Bio-engineer and entrepreneur Charlotte Matthys (27) appeared in the Forbes ‘30 under 30 Europe’ in May with her company Nona. She creates non-alcoholic alternatives to spirits. ‘The recipe is secret, otherwise I cannot protect it’.
Charlotte Matthys studied bioengineering in Ghent and, like most students, she regularly found herself in the pub on a weeknight. There, she noticed that the non-alcoholic beverage selection was rather limited. She decided to look for a solution for the lack of mature flavours and started with her favourite drink: gin.
More than full-time
Together with her professors at Ghent University, she started developing a non-alcoholic alternative. She used different herbs and steam distillation to extract the taste elements from the herbs without alcohol. ‘For a non-alcoholic drink, you need more herbs to get enough flavour. It is certainly not a cheap product.’
Matthys is not a taste expert herself, so she regularly asked for feedback from top chefs and sommeliers. She wanted the quality of flavour to come first and the first customers were exclusive parties, such as Michelin-starred restaurants. These also lacked tasty alternatives to cocktails, so they were the ideal customers for the product.
‘I am proud that prestigious restaurants want to buy our product’
After a year of development, Matthys founded her company Nona in December 2018, after the name of the first product: Nona June. ‘Nona refers to the Latin word for nine, because there are nine herbs in the gin, and June to the gin that inspired the drink.’ Since then, Matthys has been working more than full-time for her business, although it doesn’t feel like work to her. ‘It’s my passion.’ For the business side, she received help from marketing professors at Ghent University and from the VOKA business network.
When the covid crisis broke out, Nona shifted the focus to retail partners. That was earlier than planned, but because the catering industry had virtually stagnated, the company had to rely on the retail sector. Six months ago it launched its second product, the Nona Spritz. Currently the Nona drinks can be ordered through Gall&Gall and from June onwards they will also be available in the physical shops.
In May Matthys won a place in the European Forbes 30 under 30 in the category Retail&E-commerce, something to be proud of. ‘It is a nice recognition for the work we do. I hope it will open doors to internationalisation and enthuse partners. But I am actually even more proud that prestigious businesses want to buy our product.’
Nona now produces more than 100,000 bottles a year. Matthys is still present at the production, because she is the only one who knows the recipe. ‘That’s how it has to be, otherwise you can’t protect your product.’
Who is Charlotte?
What and where did you study?
‘Bio-engineering and a master’s degree in food technology and nutrition at Ghent University.’
What motivates you in your work?
‘The fact that I can work independently and can set my own pace. And that people are enthusiastic about the product. The fact that if they don’t want to or can’t drink alcohol they don’t have to compromise on taste and quality.’
What are your short-term ambitions?
‘We want to hire ten more people, especially operational staff and sales people abroad. We would also like to be better known in the Netherlands, Germany and France.’
What are your long-term ambitions?
‘Difficult to say. You want your company to grow well and for the top restaurants worldwide to have the product. I hope to still be part of it then. I am going to take every step now with the long term in mind.’