Getting into the non-alcoholic spirit

by | Mar 5, 2021 | Article, Business and Marketing

2020 was a good year for no- and low-alcohol beer, wine, spirits, and ready-to-drink (RTD) products, reports IWSR. The category has exploded in South Africa and in January 2021, winemaker and distiller Emile Gentis of Thor Vintners introduced the Origiin of Kamma-Kan Kamma – a wood-fired non-alcoholic juniper botanical spirit. Naturally, we had a few questions.

WL: How the alcohol ban has impacted your business?

Emile: As a wine brand, I got zero sales since I sell 95% domestically. With [small-batch non-alcoholic gin] Origiin, in the second week of January, we saw an increase in retailers wanting to utilise the ‘liquor gap’ in unused shelf space. Globally, non-alcoholic drinks are driven by off-con and e-commerce, but we also saw a rapid increase in on-con venues, who had the ability to make G&T’s or cocktails.

How important is it for a wine/alcohol brand to experiment or diversify with non-alcoholic products (outside of wine)?

There’s a global trend of mindfulness and a growing segment of non-alcoholic drinkers. Wine channels are actually the best suited for non-alcoholic products, since we call on the same type of off and on-con consumer, while a spirit distributor doesn’t. In that sense, yes, you could expand your portfolio with non-competing brands and products to cater for the other half of consumers.

How has the non-alcoholic market grown? Is non-alcohol gin growing in stature?

It’s growing at a fast pace. I helped develop the current second biggest brand globally, Ceder’s Alt-Gin. When we started there were perhaps five to ten known brands. Now hundred are popping up, with still a lot of space to grow. It’s a category that forces us to keep growing in knowledge of what to do and what not to do.

What sets your non-alcoholic gin apart from the rest? What’s the drawcard?

“Show me your distillery” is a common request. Most non-alcoholic spirit producers rely on third-party botanical producers, flavour houses or suppliers to supply their individual botanicals and cannot show their “distillery”.

Origiin’s distillery is set on the De Poort Organic certified farm. We distil 100% of our juniper H20 spirit in 1000 L batches from our earth-filtered mountain river water. We use a long forgotten 1950s wood-fired Walter W. Coltman boiler and still, something no other non-alcoholic brand has. We bottle 100% from this “true distillation” process and not a product diluted with water.

Does non-alcoholic gin warrant the same price as a normal gin?

Each separate botanical being used is a concentrated flavour bomb. These independently sourced or produced natural botanicals are very pricy to buy or make. Buying them separately actually costs more than the normal gin botanicals you throw in a bag and distil with alcohol. Your dry goods and production costs are therefore almost the same as normal alcoholic gins.

In normal gin, 60-70% of your botanicals are juniper berries. People forget that when you’re tasting an alcoholic gin, you actually also smell and taste the alcohol, which alleviates the juniper aroma. So to match this in our Juniper H2O spirit, we have to use three times more juniper berries with 1000 L pot distillation each. Cost-wise this is much more expensive than a normal gin and since we’re the only producer to use this kind of technique, due to our unique wood fired still, it also sets our product in a much more expensive category than most non-alcoholic brands.

What success have you achieved with Origiin, especially since there are many sceptics when it comes to non-alcoholic gin?

We aren’t trying to convince wine or alcohol drinkers to move to non-alcoholic products at all. We’re saying there’s a massive growing adult audience out there who don’t drink alcohol and are tired of soft drinks. They really want another option in adult drinks. I think our “claim to fame” is that we came into situations where we presented Origiin but forgot to mention it was non-alcoholic… and 99% of these customers and consumers didn’t even notice the difference. The words “delicate” and “lighter styled” were used.

On a personal note, I helped develop our first brand, with sales reaching 100k cases and distributed in more than 20 international markets. We’re now trying to do the same with Origiin and know from previous success that there’s a big market out there.

Would you encourage other wine brands to diversify their portfolio to include non-alcoholic products? Which aspects should they consider?

It was heart-breaking to see on-con venues with no people during the liquor ban due to the lack of adult drinks available in restaurants and tasting rooms. I believe wine brands sell because of the wine story we tell. Each winery has its own distinctive story, people, terroir, heritage and route to market… so why not duplicate it with the same platform, same people, but catering for these changing times and the new mindful non-alcoholic consumers? I don’t believe in virtual non-alc brands, but I believe we have many wineries with pristine water sources and the best possible fynbos stories.

Are there any other plans in the pipeline?

Yes, always! We’ve completed our RTD in a can, which we will launch in the near future. We are also looking at the export market through our other company called STELLA Global wine brokers, to find markets for other SA and International non-alcoholic brands. So if you have your brand ready, let us know how we can grow the International market.

Emile Gentis, Thor Vintners

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