How the ‘world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirits brand’ is seizing on the moderation trend
If New Year’s Eve is tailor-made for Ciroc, Bacardi, Jack Daniel’s and other booze brands seizing on the biggest drinking night of the year, then Jan. 1—and the rest of the month—is Seedlip’s time to shine.
The brand, founded four years ago by an English pea farmer, bills itself as the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirits brand. Its earthy varieties include one called Garden 108, described as having a “floral blend of hand-picked peas and homegrown hay” with “traditional garden herb distillates.” That kind of complexity—this is no Shirley Temple—puts Seedlip in a unique position to seize on Dry January, the post-holiday sobriety movement that is gaining steam.
“January is our peak, pinnacle month,” Laura Lashley, Seedlip’s national education manager, says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast. “It’s a time of year when people who maybe would be normally drinking alcoholic cocktails are thinking outside the box, and it presents us a great opportunity to introduce this product to people.”
But Lashley also argues that Seedlip is poised to have staying power year-round, as more people, especially younger generations, embrace moderation. She points to a range of factors, including health and wellness trends, as well as the role of social media. “There are so many ways to capture video that lives forever now. People want to socialize and hang out and have fun but not embarrass themselves—that’s a big change in our world in the past decade.”
Liquor giant Diageo sees so much potential in the brand that it took majority ownership in August. Diageo, whose brands include Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Crown Royal, first got involved in 2016 with a minority investment via its accelerator program, dubbed Distill Ventures.
Seedlip, whose catchphrase is “‘what to drink when you’re not drinking,” was founded in 2015 by Ben Branson, whose family has been farming peas in the English countryside for 300 years. He not only has peas in his blood, but on his knuckles, where he has a tattoo spelling out P-E-A-S.
According to the brand’s website, Seedlip’s inspiration comes from recipes Branson stumbled upon from a 17th-century book called “The Art of Distillation,” which includes non-alcoholic herbal remedies. He experimented in his kitchen, using a small copper still and herbs from his garden as the basis for what later became Seedlip. The brand name carries a dual reference to “seed-to-lip,” as well as seedlip baskets, which were used before the advent of mechanical farming to sow seeds in fields.
Seedlip is now carried in 28 cities globally covering more than 7,500 cocktail bars, hotels and restaurants—including 300 Michelin Star restaurants—across the UK, Europe, Australia, Asia and the U.S. Distribution in the states is concentrated in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago.
The brand’s bottle designs come from Pearlfisher, an independent brand design agency. The shop’s CEO and founding partner is Mike Branson, Ben’s father. As Lashley explains on the podcast, bottle designs for each variety are based on animals found in the English countryside. The animal body parts are represented with the ingredients used in the variety. So Grove 42 uses a squirrel design that incorporates a lemongrass tale and ginger head. “It’s kind of a fun scavenger hunt to find all the different ingredients inside the animal designs,” Lashley says.
Lashley, who has a background in bar management, says that “we’ve been really lucky that the concept of Seedlip has struck at a time when people are really interested in non-alcoholic [drink options] and really interested in wellness and the future of drinks...so we have kind of organically gotten a lot of earned press and attention.”
But the brand is also stepping up its marketing. It recently hired South Florida-based Beyond the Agency, known as BTA, as its digital agency-of-record. “We want to get the word out and get people excited about the product,” she says on the podcast.
For January, the brand is plotting a social media campaign called “#31DaysOfSeedlip” in which it wants to “highlight how people, in all walks of life, incorporate Seedlip into their everyday,” according to a brand spokeswoman. It will also host an event at the Blacktail bar and restaurant in New York to celebrate the launch of Seedlip’s new cocktail book, which promises “an exclusive collection of over 100 non-alcoholic cocktail recipes to recreate at home.”