Out for dinner one night, Ben Branson didn’t feel like drinking. He ordered a mocktail — and hated how it tasted.
The drink was overly sweet and “just didn’t fit with the food,” Branson said of the orange and cranberry juice mix.
Branson, the owner of a brand design agency in London, had been growing herbs and vegetables in his garden in his spare time and experimenting with distilling them.
“After that horrible mocktail, the dots began to join,” he said. In 2015, he set up a company, Seedlip, in the United Kingdom to sell what it calls “the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit.”
Seedlip has now sold half a million bottles of its three spirits, which are made in a similar way to gin. They are available in thousands of stores, bars, restaurants and hotels around the world. The company has also invented its own mocktails and released a book of recipes.
An adult drink without ‘the kick’
Branson’s family has been farming in England for more than 320 years, and he credits them with his love of nature.
Researching the medicinal and culinary uses of forgotten varieties of herbs had long been one of his hobbies. But it took him two years to develop Seedlip’s first product, Spice 94.
It is made with allspice berries, grapefruit, lemon peel, oak and cascarilla bark — a tropical plant that is also used to make the liqueurs Campari and Vermouth. The ingredients are distilled.
“Whilst we haven’t deliberately attempted to mimic alcohol, the complex flavor profiles do mean people get an adult drink that isn’t lacking — but without the ‘kick’ you get with an alcoholic spirit,” he said.
Seedlip is free of sweeteners. The company sources ingredients from farmers around the world.
Branson personally bottled the first batch of Spice 94, which went on sale at the UK department store Selfridges at $36 a bottle in 2015. They sold out in three weeks.
The following year, he began working on Seedlip’s second product, Garden 108, and hired his first employee. In August this year, he launched the third spirit, Grove 42.
The company now has 55 full-time staff and is based in Buckinghamshire, England, with an office in Los Angeles.
Seedlip declined to disclose any financial details, including how much money it has raised from investors.
Pregnant women and drivers
Seedlip’s customers include pregnant women, drivers of vehicles and people on medication.
The company’s growth has coincided with a boom in more thoughtful mocktail menus and a rise in health-conscious lifestyles, according to Branson, who is teetotal.
Similar products on the market include Ceder’s, a booze-free gin made with ingredients from South Africa and distributed by French drinks giant Pernod Ricard (PDRDY); and Edition Zero: Labdanum, which is produced by UK distillery Surendran & Bownes.
Branson is betting that an increasing number of people around the world are socializing without alcohol.
“We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift in the role drinks play in people’s lives,” he said.