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Prime Time Lager

How Made in Chelsea made Prime Time Lager

Drink

Prime Time Lager is known for its Made in Chelsea founders - but it's unique health conscious approach have been it a genuine contender...

Disruption of different industries comes from many unexpected places, but few would have predicted Made in Chelsea would produce one of the hottest brands to hit the beer industry this side of BrewDog. And yet here is Prime Time Lager, the low-calorie, low-carb premium beer which is the work of MiC’s Harvey Armstrong and Sam Holmes, which is winning awards and making waves since launching in 2021. The idea is that the Prime Time range – which also has the world’s first low-calorie, caffeine-infused lager, Prime Time Caffeine – fills a gap for drinkers who want to retain their social lives in the pub but also maintain their fitness. Simple as that – as genius as that. You can see why it’s struck a chord with a generation that is more health conscious than ever before. We grabbed a word with Harvey and Sam to find out more…

Can you tell us the story? Take us back to how you two met and why you started the business…

Harvey: I met Sam on the way up to Newcastle. I was at university up there, and working down in London part time. I saw this guy with a crate of beer on his lap and then I recognized him, we had some mutual friends and I’d seen him on Instagram, that whole story, and we kind of met there. Then we met consecutively for three weeks after that and we just became best mates. Prime Time really birthed from a mutual love of beer and fitness and having a good time. That conflicting love triangle, whereby beers make us quite heavy, quite bloated, and when you’re trying to be out socialising, having a good time, you can’t balance it all while still trying to stay fit. That’s where the seed began and also seeing a gap in the market for caffeine-infused lager after noting the popularity of espresso martini’s and seeing there’s a clear consumer need there for caffeine and alcohol – which hadn’t included the most consumed form of alcohol: lager.

So that was really the seed, seeing the opportunity there. It’s also seeing consumers through lockdown really shift towards better-for-you living. You’ve got calories on menus, you’ve got people looking at longevity in life after lockdown. And then Sam himself did a big body transformation through lockdown. Then was going to the pub and trying to keep that physique while enjoying a beer. And there wasn’t a product out there that allowed for that lifestyle. So it was a hybrid opportunity and a passion project.

Prime Time Lager

That sounds exactly where men are at right now, the realities of men’s lives, where you want to do training, but also drink beer. That friendliness around where you can have the best of both worlds and not be judged, seems like a great angle…

Harvey: Yeah, completely. I think it’s so important to have that balance, especially for your mental health, to not just go to one extreme and cut out alcohol. To instead have that balance. It’s just a better for you product. It’s a more balanced alternative where you can go out and have fun with your mates, enjoy the good times while kind of not taking such a hit and have so many of the negatives.

That’s kind of the meaning behind the name Prime Time: feeling in your prime, feeling your best, the best you can be, enjoying life to its fullest.

Sam: We wanted to do an all-inclusive beer as well. We’re not just for your 18 to 25 year olds, we’re for your average bloke that has been drinking the same beer for the past 20 years, and is seeing the effects and wants to carry on going to the pub, but maybe wants to make those slight changes. It’s also for the girls that want to drink a pint but tend not to because it bloats them or it’s high in calories and will go for something that tastes horrible, like a vodka, lime and soda, instead of actually having a beer, which they might enjoy. So that’s the premise, is being all-inclusive and everyone being able to enjoy it.

How important was your transformation, then, over lockdown? To you personally and to the brand?

Sam: It happened at the most perfect time. I mean, I used to work in clubs before, so going into the booze industry seemed like a perfect fit. But this particular angle meant a lot to me because I was someone that went out a lot and drank a lot of beer, but couldn’t keep up with the fitness side of life which I’ve always loved. It was important, definitely, to focus on that side of things. I wanted to still be sociable, I didn’t want to be that type of person that goes completely to one end of the spectrum and then never goes out and sees their mates anymore. That was definitely not what I wanted to do, I wanted to be able to still go out and have a drink, but maintain that level of fitness. I always felt really guilty as well, for some reason. It’s a mental battle, isn’t it? When you’re training hard and then you go to the pub – you’re fighting your head the whole time thinking, ‘another pint, that’s another 300 calories, and that’s another 300 calories’, and then, no doubt, you go home and smash a pizza at the end of the night.

That’s why we like to be at all these active events and really surround ourselves with sports and fitness-focused type things.

Yeah, it’s been quite a big change around in the country over the last few years in how exercise and well-being has become such a part of every man’s daily life. Have you really noticed that amongst your peer groups?

Harvey: Massively. It’s the lockdown effect, really. I think people became a lot more body conscious and health conscious, because there was a moment where you’re like, actually, life can just change. We should probably look for reasons to prolong life and live better and have better choices and we’ve seen that massively in the uptake we’ve had from selling the beer. There’s a market there, it shows clearly that consumers are looking for this better-for-you product. The alcohol industry lags a bit in that sense compared to the food industry, where you’ve got calories on menus and it’s all about better-for-you products and sections, lower-calorie ready meals and everything is front and centre with low sugar, high protein, low carb, all this. It’s just not quite made its way across to the drinking space. And that’s what we’re trying to be, that better-for-you drink option, where, as Sam said, you try so hard in the gym all week and in the kitchen getting those marginal gains, but then you go to the bar and you ruin it all weekend or you do go for a vodka, soda, lime, which is you trying to drink better, but it’s not really the drink that people go to, to enjoy. It’s just because it’s alcohol and they’re trying to lighten all the calories that come with it through sacrificing what they actually like to drink. That’s definitely the shift we’re seeing. I think it’s only at the beginning, really.

Tell us a little bit about the beers themselves. How much testing was done, how did you get to what you wanted? What was that process like?

