Cover Flora Ma and Jonathan Der are shaking up the drinks business (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

Business partners Jonathan Der, 33, and Flora Ma, 32, are the brains behind Only, Hong Kong’s first zero-sugar, zero-carb and gluten-free vodka soda in a can

How did you both meet?

Der: Flora’s husband and I went to the same university. When he moved to Hong Kong seven years ago, we got in touch and clicked right away. Flora and I became fast friends shortly after.

Were you both always in the food and beverage business?

Ma: Other than my stint as a restaurant hostess in my early twenties, this is my first foray into the F&B business. I have always worked in business and finance. After I moved to Hong Kong in 2015, I worked for Ernst & Young’s audit and management consulting groups and Goldman Sachs’s equity sales and corporate access teams.

Der: The only F&B experience I had before Only was a summer job washing dishes in high school. I moved to Hong Kong to reconnect with my family’s roots for what was supposed to be a three-month exchange programme with City University, but I loved Hong Kong so much that I decided to stay.

How did this concept come about?

Ma: We’re both from Vancouver, and whenever we go back to visit, we notice more and more people gravitating towards “healthier- for-you” ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. We saw these health- conscious, convenient drinks become a staple in Vancouver’s social scene. They were appearing everywhere: from beach BBQs to boat trips, and from house parties to restaurants and bars. I wondered why Hong Kong was experiencing a drought of innovative, “better-for- you” beverage options.

Der: After researching the viability of this business in Hong Kong, we decided to pursue this venture together, launching our brand in the summer of 2021. 

What is the inspiration behind the name Only?

Ma: We wanted a name which communicated the purity and essential nature of our approach. Our primary ingredients are premium alcohol, sparkling water and true-to-fruit natural flavours. So we figured why not name our brand “Only”?

Der: We also like to say our products are the only drinks you need and they are perfect for any occasion—be it a BBQ, a beach day, a boat trip or a house gathering. The name just came to us and we found that it represented the key pillars of our brand perfectly.

What can you tell us more about the two vodka soda flavours?

Der: Tahitian Lime is our elevated take on the classic cocktail comprised of vodka, soda, and lime—it’s crisp, zesty and refreshing. The Yuzu Ginger spices things up a bit, with exotic citrus notes from the yuzu and just the right amount of bite from the ginger. 

If you had to pick a celebrity spokesperson, who would it be?

Der: Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds. Ma: Both of these celebrities exude a healthy, fun and positive attitude towards work and life, and they seem like genuinely good people— they embody what Only is all about. 

Did you get your friends involved in the taste testing ahead of launch?

Der: Absolutely—our friends have played a major role in our journey from day one.

Ma: We held what felt like a hundred taste tests, where we invited dozens of our close friends to sample the products. Each time, we’d gather their feedback via surveys and refine the flavours with our development partner in Australia. After several rounds, we settled on what we believed were the perfect recipes for each of our flavours. The tasting sessions were some of the best memories we’ve had so far. 

How and with whom is an Only Beverage best enjoyed?

Der: Only Vodka Soda is best enjoyed ice cold, straight from the can and in the good company of your friends and loved ones.

See also: Hong Kong’s Only Vodka Soda is the Newest Option for Health-Conscious Drinkers

 

 

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