If you wanted to write a book on the best way to launch a new drinks brand then get top bartenders to help create the drinks with you and then recruit some of the best, most respected and connected talent to help lead the business and you’ve got more than half your book written. Which is exactly what the founders of Mocktails did when they came up with the idea of creating authentic, naturally made alcohol-free ready-to-drink cocktails that top venues and bars would happily have in their venues from day one. Richard Siddle sits down with two of the ‘talents’ behind Mocktails, Ed Gerard, chief commercial officer and Chris Rowe, head of UK sales, to help write the rest of that book.
Mocktails is made from freshly sourced ingredients from around the world and has set out to shun all artificial ingredients and preservatives – all in the bid to create top quality alcohol-free cocktails for the premium on and off-trade.
Ed Gerard had a very good reason for wanting to leave his role as head of drinks buying at Harrods and join a start-up alcohol-free cocktails business. “I just had to meet the guy who had managed to get the URL of Mocktails.com,” he says.
Clearly there was a little bit more to it than that, but it was still, on paper at least, quite a jump back in the summer of 2020 to go from the top of the tree in drinks buying at Harrods, to a business that had Harrods at the top if its stockist wish list.
In fact, that is how Gerard first met up with Mocktails founder and chief executive, Bill Gamelli. Gamelli was keen to show him what the brand, which started life in the US, was all about whilst he was still in his role at Harrods.
“We met up and I really liked him and the liquid. Everything in the market I had tasted was not up to that level,” says Gerard.
The whole no & lo alcohol category had also been particularly important and relevant to his buying role at Harrods with them having such a large Middle Eastern and non-drinking customer base.
“I had been following the category closely since around 2018, as well as premium soft drinks and water, and there was nothing really out there that was meeting the expectations of the adult palate,” explains Gerard.
But it was clear to him that the market for alternative to alcohol products was going to be huge – it was just the case of backing the right brands.
Which is was made him make the jump at the start of the pandemic and put his faith in Mocktails, a brand he believes is by far the best at what it does in the market. A brand that stakes its reputation on only sourcing natural ingredients for each of the alcohol-free, ready-to -drink products in its range – be it Tuscany to find the right Sangiovese grapes to make its Sansgria, or the forests of South East Asia to find the Carthamus flower that goes into its Mockapolitan.
“I can remember we were driving to see the grandparents with our newly born baby and stopped at Thurrock Services for a nappy change. Whilst I was putting the new nappy on my pocket phoned Bill (Gamelli) by mistake and we got talking about how he was looking to expand his team and looking for someone senior to come in. Perhaps it was just fate.”
He was also excited about the challenge of joining a business right at its beginning where he could really make a difference. “I love forward momentum and like being at the centre of fast moving markets with great potential where I can have a big influence,” he says.
You also have to look at the bigger picture, he adds. Where is the drinks category going to be in 20 to 30 years time? How does he want to spend the next 20 to 30 years of his career? Putting yourself front and centre of what is expected to be the phenomenal rise in the alcohol-free and no & lo drinks category over that time and suddenly making that jump out of Harrods starts to make a lot more sense.
You only have to look at the long term business strategies of the major drinks companies and big brewers with the likes of AbInBev, Heineken, Asahi, San Miguel all claiming no & lo sales will be 20% to 30% of their revenue within 10 years. The overall non-alcoholic drinks category is set to be worth $30 billion by 2025 (Global Market Insights). In the US non-alcoholic spirits grew 113.4%, beer by 31.7%, and wine 39.4% between 2020 to 2021 (Nielsen).
Gerard believes the whole category could be worth $200bn in 50 years time as the category evolves and innovates into new areas away from being products that are alternatives to alcohol to offering more functional and health benefits.
It has already happened in other major food areas, stresses Gerard, pointing to the
dairy sector which has taken around 10 to 15 years to get genuine alternative products into the market. Then there has been the alternative meat category that has taken 10 years to take hold and now we have drinks which is seeing a real wave of change must faster than that, he says.
Doing well by doing good
What’s more, the core principles of Mocktails, and the philosophy of Gamelli, is to create a brand and a business that is all about “doing well by doing good” and “how we as a business can do things better,” adds Chris Rowe, who joined the brand as head of UK sales in June 2021. Another lockdown move.
“The cultural piece to the business is also really important,” he says. “That’s what attracted me to join.”
For Mocktails is not just about creating quality alcohol-free products, but looking at what it can do to play an active role in helping people moderate their drinking, and by supporting alcohol harm bodies and charities, both here in the UK and in the US.
Mocktails is now working with Alcohol Change UK, as part of a three year partnership, which started in 2021, and it is the ‘Official Cocktails of Dry January. It is also the headline partner for Macmillan Cancer Supports ‘Go Sober for October’ campaign. A two year partnership that will see Mocktails donate £1 for every case sold via its website or operator listings to the charity.
It is also one of the founding stakeholders in a new global trade organisation, Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association (ANBA) that has been set up to give a campaigning voice for the no & lo sector.
