Sir Richard Branson’s setbacks: from Virgin Cola to Virgin Brides

The demise of the domestic carrier Little Red joins a string of the entrepreneur’s failures from makeup to bridalwear to alcohol

• Virgin Atlantic axes Little Red

Sir Richard Branson has made a fortune from a string of business ventures that bear his signature brand, including Virgin Trains and Virgin Media. But Little Red joins a series of failures that have seen Branson fail to break into lucrative markets including soft drinks and alcohol.

Virgin Cola
Launched in 1994, Virgin Cola was initially available only on Virgin planes and in Virgin cinemas before Branson sought wider distribution. “It tasted better than Coke. For one wonderful year we had the dream of Virgin Cola being the brand on everyone’s lips.” Instead, Branson claimed, “swat teams and bagfuls of money” sent from Coke’s Atlanta headquarters gobbled up his drink, whose market share peaked at 0.5% in the three years it was on sale in the US. In 2012, the UK producer went bust and no one else acquired the licence.

Virgin Vodka
A complementary spirit was born at the same time, but never came close to gaining the same traction – with other alcopop and energy drinks also failing to whet the appetite. The entire Virgin Drinks subsidiary has since folded.

Virgin Brides
Launched in 1996 with one of Branson’s most striking publicity shoots: he appeared beardless with blue eye shadow in a wedding dress. Its remaining store, in Manchester, closed in 2007. “I think because there aren’t many virgin brides, it never really took off,” Branson later ruminated. “Or maybe it was the picture that put people off.”

Virgin Vie
Launching the cosmetics venture in 1997, Branson said he expected more than the makeup line to be in100 high street stores within five years. But the venture never really took off, and by 2008 Virgin had to pay an £8.8m dowry and write off £21m of debt for new management to take it off his hands. The resulting high street business was wound up in 2010.

Virgin Clothing
One of the most shortlived of all Branson’s business gambits, a range of men and women’s wear was launched in 1998, targeting high street clothing stores, but wound up within two years. Analysts said the brand never caught on with the younger target market, who were dubious about the price and the fashion credentials of the jumper-wearing tycoon. There were hopes for an underwear line after another firm licensed the Virginware brand to produce lingerie, but the firm collapsed in 2005.

Contributor

Gwyn Topham, transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic plans stock market listing
Move is airline’s attempt to shore up balance sheet after £659m loss due to Covid pandemic

Sarah Butler

08, Aug, 2021 @4:22 PM

Article image
Richard Branson to sell $500m worth of Virgin Galactic shares
Billionaire puts more than fifth of stake up for sale to help prop up airline and rest of group

Rob Davies

11, May, 2020 @3:05 PM

Article image
Richard Branson facing backlash over plea for UK bailout of Virgin
Campaigners and politicians point to tycoon’s wealth, while aviation industry backs him

Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

12, Apr, 2020 @5:05 PM

Article image
Delta Air Lines buys 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic

Richard Branson insists deal does not sound death knell for Virgin Atlantic brand – despite Willie Walsh's speculation

Simon Bowers

11, Dec, 2012 @6:44 PM

Article image
Virgin Atlantic to launch London-to-Manchester service
Move comes days after Sir Richard Branson's rail business lost franchise for same route

Dan Milmo

20, Aug, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Heathrow airport expansion essential, says Virgin’s Richard Branson
Branson calls on UK politicians to be brave and ‘bite the bullet’ by aiming for two new runways at Heathrow

Gwyn Topham, transport correspondent

24, Oct, 2014 @6:46 PM

Article image
Benevolence of Richard Branson and Virgin Group
Letters: Nicholas Fox of Virgin Group responds to an article by Marina Hyde. Plus a letter by Dr Richard O’Brien

Letters

24, Apr, 2020 @4:47 PM

Article image
Virgin empire: from selling records to running trains and airline
The rise and rise of Richard Branson's brand Virgin

Dan Milmo

15, Aug, 2012 @9:17 PM

Article image
Sir Richard Branson's Virgin deals
The tycoon will net a cash windfall of about £550m from the sale of the US budget airline Virgin America to Alaska Air. It’s not his only big deal …

Sean Farrell

04, Apr, 2016 @5:35 PM

Article image
Virgin brands: What does Richard Branson really own?
Richard Branson's Virgin group is a diverse array of businesses – few wholly owned by the unconventional entrepreneur himself

Richard Wachman

08, Jan, 2012 @12:06 AM