Bottle of Seedlip, a zero-alcohol, zerocalorie, zero-sugar distilled spirit from England

Photography: (Photo by Daniel Neuhaus)

Pursuits| From Pivot Magazine

Free spirit

Here’s a bold idea: selling booze-loving Canadians on a zero-alcohol spirit by playing hard to get

The Gamble

Seedlip is a zero-alcohol, zero-calorie, zero-sugar distilled spirit from England that costs as much or more than its boozy counterparts—$45 for a 750-ml bottle. It’s breaking into Canada, a market that likes its booze: almost 80 percent of us drink, imbibing 50 per cent more than the global average. The challenge, beyond its novelty, is cracking a consolidated grocery market where shelf space is at a premium.

The Plan

“Canada was always high on our list,” says Ben Branson, who founded Seedlip in 2015, because we have a “forward thinking” desire for non-alcoholic beverages. (It’s a $4.4-billion segment growing at a healthy 15.6 per cent per year.) Exclusivity is the marketing hook. Due to the price and the limited production runs—it’s made on Branson’s family farm in small batches, using hand-picked, organically grown ingredients (peas, hay, mint) and distilled in copper pots for six weeks at a time—the strategy has been to focus on high-end retailers like Toronto’s Pusateri’s (likely Canada’s only grocer with a champagne bar) and tony haunts like Montreal’s Atwater Cocktail Club.

The Result

After launching here in 2017, Seedlip has won 20 bar and restaurant accounts, and 55 retailers. (Branson offers no sales numbers, though.) Jacqueline McAskill, who runs BevPro Canada, a beverage alcohol consulting company, sees real potential: “No- and low-[alcohol] wine and beer are well-established. But in spirits, there really aren’t any offerings.” It bridges a number of trends, she says, including a growing love of craft cocktails, a desire for natural ingredients and a push for healthier living. It works well in faux-tinis, placebo G&Ts, or straight up, says Robin Goodfellow, co-owner at Toronto’s Pretty Ugly. The flavour profile is “savoury, earthy and fresh,” he says, “and you can drink it then get up and go to yoga the next morning, which people care about these days.”