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All things nonalcoholic with Seedlip's Ed Procter

We sat down recently with Seedlip's UK Brand Ambassador, Ed Procter, for a quick 15-minute chat about the rapid growth of the non-alcoholic market, our virtual classes, and exciting future plans.

By
TT Liquor

Hi, Ed! Tell us all a bit about yourself and how you first came to be in the industry.

So I guess I followed a somewhat well-trodden path into the industry in that I started bartending in a rooftop cocktail bar and restaurant in West London while studying my undergrad. I wasn’t the first, and I certainly won’t be the last who took that journey, but it immediately opened me up to a whole new world of cuisine and cocktails that I’d never kind of come across before. And it wasn’t long until I was hooked and just amazed by the exposure to fascinating bottles with all this history, the incredible food, and sort of the cutting edge of cuisine in the city at the centre of the world. So it was all very exciting for a young, bright-eyed boy just moving into the city. After some years managing various bars and restaurants across the city, lots of different experiences working with great chefs and bartenders alike, plus doing another degree, I took the sideways step into the brand world. I’d actually started working for Seedlip as the brand ambassador for Seedlip in Spain when I was living there. So I was in a kind of satellite position orbiting around the Seedlip world, kind of all hands on deck, pounding the pavements, selling Seedlip into a market that is very receptive to the idea of nonalcoholic, surprisingly so. And it’s definitely growing as well. So that was super exciting. And then just over a year ago, I came back to the UK, and we’d launched Aecorn. So I started working on Aecorn in the UK and now look after both brands simultaneously.

Brilliant. Quite a journey then. I wasn’t aware Seedlip was in Spain either, or that Spain was even a non-alcoholic market yet!

They do. Yeah. I noticed it before I officially worked for Seedlip there. So my partner’s from Barcelona, and we travel. We go back as often as we can. And I started to notice that every time I was there– you sit in the– there’s the terraces, and everyone has the little red cans of Estrella. Every time I’d go, on these tables, there was always one more blue can. And the blue can is the Free Damm, the alcohol-free Estrella. And it got to a point where they were at parity, and it was 50/50 the same group of people, half not drinking, half drinking. So yeah. And the nonalcoholic-beer scene there is huge. And being able to be there and kind of introducing these non-alcoholic spirits to the market was really exciting.

So that’s what we’re trying to see the end of – no more mocktails. Our enemy is not the gin and tonic. It’s not a vodka martini. It’s the mocktail.

Tell us a bit about Seedlip itself then – the early beginnings of it and so how the idea for it came about.

So Seedlip actually launched almost exactly five years ago. It was in November 2015. And back then, it was launched in Selfridges by Ben Branson, our founder. And so Ben, he came– Seedlip came about as the solution to a dilemma, and the dilemma is what to drink when you’re not drinking. So Ben, our founder, he was rightly horrified at the lack of sort of decent, sophisticated, adult nonalcoholic options available anywhere, whether it was in a Michelin-star restaurant or a supermarket. Across the board, the answer to the question of what to drink when you’re not drinking was always boring. It was Diet Coke. It was orange juice. It was sparkling water. Nothing inspiring. ‘Mocktails’ was a big buzzword, and that’s our sworn enemy! So that’s what we’re trying to see the end of, no more mocktails. Our enemy is not the gin and tonic. It’s not a vodka martini. It’s the mocktail. We’re not here to tell people not to drink. We’re here to give people that really decent option to have when they’re not drinking. So he created the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirits, and we’re using them to help sort of change the way the world drinks.

That leads us quite nicely on into the next question. The market’s becoming more and more populated nowadays – what sets you guys apart from the crowd?

Well, it certainly helps that we were the first. It goes a long way. What that does, though, is it gives us quite a lot of responsibility in a sense that we know that a lot of our competitors are doing incredible things to expand the category and exciting new ingredients and recipes and liquids. And so what that means for us, as the kind of leader of the pack, we need to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and what’s expected. When we launched Aecorn, so our Seedlip sister brand, we really took the category to another level. It suddenly felt like we were able to offer a plethora of drinks. Even if you just think about classic cocktails which you can suddenly enjoy at home, in a bar with very few ingredients is really kind of a game-changer, I think. We’ve always had a sort of single mission driving us forward as well. I mentioned it earlier. It’s to change the way the world drinks. I think that having this as our goal has meant that we’ve kind of strived to be more than just a spirit brand. We have that infinite mindset to our purpose, and I think it helps explain just how far we’ve come in such a short space of time.

When Stephen was showing me the box, I was like, “You guys have thought of more than everything – this is incredible – down to the bar mat.” I was amazed that the bar mat was in there.

