Bringing Speakeasy Style to Retail, Without the Alcohol 4/30/2022
It’s never been a better time to be on the wagon.
As consumers increasingly focus on healthier living, no-ABV cocktails have become a fast-growing segment of the adult beverage category. Indeed, according to NielsenIQ’s Kaleigh Theriault, who recently presented at ECRM’s Off and On Premises Adult Beverage session, non-alcoholic spirits saw $3.9 million in in off-premise sales, a growth of 87 percent from a year ago. And Matt Crompton of CGA Strategy, who co-presented at the session, noted that 11 percent of consumers surveyed by the company said they had recently consumed a non-alcoholic cocktail at an on-premise location (see the full presentation here).
To address this growing demand, suppliers have been stepping up innovation in this fast-growing segment, and Blind Tiger Spirit Free Cocktails is a great example. The company, founded by restauranteur Rebecca Styn, has developed a line of non-alcoholic versions of cocktails that were popular at speakeasies (often referred to as “Blind Tigers”) during prohibition. It’s already attracted the attention of retailers, one of which recently placed an order for several cases on RangeMe (see full video interview with Styn below).
The idea for the brand originated during the beginning of the pandemic, when lockdowns forced Styn to close her Erie, Penn.-based speakeasy-style restaurant, Room 33, to indoor dining. In addition to ramping up Room 33’s food menu for takeout and delivery, Styn started offering non-alcoholic versions of its cocktails-to-go.
“I realized that there weren’t a ton of options for people who didn’t drink for whatever reason and had noticed over the past couple of years that more functional, natural and better-for-you drinks have been gaining popularity,” says Styn. “At Room 33 we had a non-alcoholic part of our menu, and it continued to grow over time. People may want to go out, but they don’t want to feel terrible the next day, so they might start off with a regular cocktail and then switch to a non-alcoholic cocktail, or they might stick with non-alcoholic cocktails completely.”
Due to the amazing response from her customers, Styn wanted to expand the offering to retail, and applied for a major grant through Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which provides investment capital, business support services, and operational assistance to emerging tech-startups and small manufacturers. She was awarded the first place prize of $50,000 in its Northwest PA BIG IDEA contest and also the People’s Choice Award of $2,500.
The grant helped her to launch her products commercially. Working with her team and a beverage engineer, she created four recipes of classic prohibition-style cocktails that included natural ingredients but were also shelf-stable. The four cocktails include:
- Ward 8: A smoky citrus drink with notes of apple, orange, and cherry.
- Bee's Knees: Features a bright lemon flavor, slightly sweet with honey and hints of juniper
- Sidecar: A balance of sweet and sour, with notes of organic cane sugar, orange, lemon and bitters.
- Southside: A refreshing mint and lime blend with hints of juniper.
“We wanted to add the flavor profiles of the spirit to each of them,” says Styn. “For example, Bees Knees is typically made with a honey syrup, lemon and gin. Instead of gin, we use a juniper flavor to mimic that spirit flavor a bit. For the Side Car, which was created in Paris and has a cognac base to it, we use a bit of brandy flavor, some bitters, orange and lemon to recreate that. Ward 8 is typically made with whiskey or bourbon, so for that we created a natural flavor that would give it a smoky taste and a bit of a bite. South Side also uses juniper, as it was a gin drink. So two of them are very light, one is smoky and one is citrusy.”
Marketing to alcohol and non-alcohol consumers
As zero-ABV cocktails sit in that space between the beverage and beverage alcohol categories, plus, many consumers use them as mixers for spirits, marketing and merchandising it can be a bit of a challenge. On the marketing front, she positions her spirit-free cocktails as all-natural, bar-quality products that are ready to sip or mix, something that can be tailored to both alcohol and non-alcohol drinkers.
On the retail front, however, Styn admits it can be tough determining who the right buyer would be. “When I meet with buyers, we have to figure out where our products fit in their particular stores,” she says. “It can go into the spirits section, or if they can’t sell spirits, they may want it in the cocktail mixer section. Plus, depending on the geographical location, I may focus on different products. For example, in Kentucky or Tennessee it would be Ward 8, because bourbon and whiskey are popular there. For other states, it would depend on the local trends and flavor profiles. With the growing popularity of non-alcohol spirits, I often recommend creating a section specifically for this segment.”
RangeMe direct purchasing success
RangeMe’s direct purchasing service, which enables retailers to place wholesale orders directly on the platform, launched earlier this year at ECRM’s Global Market: Spring Buying Days. The service features one-button purchasing, a multi-order, add-to-cart features, and easily accessible order details and history. For suppliers, it's as easy as setting up their storefront, listing products available to purchase, and fulfilling orders on top of a full suite of order management tools. “It was one of the easiest setups I’ve had to do on this type of platform,” says Styn. “Plus, it connects to my premium RangeMe profile, so it enables buyers to see our entire offering.”
During the Spring Buying Days week, which ran from March 28 through April 1, RangeMe suppliers that were set up for direct purchases were able to offer special deals for buyers during that week, and all purchases were commission free during that time. Styn offered a 20 percent discount on two of her SKUs, she received retail orders on all four of them.
Digital expands accessibility for brands
ECRM virtual sessions and RangeMe’s new direct purchasing capabilities have demonstrated the value of digital platforms as a critical component of how buyers and sellers will conduct business moving forward.
“I still love in-person and the opportunity to connect with people directly, but these digital options give you accessibility you wouldn’t otherwise have,” says Styn. “Everyone’s time is very limited, and it’s much easier to connect this way than in-person. And the cost savings is really important, especially for emerging brands that don’t have a ton of capital behind them. I’ve done booths at in-person shows and it costs three to four times as much as it is to do virtually.”
And with RangeMe’s direct purchasing capabilities, buyers don’t even have to wait for a meeting to discover and quickly bring a new product to their shelves, which means they can react to fast-moving trends – like that of no-ABV cocktails – as quickly as those consumers who are driving them.
Editor's note: Buyers interested in learning more about Blind Tiger can view its RangeMe profile here.
Full interview with Blind Tiger's Rebecca Styn