More than ever, our health and our wellbeing are insurmountably important to us. From watching what we eat, to exercising daily, keeping our bodies and minds healthy has led to the establishment of multi-million-pound industries. Over the past year, we have had so much time to confront deeply rooted habits and make small changes to our lifestyles that benefit our health and wellbeing.
One of the main ones: moderating our alcohol intake.
Real Business had the opportunity to sit down with CEO of Lucky Saint, Luke Boase, to talk about how his company’s non-alcoholic beer is shaking up the drinking industry.
So, what is the story behind Lucky Saint?
Around five years ago, I was struck by this question: what if, on all the occasions where a person might drink, we could have the option to drink beer with or without alcohol? On paper, alcohol-free beers are an ideal proposition or option for socialising and taking part without feeling pressured to drink alcohol. But the reality is, and particularly five years ago, no one was drinking it and there were only two or three brands producing non-alcoholic beer. There was a lack of quality in the options available and those brands just were not attracting people into drinking non-alcoholic, myself included. The concept of alcohol-free beer was attractive to me as a consumer but there wasn’t a drink that suited my tastes and there weren’t any brands that empowered me to choose an alcohol-free beer.
There is a social expectation to drink and when the non-alcoholic versions aren’t especially attractive, it is difficult to break that status quo and encourage people to be confident in choosing not to drink at every social event, even if others are.
What established brewers were doing five years ago was selling 0.0% versions of their original full-strength beers. We thought that the winners in the alcohol-free category would be the ones that focused on producing only alcohol-free beer and be dedicated to making a brilliant product people would enjoy. I was basically determined to make a beer that tasted as good as a full-strength option but without the alcohol content.
You were met with a lot of scepticism from industry experts when you started your research. What made you so determined to persevere when so many were telling you it was impossible to make an alcohol-free beer that stood on par with the full-strength market?
I think it was mainly curiosity at first and sort of blind will. I wanted it to work, so I admittedly ignored anyone who was being negative and focused on the individuals who said it could be possible. The idea of starting a business is really overwhelming and it can be too much for anyone to get their head around. I decided to take it in stages: the first step was to figure out if it was possible to brew this beer. To start, that was my one focus. I met with many different brewers, tried different techniques and processes and I was just learning and learning and learning, to make a final product that met my own expectations. Every other part of starting Lucky Saint, like the branding, infrastructure, and marketing, was tackled in a sequence once we had our product ready.
Your branding is unique, and it certainly stands out, what was the idea and inspiration behind your company name?
We love the idea of dichotomy and breaking the rules. The words ‘lucky’ and ‘saint’ are not words we would usually associate together and because we are trying to shake up established behaviours and attitudes, we thought the contrast was synonymous with our brand. The ‘lucky’ comes from a podcast called How I Built This. The last question each guest is asked is how much of their success is down to skill and judgement and how much of it might be down to luck. Most of the guests are modest and always attribute at least some of their success to being in the right place at the right time so our name is an ode to the luck we all need to make new ventures work. The ‘saint’ is also a nod to the virtuosity we associate with choosing not to consume alcohol, it’s the pat on the back we give ourselves when we are choosing moderation.
What values are important to your brand and how you run your business?
We put a huge focus into building the right work culture and forging an amazing team. We’ve recently moved from a team of twenty to thirty staff members now and we really want this to be a great company to work for, that every team member feels empowered and has the freedom to contribute and bring their ideas to the table.
Our core values are to be generous, stay humble, and get lucky. We’ve done a lot of work to build a team with a good understanding of how we apply and communicate those values across everything that we do and how we interact internally with each other, how we interact with partners, customers, suppliers, and consumers. We talk a lot about giving people the autonomy and the authority to crack on independently and that means that the decision making doesn’t only sit with myself or Emma, our Managing Director. We have a team that we trust implicitly, and we have faith in them to get on with making the magic happen. It is always a team effort.
What are the most notable trends you have seen in drinking culture? What markets and age groups do you tend to see choosing non-alcoholic beverages or pushing for that more moderate lifestyle?
Certainly, all the statistics tell us that young people have a very different attitude towards alcohol versus previous generations. I think the famous statistic is that a third of young people consider themselves non-drinkers now. What we are seeing is moderation is something that is happening across all age demographics. Now, we have a population of 60 odd million people in this country, more than 30 million of them are moderating their alcohol intake. The typical Lucky Saint customer is someone in their thirties, rather than their twenties, who are reaching a time in their life where they do have more responsibilities and they do have to be more aware of when they are drinking and how often. I think, due to recent events especially, we are seeing society choose a lifestyle of moderation where they can still enjoy all the aspects of drinking and socialising but in a healthier way.
