Prior to Double Dutch had you launched any other business ventures?

Joyce: We had a few side hustles at university, including a fashion brand called Kiss Kiss. When we were around six years old we sold corn on our street and flowers on the beach.

What inspired you to launch Double Dutch?

Joyce: Our parents used to experiment with distilling at home for fun, so we grew up surrounded by batches of gin. While we were at uni in Belgium everyone was drinking beer, which we didn’t like, so we started making our own flavoured soda waters to mix with vodka and Tequila, and became known as the ‘tonic twins’.

While doing our masters at UCL in London we noticed that gin was booming, but mixers still lagged behind in terms of innovation, so we felt there was a gap in the market for a high-end brand that uses molecular techniques to enhance the flavours within specific spirits via shared chemical components.

Was it hard to be taken seriously when you started out?

Raissa: Being young and female, people didn’t take us as seriously at first, but winning industry awards and endorsements really helped. The drinks industry is still male dominated, but things are getting better, and there are a lot more support programmes for women in the industry now.

We try to look at it from a positive point of view and use the fact that we’re women and have a unique story to tell to our advantage – it helps us to stand out.

What new flavours are you working on?

Raissa: We’re working on two new flavours that we’re hoping to launch in October. I can’t reveal too much about them but they step away from gin and are strong in taste. We work with ingredients that share key aromas and come from similar families of plants. Our Pomegranate & Basil mixer has a hint of tomato in it as it pairs really well with basil.

How did the Heineken investment come about?

Joyce: We were introduced to Michel de Carvalho by a mutual friend and met him in Amsterdam. We had a great connection from the start, as Heineken is a fellow family-owned, female focused company with Dutch heritage. We want to become more international as a brand, and the Heineken family will help us to do that, particularly in the US, where we are keen to grow Double Dutch.

How has the mixers market changed since you entered the game?

Raissa: A lot of new brands have entered the market recently, which is a good thing as it gives consumers more choice. Flavoured tonics are becoming a lot more popular as opposed to traditional tonic waters.

Around 30% of the mixers we sell are enjoyed on their own rather than with a spirit. When we launched the company in 2015, we deliberately didn’t use quinine in our flavoured mixers so that they could be enjoyed as standalone sophisticated soft drinks for adults.

Where do you develop your new flavour combinations?

Raissa: In our kitchen in London. We make test batches with fruit and herbs that we turn into syrups and add carbonated water to them. If a flavour combination works we’ll send it to the lab for further development. We’ve had a lot of experimental disasters – pear and thyme was particularly unpleasant.

How big would you like to get as a company?

Joyce: We currently sell 750,000 mixers a month and have no fixed idea of how big we’d like to get, but we want to remain majority shareholders as we didn’t go into this business to exit it. We want to grow Double Dutch globally and turn it into a household name.

How have you had to adapt the business during lockdown?

Raissa: We used to sell 75% of our mixers in the on-trade, so we’ve had to shift our sales to retail and online. It was important to build our brand with bartenders in the on-trade, but consumer habits have changed and people are experimenting a lot with at-home mixology, which has become a new focus for us.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt since launching Double Dutch?

Joyce: If you want to start your own business, make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about, as you get a lot of knock backs in the beginning. Starting a business is very time consuming and involves a lot of sacrifices, so you have to really believe in your idea to succeed.

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