How an alcohol-free spirits company caught the attention of Andrew Banks
Monday, June 24, 2019/
Fancy a G&T without the G? How about a Moscow Mule without any kick? Well, thanks to a freshly launched Aussie company, you might be in luck.
Former Smart50 winner Mark Livings has founded non-alcoholic spirits business Lyre’s, and is already found a staunch supporter in former Shark Tank judge and prominent Aussie businessman Andrew Banks.
While alcohol-free cocktails aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, Livings tells SmartCompany he believes he’s hitting the market at exactly the right time, pointing to a “tectonic shift” in how humans are consuming alcohol.
Livings’ previous businesses have been all in the marketing space, and the entrepreneur has worked with some of the world’s biggest beverage companies, leading him to spot an emerging niche set to take off.
“I saw this opportunity happening that none of the beverage market was taking advantage of. We’ve seen a decline in alcohol consumption across all generations for almost the last five years,” he says.
“Millennials aren’t coming into the category because they’re more health conscious and aware of alcohol risks. Gen X-ers are dropping out periodically because of things like dry July and F45 eight-week body challenges, and the boomer population are leaving the category for medical reasons.”
“We’re seeing an unprecedented tectonic shift in how Australians are consuming alcohol.”
While the idea of ‘virgin’ cocktails isn’t anything new, Lyre’s range takes alcohol-free alcohol to new heights, with Livings saying each spirit intends to perfectly recreate the taste of the original.
The range includes Absinthe, Gin, Amaretto, Whiskey, coffee liqueur, white and dark rum, dry Vermouth, and Aperol. Livings says it took nearly two years of taste-testing and collaborating with Australian sommeliers and a German company to perfect the flavours.
Lyre’s is just four weeks old, but is already in stores in Australia and the UK, with Livings locking in distribution deals with Dan Murphy’s, BoozeBud, and UK distributor Proof Drinks.
“We’ve planned the business to be global from day one, so we’ve already lined up distributors in New Zealand and the US, and we’ll be on the ground in Asian markers before the end of the year,” he says.
So far the reception to the brand has been “fantastic”, but the founder admits much of his job currently is educating shoppers on the benefits of alcohol-free spirits.
“It’s quite polarising, some people who think there’s no point of drinking unless you get bent can be quite defensive, but we’ve found the majority of people are welcoming and can see the importance of the product,” he says.
While Lyre’s can be bought over-the-counter by the everyday punter, the business’ current focus is on bars and clubs, hoping people will try the product for the first time while out with friends.
“We want to help people understand that there’s a choice out there available for them. We want alcohol-free cocktails to sit on menus as comfortably as vegan meals at a local cafe. That’s our big mission.”
Catching a shark
Getting Banks (who Livings refers to as the “nice” shark) on board was the result of a fortuitous meeting rather than a planned partnership.
The two met at the launch of another business they were both involved in, where Livings happened to be getting feedback on a few Lyre’s prototypes.
“Andrew hasn’t consumed spirits in 10-15 years, so he immediately saw the value. He completely adores them now, I even showed him how to make a Negroni the other week,” Livings says.
“He’s enjoying learning the ropes of home mixology.”
In a statement, Banks said the cheque was an “easy one to write”, saying the product, packaging and go-to-market strategy for the business were all “category killers”.
Banks isn’t the only investor lining up for a gulp of Lyre’s, with the business currently finalising a “fairly significant” funding round. While the business’ current focus is on becoming a market-leader in the alcohol-free space, Livings says he wouldn’t rule out working with bigger beverage companies, saying their reach would be valuable.
And while, technically, Lyre’s lack of alcohol means Livings could spruik the brand how he wants, where he wants, the entrepreneur says he’s committed to following the same advertising guidelines other beverage companies do.
“We’re limiting it to existing spirits distribution channels, and we’re going to comply with the ABAC scheme and meet community expectations,” he says.
“We’re not going to go hawk this out the front of a pre-school.”
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