How do you manage sustainability at Lucky Saint? It is an increasingly important value of the consumer and growing aspect of business companies are paying close attention to.
We have a bit of a mantra at Lucky Saint, which is ‘make sustainability second nature’. This is rooted in our belief that as a business, we have a responsibility to do the right thing. It’s not a buzzword we use to sell our product, it isn’t a frontline message to our audience, it is just an aspect of business that we are committed to behind the scenes. We are currently working towards a specific goal where it comes to sustainability; we are working towards B Corp accreditation which balances the planet and people against profitability. The accreditation looks at your business as a whole, from manufacturing to employee wellbeing, even every step of your supply chain, to ensure we are making as small an impact on the environment and on people as possible as we grow and scale up.
What was the biggest surprise when you were creating the Lucky Saint beer?
I spent two years working with six different brewers, in three different countries, and the isotonic properties of a beer was never a thought that featured in the development process at all. The only thing that I focused on was trying to make a great tasting, classic, alcohol-free lager and I remember when I realised, quite belatedly, that I needed to get our product tested for calorie count and sugar content and salt content, so we had all the correct information for the labels and the packaging. When I got the right results back, I was totally amazed by them because it is only 53 calories so it’s a third of the calorie content of full-strength beer, there was zero sugar, it’s made from fully natural ingredients so I started adding it up and I realised this is healthier than any soft drink, this is healthier than fruit juice frankly because fruit juice contains a lot of sugar, so that was a pretty surprising revelation.
Filtered beer seems to be an industry standard and I was surprised myself to find out that that isn’t done for any health or purification purpose other than making the beer clear, for aesthetic purposes. I was quite interested in finding out why you chose unfiltered beer as the standard for your product?
The historical context on filtering is that it is a process that became popular around 30 or 40 years ago. What happens when you brew lager, after fermentation you should cold store it for a number of weeks. Large brewers figured out that if you could shorten that process, you obviously save quite a lot of money because it isn’t taking up all your tank space and one of the things that happens during the cold storing stage is that all the sediment drops out, so you get a clearer beer. You can accelerate that process by filtering it. By filtering it, you produce a clear bright beer. However, that filtration process removes flavour and body from the drink. You are stripping out some of those tiny little pieces of ingredients which add to the flavour and the substance of the beer. Alcohol-free beer generally lacks flavour and body. The penny dropped during the development process, and we decided to cold store the beer for four weeks and not filter the liquid. The result was a lager that retained more flavour, more character, and is an attractive, hazy, golden colour. It feels very authentic and looks appetising.
Your business strategy had to adapt and pivot quite drastically over the past. You were mostly catering to hospitality businesses, pubs, and restaurants, so when that became impossible, you moved to DTC sales and getting stocked in grocery stores.
Going into COVID-19, we were 70% on-trade as a business. We figured out very quickly that we weren’t brilliantly positioned for a global pandemic and national lockdowns, so we did two things. The first thing we did, we put literally 110% of our energy into our direct-to consumer business. When we went into lockdown, it was mid-March. By the beginning of April, we were bringing in more weekly revenue than we were in January 2020. January is always a huge month for alcohol-free so even though we lost 70% of our business at the start of lockdown, we still managed to make April bigger than January. That was all driven by DTC sales, and we became the second biggest selling beer brand on Amazon, behind Fosters, so that was really cool. The second strategy we followed was building our grocery distribution. We grew from 100 stores in Sainsbury to 1500 stores across Sainsbury, Tesco, Majestic and Ocado. We ended up growing 300% last year, which is what we had forecasted so to achieve that despite the pandemic was fantastic.
Our final question: what are you looking forward to in the near future?
We are excited to see this industry and sector grow in the UK. We are ambitious, we are eager to keep working to change attitudes towards alcohol and build the world’s defining alcohol-free brand. There is a healthy acceptance that the goals we have are not likely to ever truly end, it’s always an ongoing pursuit but we are looking forward to the journey and looking forward to seeing where this product takes us.
You might also be interest in: What you can learn from the ‘BrewDog saga’