Born out of passion and purpose, Hong Kong’s new hard iced tea label, Local, was launched last month by one of the city’s well-known rugby personalities, Conor Hartley. In a one-on-one with the co-founder, Conor shares about his entrepreneurial beginnings, the inspiration behind the new concept, and the unique flavours of the energising, delicious, craft hard iced tea.
Hong Kong Rugby Union professional player, Conor Hartley, decided to embark on a new career direction, venturing into the ready-to-drink space with the launch of a refreshing new hard iced tea, Local. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Conor has been playing rugby professionally for more than six years in Hong Kong.
When the ongoing pandemic put a sudden halt to the city, as well as the professional sports industry, the athlete found a new hustle to advance his drive for success. Husband-wife duo Conor and Selena Hartley launched their original drinks label less than a month ago, introducing a fresh and health-conscious concept with their electrolyte-rich, sugar, carb, and caffeine-free, low-calorie hard iced tea.
Athlete turned founder, Conor, sat down with Hive Life and walked us through his journey of getting started in Hong Kong’s F&B industry, Local’s unique flavour inspirations, and more.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Conor Hartley, originally from the UK from the Southwest of England. I studied exercise and sports science, and came out to play rugby in Hong Kong, picking up a professional contract with the Hong Kong national team in my first year here. I have done that for six and a half years and everything an expat would have done- teaching English, playing rugby, and essentially with the rugby drinking culture, drank my fair share. This brings us to today with a dream and a wish!
How did you come up with the concept behind your hard iced tea brand, Local?
I was thinking about what to do after rugby because it had been my life through school and university, and I came to Hong Kong for rugby. Then all of a sudden it was finished, and I spoke with my wife about what I was going to do, and I wanted to be meeting people and working for myself, essentially.
After brainstorming multiple ideas, we settled on an alcoholic beverage, Local, and it is a relatively small market in Hong Kong at the moment.
Could you share the thought process behind the name “Local”?
We went through a few different names, and [Selena] being local Hong Kong Chinese, suggested “Local.” It is a very commonly used word to describe a local Hong Kong person.
On our website, we have defined “locals” as someone who is inhabiting a place or a space. Even though I am, an expat, and a Westerner, I would consider myself more local than most. I have a reasonable understanding of Cantonese, can hold conversations, have adopted the Hong Kong culture, and much more.
It is a pretty fitting name, short and sharp, and a play on the word local, [plus] low calorie. Also, in the UK, when you go down to your local, it means you’re going down to your local pub, so it pays a little homage to that.
It does not matter who you are, or where you are from, you can still be a local somewhere.
What inspired you to start your own label?
The entrepreneurial journey suited my personality, was a huge learning process for me, and it still is going to be until the end.
[It was to simply] create something that I can be proud of and know that I am capable of building something bigger than myself, something that I can bring fun and put my personality into, and hopefully, other people can enjoy and feel through the brand and content we create.
We work very hard but try to not take ourselves too seriously, I think that balance is very important. That’s why we wanted to create an alcoholic beverage for people who enjoy that balance and share those values. I think that is what inspired me quite a bit, not wanting to be stuck by the desk, [but instead] being out and about, talking to people, and enjoying my time.
Why did you choose hard iced tea?
Tea is huge in Asia, whether in Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, or others, we wanted it to be natural, and tea has plenty of good connotations and health benefits. The idea of the tea [came as an] homage to how important tea is in local culture; we have tea for many things, from Chinese medicine to tea ceremonies when you get married, and everything.
This is a Vietnamese black brewed tea, with 4.5% [alcohol] and it is low calorie, sugar-free, caffeine-free, and with zero carbs.
Have you always been interested in creating new fusion drinks?
[As a] creative person I love trying new things, and trying new stuff in the kitchen. Growing up with my brother, like a mixologist, he would try [to create] different drinks, whether they were bad or really good. This allowed me to branch out and be more creative with the brand and put my personality into it.
What was the process like setting up your own beverage label?
[We went through] plenty of trial and error- probably more errors than trials- and just getting the flavours were a big portion of that.
If you asked me two years ago, how do you start a drinks brand, I would have had no idea, but you sit down and you start looking at other brands and think how did they start? However, you’ll find more often than not skills can be easily transferred. Rugby has got nothing to do with making a brand, but when you chalk up the skills needed for those it is quite similar. Discipline, attention to detail, and trying to be intrinsically motivated, especially when you are starting a brand and not necessarily getting any results, you have still got to think about what the end goal is.
Can you introduce us to Local’s different flavours?
We currently have blueberry, peach, and lemon. Everybody has heard of lemon tea, Hong Kong Dong Leng Cha. The peach flavour tastes like peach tea, and blueberry has a nice rich taste.
[We created flavours] that are recognisable, and easy to attribute to memory, time, and place- where you have had that or you tasted it before. Even though they have separate flavour profiles, they come together quite nicely.
What is great is that everyone who has tried [Local] has a different favourite. The key here is that it is refreshing, a healthier alternative, and has less guilt attached to it.
How is Local a healthy alternative to other alcoholic beverages?
It is zero sugar, zero carbs, low calorie, and we do not have any preservatives. We are also vegan friendly, and have a natural Vietnamese black brewed tea, with no caffeine. For the alcohol, we use alcohol derived from sugar cane that is the same base alcohol that is used in vodka, rum, bitters, and other liquors, so there are no additives.
What makes us really stand out is that we have added electrolytes to our hard iced tea. Being a rugby player, it is important to replenish your electrolytes, especially after [playing]. There is nothing really like this in Hong Kong aimed at people who are active and [spend a majority of their time] outdoors. These flavours are nice and subtle, and just as refreshing.
Who is your target market?
People that connect with us try to get the most out of life, and enjoy fun, but are also health conscious, and who work hard but party harder. We are giving another option for these people to have more choices while leaning towards more health-conscious individuals, and young professionals looking to keep up with the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.
How did you navigate your way through the market while establishing Local?
I think surrounding yourself with people who know what they are talking about, as you need to talk to people who are already in the game. And use your network- “Your network is your net worth,” remember that!
Just always learn, and keep filling your head with knowledge and information. Do not be scared of people telling you their experiences. Take it on board and translate it into something that you can then do.
Do you have any tips on how to get started in the industry?
You have to just go for it, because there is no better way of learning than now.
You need to just try and not be afraid to mess up. Build your knowledge of drinks, brands, and again, that might require quite a bit of drinking! And even if you know a little bit, do your research.
What is your go-to alcoholic beverage?
My go-to drink before Local would have been a cross between a Dark and Stormy and a Moscow Mule. It would be spiced rum, ginger beer, a squeeze of lime, and for an extra bit of cheekiness, a bit of lime cordial.
What can we look forward to seeing from Local?
Some great content! We will have events, and are doing a giveaway now, with more prizes to let people see our personality come through.
Where is Local available for purchase?
You can go onto our website drinklocal.hk, and if you order Monday to Friday before midday, you will get next-day delivery, all over Hong Kong.
We are going to get into retail, so keep up to date on our Instagram and our website!