Can retailers learn about no and low-alcohol from the on-trade?

For many drinks retailers the concept of an alcohol-free section is still fairly new, and with the continuing barrage of products the jury is still out on how best to tackle this growing – but still relatively small – consumer trend.

To get a better understanding of this market, DRN went to visit an expert in this field: Zoey Henderson, head of operations for Redemption, a chain of alcohol-free and vegan café-bars across London.

Redemption first opened in 2013 and it has already evolved its alcohol-free menu considerably, not just in the range of drinks it stocks but also in how these are listed. DRN went to the company’s Covent Garden site to see if these tried and tested methods could lead to some tips for shops and hybrid retailers on how to merchandise low and no-alcohol products.

Each of the three Redemption venues now has an extensive menu of alcohol-free drinks, particularly spirits, which are used in a range of cocktails, Henderson says.

“We are always developing our menu to make it easier for our customers and to address the trends in how people drink these drinks,’ she says.

“So we now keep the Plant Spirits on a separate section of the menu, away from Long Tonics, and Signature Cocktails.”

The list of Plant Spirits includes newer brands such as Three Spirits, Humble Warrior and Senser, which are described on the menu as “unique botanical blends of powerful herbs and plants. Taking ancient alchemy to produce powerful tonics to help elevate, heal and calm modern day stresses”.

The earlier wave of alcohol-free spirits, which were generally designed to take the place of alcoholic counterparts such as gin and rum, sit under the Long Tonics section of the menu. This includes brands such as William Grant’s Atopia and Pernod Ricard’s Ceder’s, which are featured on the menu in drinks such as Ceder’s Crisp & Cucumber Tonic, Atopia Spiced Citrus (with hibiscus tonic) and Atopia Wild Blossom (with cucumber tonic).

Separated from the Plant Spirits and the Long Tonics are Signature Cocktails. For these the menu changes regularly but Henderson notes that there are some core cocktail favourites that always have their place on the list, such as Flu Fighters Martini (a “fiery Martini” made with ginger, citrus, aloe vera and chilli), Black Magic (Borrago botanical spirit, shaken with activated charcoal, aquafaba, fresh lemon, vanilla and maple) and Apple Mockjito (muddled apple pressé with fresh mint and limes, topped up with kombucha).

Also on the menu is the alcohol-free sparkling wine Noughty, kombucha on tap, alcohol-free beers and ciders, and soft drinks.
Henderson adds: “We have a cider, Smashed Apple, which is popular. I think it really is the best in class. We tried many different ones and I think Smashed Apple has a real cider taste.

“There are so many beers now but we narrowed it down to just a few. Fitbeer, made by the same people who make Nirvana beer, is a popular one.

“One of the other things we have done is to avoid the word mocktail because we decided it makes the drinks sound as if they are deficient in something, whereas the word cocktail doesn’t have to be exclusive to alcohol, so we are claiming that one back.”
 
WORKING WITH SUPPLIERS
Often Redemption is one of the first stockists for new products in this sector, and, as Henderson explains, apart from brands such as Atopia and Noughty, generally the products come from smaller producers.

“We often get to know the founders and we are one of the first stockists. As an indie this is really important to us.
“Because we are in the infancy of this market it is great that we can foster and help these producers.

“We are able to do sampling and social media activity and we very much want to work with our suppliers, because this all helps to educate customers in general.

“We managed to secure an extra 10,000 followers on social media over the past year and we are very careful to ensure that our posts are more than about pictures.

“We talk about the background to ingredients, we talk about nutrients, seasonality – we just give a bit more body to our messages.
“It has massively helped to grow and build the business.

“We get a pretty good response to our posts and people are engaged. We get people coming in asking about specific foods and drinks we have posted about, and others search for hashtags that interest them.”

Henderson says that because of this following, and also because Redemption is keen to support and nurture small producers, it is even more important for the company to assess the quality of a drink before deciding to support and stock the brand.
She adds: “We look at products and we look at trends. It is all about coming together and collaborating.

“We made a decision early on that we would not serve any alcohol at all from our bars. We would make a lot more money if we did sell alcohol, so that is a hard path for others to follow.

“We have been quite stubborn by not introducing drinks and it has been a tricky decision, but this year in particular our bars are all doing really well.

“Dry January/Veganuary is always our busiest month, but December was good too, and some companies booked in for Christmas parties as it is a nice respite at that time of year.”

 
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR LOW AND NO-ALCOHOL IN 2020?

We are likely to see a number of macro trends within low and no-alcohol next year, according to Henderson.

She says: “I definitely think you will see a trend in people wanting to make alcohol-free cocktails at home. And I think there will be more pre-mixed alcohol-free cocktails to tap into this trend. Some retailers are already quite active in getting behind this – Marks & Spencer, for example.

“And I think we will see the big brands bringing out alcohol-free versions of their products, in the same way we have seen brands tapping into the vegan trend, like vegan Galaxy chocolate.”

Redemption has its own vision for next year, including a plan to open up more sites and potentially franchise to cities such as Manchester and Bristol. It also wants to develop its own products.

Henderson says: “Having a Redemption alcohol-free spirit will be great, and this is something we are definitely considering.”
The company may also increase its focus on selling products directly for the take-home market, rather than just for consumption on site.

She says: “We already have a delicatessen [for take-home sales] at our Covent Garden store, and this started selling spirits such as ones from the Three Spirits range and alcohol-free Prosecco in time for Christmas. We have products people can’t get elsewhere, such as our mushroom powders and our gluten-free bread, so those are increasingly selling well via the deli. This is something we will think about for the next sites we open.”

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