A lengthy one! It was the caffeine infused side that we started with and we did about three or four trials and errors with that. And then we actually employed an R&D [research and development] house, like guys in lab coats, to really look into science because we were running into issues, like the beer going flat or the caffeine collecting at the bottom detracting from the taste profile. So it was getting that right and then we started developing the actual brew, the recipe to then put the caffeine into, something that would taste great and hit all of our metrics of being low calorie, low carb. And then that again was probably another year of tweaking and trialling and making sure it was up to standard because first and foremost is ticking the box of it’s a great tasting beer, because no one wants to compromise that beer drinking experience and that’s what you go to enjoy. So that was kind of first and foremost. And then if could lower all the unnecessary calories and carbs, it was a bonus. We did about probably two and a half years of prelaunch, through lockdown as well when everything was closed, and we’re like, ‘we’re not launching now, so let’s refine and tweak it so we’re exactly where we want it’. And again, behind the words Prime Time was we knew we were going to launch at the back end of lockdown, when people were returning to their primes after being locked away for two years. There’s been a lot of background work.

Prime Time Lager

And how’s the reception been?

Harvey: It’s been great. We’re quite shocked by the uptake, really. We’re best-selling in some of our pubs, against some of the big guys, Guinness, Estrella, Peroni. We’ve won awards for taste as well. So, again, we’ve gone over and above what we thought in terms of we wanted a great beer, but it’s also low calorie, low carb. We’ve just won a Gold Award, actually, for our taste. It’s judged as your standard lager, so they don’t know that it’s low calorie, low carb, or even caffeine infused for that matter. It’s been really good.

Give us an idea of what it’s like to move into the beer industry as entrepreneurs and trying to break into that huge drinks industry?

Sam: It’s a fun one, it’s definitely competitive and it’s definitely crowded, and anyone trying to launch a standard beer these days is going to come unstuck. There’s just so many available. So, it was about being clear with our USBs and what we are, and how we are a separate offering to your standard lager. I think also we standout with our social media presence. I guess it’s helpful that we’ve got a large following. Harvey’s obviously filming the show regularly and we get great support from them. So when we go into a bar or pub and try and sell our product, we are selling a better-for-you product, which consumers are looking for now, but we’re also selling a social media spotlight which no other beer brand can offer. So when we’re doing events and activations, they’re getting circa a million eyeballs potentially on their venue through all the crew that we can bring down and our friends and the other cast members of the show. And that’s the fun part. We love to activate. Bread and butter for us is opening up an account and then bringing a great crowd down and showcasing the venue, showcasing the beer, and I think that’s why the pickup’s been so good, is that so many eyeballs do see it. They go looking for it. Whenever we leave London or go to visit an account, there’s someone there that watches the show. Being an award winning beer and having so many eyeballs on it does certainly help, that’s for sure.

What are your ambitions for it?

Harvey: We want to be an international, recognised brand, really. We’re ambitious, but also realistic in that it comes with baby steps and it’s a massive market. So we’re just trying to really take over London at the moment and branch into other cities in the UK which will fit our brand ethos well. More sport focused, more health-conscious areas. As Sam said, we’re an all-inclusive beer, so we’re not really pigeonholed to any kind of refined market anywhere. Like we just landed with a small airline and then we’re in your big boozy pub and then your nice restaurant, because we’re a beer offering that’s just better for you. We’re just trying to branch out and share our beer with the world.

How do you personally both keep your mental health in good shape?

Sam: With that one, we’re lucky that there’s two of us. We’re not strangers to each other. For business partners, we’re like best mates, so if there is any struggles, it’s easy to pick up the phone. It’s not one of those ones where you might feel there’s some sort of taboo or awkwardness about saying, ‘I’m struggling with this or can you help me with that?’ That’s definitely been a massive thing. If I’m ever struggling or I’m feeling overwhelmed or anything, I’ll just call Harvey and say, ‘this is how I’m feeling’, and vice versa him. Obviously there’s a lot going on in his world, in the beer and also the TV, and we just bounce off each other so well. That’s really how we deal with it. We’ve got a fantastic team. All the guys in the team here, they just love the mission that we’re on, really. And it’s a nice place to be.

It gets stressful, but we all have such good time together that it doesn’t really feel like work, I guess. It’s cliche, but I think we struck the right balance where we work hard, but we enjoy ourselves as well.

Harvey: Yeah, massively. I think that family element, is something Sam and I always said from the beginning. We want to create a family, not a business. We want to enjoy the journey, we want everyone around us, our employees to enjoy it too. And I think we’ve done that really well. Even in stressful times when things are going wrong or even just being out working later hours, it’s fun and everyone’s enjoying it and it’s a stress reliever in itself because we’re there as a family, just having a laugh. Having a partner who you can just voice your stresses to it almost divides up your stresses in half.

And then just the lifestyles we live. For me, it’s fitness, going to the gym, going for a run, using that as a release. Which is built into the Prime Time lifestyle. We try and promote it our staff as well. Just get out and get the gym a few times a week. It’s good for the mental state, good for the balance. So, yeah, we make sure we ingrain that as well.

And presumably with the beer, part of the message is simply to get people together, in order to experience those social situations and get help if you need it or just have fun if you need that….

Harvey: Exactly that. And again, I keep referencing the thought behind Prime Time, but another main thought was there is no moment, I find, because I’m quite an overactive mind and I’m ADHD and maybe overthinking a lot and there’s no time. I’m more in the present when I’m sat at the pub with my mates, having a beer, having a laugh. And that’s when I feel most in my prime. It’s just like that switch off. It’s when I don’t think about the past and the future, it’s just the now. I think there’s so much kind of around mental health, like men not speaking up, men not communicating enough and having that social life and having your mates around you, quite often over drinking beers and having a good time at pub, is so important, I think.

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