Some might say it was a groundbreaking move for a 250 year old business built on distilled beverages, but for Diageo it highlighted the company’s ability to recognise the opportunities present in a niche, but rapidly growing drinks category.
‘Solving the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking’, Seedlip is the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit, and along with a handful of innovative startups, the brand is meeting the needs of consumers looking for a healthier, yet sophisticated alternative to alcohol.
“There definitely seems to be a lot of latent demand for a more adult alternative to alcohol, that SEEDLIP is beginning to solve,” explained founder Ben Branson.
“I’m not sure anyone ever said: ‘I know what I could really do with right now, a non-alcoholic spirit and tonic’ but we have found that when we highlight the problem, Seedlip becomes the perfect solution.”
Launched in November 2015, Seedlip currently produces two different spirits, allowing those not drinking, the same social rituals of ordering or making an alcoholic beverage.
Available to purchase in the UK at Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols, with an RRP of £27.99, the groundbreaking beverages have already been championed by Michelin-starred chefs including Gordon Ramsay.
Currently served in a host of upmarket bars in London, including Dandelyan, The Savoy, and the Chiltern Firehouse, Branson predicts that as interest in the adult non-alcoholic drinks industry continues to grow, he will be able to scale Seedlip in other markets including the US.
“This trend is already visible in the USA, especially on the West Coast, and will most likely be seen developing throughout Western Europe and further afield over the coming years,” he explained.
“The non-alcoholic drinks category is still very much in the early stages here in the UK and there is a long way to go but there is also a lot of scope which is hugely encouraging as this is a trend that is here to stay, grow and last,” he added.
As less people choose to consume alcohol (UK government stats show a drop in 26 per cent between 2002 and 2012), or swap out sugary drinks for healthier alternatives, Branson isn’t the only entrepreneur with his eye on the shifting market.
Rebekah Hall, co-founder of British raw juice brand Botanic Lab also has her finger on the pulse.
Launching, BOTANICS, a new range of premium organic cold-pressed soft drinks in August this year, alongside business partner Christophe Reissfelder, the duo have secured a partnership with All Bar One; a chain of stylish city bars, which currently stock their juices at 50 venues across the UK.
Designed specifically with social drinking in mind, BOTANICS is made up of three botanically enhanced, cold-pressed adult drinks that draw into question common perceptions of ‘healthy drinks’ and bring sophistication, complexity and exceptional flavours to the on-trade.
“The new BOTANICS line brings sensuality and functionality along with the inimitable Botanic Lab innovation that is so valued by our customers, to a brand new audience at All Bar One,” explained Hall.
“Our drinks offer boldly sophisticated choices for anyone seeking a clean uplifting kick in a social environment,” she added.
Having always targeted the adult drink category, Hall revealed that with the new line they decided to take notice of the way that people consume beverages in the UK.
With casual dining and social drinking making up such a large part of consumption, she says that it made sense to produce a range of high quality and innovative drinks that were available in those environments.
“People don’t want to just have the option of a soda or water, but at the same time, drinking a green juice with lunch is challenging from a flavour perspective,” she explained.
Despite the rise in consumer demand, convincing bars and retailers to stock non-alcoholic beverages alongside alcohol can still prove difficult.
“The on-trade as a whole is very entrenched in the way it works, but bars and retailers need to accept new ways of working; challenging logistics, quicker stock turn around, and different margin arrangements. The consumer is demanding it so they have no choice other than to respond,” argued Hall.
In order to try and avoid these potential roadblocks, some savvy startups are meeting the market halfway.
Twisted Halo, a blend of coconut water twisted with ginger and muddled with premium vodka, meets the demand for healthier adult drinking options, without dropping the alcohol content completely.
Combining unusual, sophisticated flavour combinations with natural ingredients, at 90 calories per 275ml bottle, founder Jess Titcumb says that her product has the potential to disrupt the industry considerably, by creating a narrative people believe and become invested in.
According to Titcumb, the current market is saturated with ‘diet’ versions of popular favourites, which do nothing but contribute to blurring the lines between what people believe to be good or perceive as a healthier version of a product. She says, “they do more harm to the body than good”.
What sets Twisted Halo apart, is that it embraces the health-conscious consumer honestly.
“As it currently stands alcoholic drinks do not fall under the same labelling requirements as food and soft drink products, it is not a requirement to specifically list the ingredients in ready mixed alcoholic drinks,” Titcumb explained.
“When developing the recipe for Twisted Halo this was something I was very conscious of. I wanted to create a drink and lifestyle brand that enhances the fact that life is all about living a balanced lifestyle and to encourage active living and healthy eating. I only wanted to use natural ingredients and vowed to never add sugar to our recipes.”
Kevin Folk, co-owner and chief operating officer at Canadian beverage brand Social Lite Vodka echoes this sentiment.
Developed for consumers searching for ‘better-for-you’ options, the all natural and gluten-free mixed vodka beverage, is designed to be ‘a clean drink people can ‘have at night, and still wake up to go for a run the next morning without feeling sluggish.’
“We see huge opportunity in this space,” Folk told Welltodo.
“Here in Canada there are new products that are trying to address this trend of ‘better-for-you’, but many are still quite sweet and consumers are having to make a compromise. With Social Lite, they don’t have to make that compromise.”
Over in the US market, a host of ‘healthier’ alcohol brands including Truly Spiked and Sparkling and Voco Vodka are following suit. However, for the category to really grow, greater distribution must be achieved.
As more businesses begin to navigate the relationship between alcohol and wellbeing, the opportunities for the distribution of ‘health-conscious’ alcohol or alcohol alternatives is on the rise.
Wellvyl, a new kind of wellness club, hosting unique wellness-inspired events in New York and Los Angeles, invites guests to try out different workouts followed by drinks and networking, while overseas, British boutique fitness studio 1Rebel, recently opened an in-house bar in its St Mary Axe studio.
But, encouraging more mainstream bars and supermarket chains to stock these type of beverages alongside alcohol, is where the real opportunities lie.
Titcumb recognises that as more new brands begin to enter the space, it will be exciting to see if other beverage giants decide to follow Diageo’s lead. Perhaps, she speculates, it will encourage retailers to view the category more positively.
“The drinks industry as a whole has been slow to respond to changing consumer desires,” Hall added.
“However, health consciousness is not just a fad. It’s an evolution in the way we choose to live, and it’s reaching into every part of the lifestyle choices that we make. With the adult soft drinks industry so far behind, there is an obvious space for innovation from young businesses like ours.”