“We wanted to have a united voice for the non-alcoholic industry so as it grows there is a united position for the category and that it is safe for the consumer. There will be a lot of uncharted waters for us to navigate our way through in the coming years around production, labelling, adverting and marketing,” explains Gerard.
Noticeably, any drinks company can sign up as a member, but to be on the governing board the majority of your sales have to come from non-alcoholic products. Which ensures it is the true non-alcoholic brands that are leading the agenda and not being driven by the major drinks multinationals.
“The big drinks businesses are doing a good job kicking the doors open and are doing a lot of the heavy lifting opening the category to the public, which then allows us to come in and grow the choice that the consumer has to buy,” says Rowe.
Which brings us back to the natural, artificial ingredient and preservative free philosophy of the Mocktails brand, he adds. “Part of our ‘doing well by doing good’ is the fact all the ingredients we use are naturally sourced and we have no artificial ingredients, colours or flavours. The right thing to do is harder and takes longer but that is our commitment and what we think our customers and consumers want to see too.”
Its “do better” motto also comes into how the team motivates itself to all make “micro improvements” that together can help bring big changes to the team overall. Every week the team will get together and share personal insights from every member on what they have done in the last week that they feel proud about, what they need help with in the coming week and what their personal wellness goals are.
“It means as we move from start up to scale up mode we have got each others backs,” says Rowe.
Mocktails is fast becoming an international business, with its headquarters in Boston in the US, and with a global team of 10 that is set to expand to 20 over the coming months, says Gerard.
“We are trying to think and act differently and employ people who do not necessarily have the traditional drinks skills,” says Gerard.
The company’s main markets are the US and the UK with sales pretty even between the two.
It has two sides to the business: the trade opportunity where it works through a number of wholesalers – including the C&C network – to target premium on-trade and specialist retail accounts; and its direct to consumer e-commerce arm – a strategy it follows in the other markets it is in.
However much potential they can see in the alcohol-free sector, Gerard and Rowe both appreciate they have got a challenge on their hands changing perceptions and taking distribution to the next stage and beyond the early adopters in the trade.
Rowe admits he was hesitant when Gerard first approached him about joining the business. But his mind was made up as soon as he tasted the products and could see how distinct and different they were to anything else in the market.
“I tried them, loved them and liked the philosophy behind the range and that was it,” he says.
The fact they are both now working together says a lot for the much touted importer and buyer relationship.
As Rowe explains: “Ed was my best and most challenging customer when I was supplying him with wine when I was at Negociants. But we sold a lot of Australian and own label wine together.”
Gerard says he knew for Mocktails to work and to live up to its values he needed to find people with the “right ethos” to come and work there. “We needed people we could trust and would understand our business philosophy,” he says. And Rowe fitted the bill.
“Of all the sales people who sold to me when I was at Harrods, Chris was the fastest at building a rapport and that lasted throughout my time there,” he adds.
Now that he is on board Rowe says there are just so many opportunities for alcohol-free products.
“There are venues in non-drinking communities that have 1,000s of people who to go to them who are all looking for quality products to drink. They have just not been marketed to before.”
To be relevant to that audience, you have to get people to taste it and see what it looks like in a glass. Gerard points to recent KAM research that says 37% of visits to a pub or restaurant is a non-alcoholic one. “That is a huge market to target,” he says.
Gerard says there is a lot to be learnt on how alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks are consumed and marketed in the Middle East and across the UAE. What people want most of all is to feel included in any social occasion and to have drinks that make them feel proud of who they are, to enrich their night out. That is what a Mocktails cocktail can do, he says.
“They want to drink socially without any compromise. Everyone in the bar has the same status,” he adds. “No-one wants to be the outcast.”
A key part of Mocktails success to date is how it has been able to tap into the support of leading bartenders and involve them in the new product development plans. These are after all quality crafted cocktails that use all the tools and skills of mixology without the actual hard alcohol.
To help really raise the level of the Mocktails range, it has a long-standing relationship with now Hong Kong-based Ezra Star, head of mixology at the company and Tales of the Cocktail Hall of Famer.
“She think differently about mixology,” says Gerard. “It’s a bit like Heston Blumenthal and how he looks at food.” With Stars input, the team has just launched an alcohol free Espress0% Martini available in a nitro can.
As it is such a new category there are no rules and traditions to follow, so part of Mocktails strategy is to test, trial and learn about the right sort of language to use and to get the right tone of voice for every market it is in. “A Spanish consumer will be very different to a British one, for example,” says Gerard.
But the desire to be part of any drinking occasion, and not to feel socially excluded will be the driving force that will take every market to the next level providing they have the authentic quality products to satisfy customer and consumer demand.That’s the mission and business strategy at the heart of Mocktails.
“The category can’t be an after thought any more,” adds Rowe. “The consumer has changed and is demanding so much more from this category.”
- You can find our more about Mocktails as its website here and follow on social media at @drinkmocktails.