The CEO and founder launched his non-alcoholic beverage company, Seedlip, when the world was at the precipice of the sober curious movement.
If you haven’t heard, sobriety is all the rage right now. Go to any modern bar or restaurant and it’s likely you’ll see a well-crafted list of mocktails on the menu.
Over the past few years, people have been more mindful about their alcohol consumption, leading to an abundance of new businesses, from online alcohol treatment programs to non-alcoholic beverages. The sober curious movement, as it’s been coined, has its roots traced back to the 1800s, but really gained momentum in 2018 when author Ruby Warrington stamped the term “sober curious.”
To be clear, the sober curious movement doesn’t require cutting out alcohol entirely, rather cutting back to reassess one’s relationship with alcohol, which may not be healthy. After it was introduced, young people, particularly millennials and Gen-Z, caught on—feeling sick about getting sick from binge drinking. Thanks to the explosion of the wellness sector and the trend-setting effects of social media, going alcohol-free became the new cool, even sexy, thing to try.
Suddenly Dry January turned into February Fast, Sober September continued as Go Sober in October, and that marketing—particularly on social media—helped non-alcoholic beverages become a hot, hot market.
An August 2021 survey from Gallup Consulting found that not only are fewer adults drinking alcohol today (60%, compared to 65% in 2019), but the number of drinks they consume is significantly down as well to 2.6 drinks per week. Among those, 34% of people have not drank alcohol in the past week; only 13% said they’ve had eight drinks or more.
Meanwhile, the consumer demand for low and non-alcoholic beverages is predicted to increase by 31% by 2024, according to the IWSR Drinks’ market analysis of 10 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada and France.
Ben Branson launched Seedlip in 2015, not realizing he was at the forefront of the impending sober curious movement. Called “the world’s first non-alcoholic spirits,” Seedlip is a plant-based liquor substitute for non-alcoholic drinks. It’s available in three varieties that embody qualities that mimic spirits in a way that you can socially drink at some of the world’s best bars.
We spoke with Seedlip founder Branson about his journey and success in the non-alcoholic spirits world, breaking stigmas about sobriety, and creating a safe community for the sober and sober-curious non-drinkers.
How Seedlip got started
Seedlip is a product of Branson’s upbringing in England: his mother’s family has been farmers for nine generations (over 300 years) and his father worked in branding design. As a result, Branson calls Seedlip “the embodiment of my obsession with the natural world, flavor and design.”
In 2013, while running a luxury design agency, Branson came across a book written in 1651 called “The Art of Distillation,” which detailed different herbal remedies. Curious, he bought a small copper still online and began experimenting with mixing herbs from his garden. “The process of taking ingredients and using distillation to capture their flavor and aroma in liquid form was magical,” says Branson.
His experimentation quickly turned into an obsession fueled by the belief that a distilled non-alcoholic spirit could change the way the world drinks. In 2015, he packaged his experiment in glass bottles with beautifully designed labels, and launched Seedlip.
Seedlip comes in three varieties. Grove 42 is a bright, citrus blend; Spice 94 is a warmer blend of cardamom, oak, and allspice; and Garden 108 is a fresh, herbal mix of traditional garden herbs like rosemary and thyme. The bottles are sold online, individually and in packages, as well as in a range of bars, restaurants, and retailers worldwide (the Seedlip website currently lists over 100 retailers in the United States alone).
All of Seedlip’s beverages are vegan and allergen-free, and do not contain any added sugar or sweeteners, something that Branson says was an important consideration when creating his product. “Nature, our raw materials, and our growers are critical to making the complex blends,” Branson says.
Six years later and Seedlip was rated as “best overall” non-alcoholic spirit in 2021 by digital media site Luxe Digital. The product is now available in 40 markets, from Shanghai to Sydney, Berlin to Chicago, and Branson says he is looking to Latin America next.
A bottle of Seedlip’s Grove 42, a citrus blend of orange, lemongrass, lemon, and mandarin, with a ginger finish.
Social media has driven the sober curious movement
According to U.S. consumer analytics company Social Standards, consumer conversations on social media regarding non-alcoholic beverages rose over 80% from 2017 to 2019. There are currently over 294,000 hashtags on Instagram for #sobercurious, while #alcoholfree has close to 950,000, and #soberlife has 1.9 million. This increase in social conversations has helped push non-alcoholic brands to the forefront and Branson says social media platforms have been integral to the brand’s success.
The visual nature of the Seedlip brand—its marketing from the colorful product labels to the interactive website and sensory Instagram posts—means that interaction both in real life as well as on social is vital to “Raising our awareness, connecting with like-minded people, building a community, seeing a global movement happen,” Branson says. Seedlip’s main platform is Instagram—in fact it has two separate Instagram accounts, one for Seedlip International (which has over 130,000 followers), and one for Seedlip North America (which has over 58,000 followers)—where it regularly posts Seedlip cocktails, new product releases, and inspiration. It also uses Facebook where it has over 55,000 followers and posts monthly, sharing recipes, and brand announcements.
Branson says that Linktree is being used to help grow Seedlip as a brand by offering people choice to discover aspects they’re interested in easily. “Education is really important for Seedlip [as] a new category. People are all becoming aware of this movement at different speeds so having different avenues for different audiences is incredibly helpful for a brand like us,” he says.
Seedlip’s North America Linktree profile displays a range of recipes, tutorials, and more.
When it comes to marketing the product IRL, Seedlip throws alcohol-free launch parties in cities all over the world. Despite the absence of alcohol, Branson says the mood is just as lively and camaraderie is plentiful, which is a great mental health benefit.
“It’s remarkable what happens when people are socializing and happy with what they are drinking and not sensitively self-aware they aren’t drinking alcohol,” he says. And unlike booze-fueled parties, that good mood continues the next day, since there’s no hangover to ruin it.
Branson hopes that Seedlip is helping to create a more inclusive environment for non-drinkers to still enjoy flavorful cocktails, or “mocktails.” On Seedlip’s site there are mocktail recipes that mimic the originals—“CosNOpolitan,” “Espresso MartiNO,” and “PaNOma,” are a few—and taste uncannily like the real thing.
The future of non-alcoholic spirits
Branson likens the non-alcoholic movement to vegetarianism or electric cars, something that betters your health as well as the planet. “We are changing how we live, what we value, what we consume,” he says. “This is forcing a recalibration of our relationship with alcohol which in turn sees a need for better non-alcoholic options.”
Despite the 5.33% predicted annual growth in the non-alcoholic beverage market from 2021-2026, Branson believes the category is still in its infancy. “All the signs indicate that the demand will only continue to grow as people drink better and moderate their alcohol consumption,” he says. As of April 2021, alcohol blog Alcademics listed over 131 non-alcoholic spirits from around the world (and is constantly updating with new suggestions).
Having dabbled in sobriety myself the last few years—the longest of which was a recent seven-month dry spell—I’ve sampled many mocktails and alcohol-free alternatives. What fascinates me most about the entire Seedlip range, apart from its intoxicating flavor and fragrant smell, is how the distilled liquid leaves a warm lingering aftertaste that has me wanting more.
Whether you’re a drinker or not, the non-alcoholic market doesn’t have to be restricted only to people looking to maintain sobriety. Just like drinking herbal tea or kombucha for health benefits, botanical, additive and alcohol-free options like Seedlip are a positive step in the right direction, and that’s something we can all get on board with.