So, at the time of this interview, it’s currently Sober October, which is but one of a number of months now dedicated to non-drinking or at least low-ABV drinking. We were interested in hearing your thoughts on this – to what do you credit the meteoric rise of the non-drinking movement?

Yeah. It’s funny to think about Sober October and Dry January. A lot of people kind of think that our brand exists for maybe two, three months a year and then the rest is dormant. Of course, it does help when suddenly you’ve got 8 million extra people not drinking in January, but honestly, it makes no difference to what we do on a day-to-day basis. But I think, really, it’s what the people want, and when they’re given the option, people are choosing to moderate their alcohol consumption rather than cut it out completely – just drinking less, being a bit more conscious of what they’re drinking. There’s a bigger focus on health, mental well-being. All of this kind of ties into a moderated lifestyle rather than a teetotal lifestyle. And people don’t want to sacrifice flavour and ceremony. So it’s super important that even if you’re not drinking but you’re out with your mates that it looks right. You don’t want to be in a photo if everyone else is drinking champagne and you’ve got a glass of orange juice. Simple as that. You want something that looks cool, tastes delicious, and is kind of familiar in terms of the ceremony. That’s why the Seedlip and tonic does so well. Everyone recognises the occasion and the ceremony and the style. It’s just got all the flavour, none of the alcohol.

People still want these options. They still want the experience. They just don’t necessarily want the booze.

I always get the sense that when we launched Seedlip, our customer base was quite binary. It was either you drink alcohol or you drink Seedlip. But now it’s quite clear that it’s not as kind of black and white as that. The proliferation of the wider NA category as well. We’re seeing people choosing drinks for flavour rather than ABV. So the fact that flavour is the focal point, the alcohol volume is kind of arbitrary. It’s sort of secondary. And also, it’s exciting because this is not a flash in the pan. It isn’t just a kind of fad that’s kind of taken grip over the last couple of years because younger generations are drinking less and less. And so if we’re kind of thinking about the trends that are going to be happening in the future, the state of the industry in the next sort of 10, 15 years, when you’ve got Gen Z that are already kind of fascinating in their statistics– there’s some estimate that one in three people between the age of 18 and 21 are teetotal, which sounds kind of crazy, but it’s the way things are going. And I fully expect that the nonalcoholic category is going to have to continue this exponential growth for years to come to the point where it’s not crazy to think that it’ll be on parity with the alcohol industry as well. People still want these options. They still want the experience. They just don’t necessarily want the booze.

It really is such a fascinating development in the industry, especially the surprising levels of uptake amongst the younger generations. Just to move on – what was it that initially drew you to our virtual cocktail classes and TT Liquor in particular.

Yeah. So I mean, you guys have sort of set the standard in terms of what can be done with these virtual classes. And having chatted with Stephen the other week, the numbers are just phenomenal. It’s really exciting. But really, it’s kind of success that you can continue to see growth. Right? Like the NA movement, this doesn’t feel like just a flash in the pan. This is going to be super important to the industry in general. I think if you’re able to kind of pivot and you’ve got the wherewithal to understand how the demands are changing and how interaction is changing, then you can stay ahead of the curve, and also, you can save yourself potentially in times of real strife and struggle for the industry. I think it became quite clear early on as well in this sort of COVID world that the traditional ways of reaching consumers, it was either on pause or it was changed forever.

You guys have done really incredible things in the world of virtual masterclasses. And I think the main thing is that you’re not only able to connect people to your bar, but you’re able to foster connection amongst themselves, amongst your attendees which, at a time when a couple of months ago we weren’t able to leave the house– looks like now we’re potentially going into another kind of form of lockdown. It’s the connection. It’s the human connection that’s going to be so vital moving forward. On top of this, the fact you guys have this really premium nonalcoholic masterclass option means there is something for everyone, and everyone’s catered for. Everyone’s looked after, and everyone can sort of connect with you guys and also with each other. We were really drawn to that aspect. So yeah, we’re really, really keen to be exciting– really excited to be collaborating with you guys on this sort of bespoke nonalcoholic cocktail class. And hopefully, it’ll be as engaging, fun, and tasty as the alcoholic options.

If I’m not drinking, the No-groni is always the go-to. It’s really simple to make the nonalcoholic version with just a mix of Seedlip, Aecorn Bitter, and Aecorn Aromatic.

We’re sure it will be. Something that we’ve definitely noticed is just the sheer demand, I guess, for these nonalcoholic options and different dietary requirements. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, to be honest; it’s the sort of inclusivity and flexibility that we really place as paramount. We want the most seasoned drinkers to be placed alongside people who literally have never touched a drop, and they’re all having a similar sort of experience. No one’s singled out. No one feels left out. No one feels like, “Oh, they’re having more fun than I am.”

Yeah. I think what’s really cool as well is that the role of the bartender and bar space has obviously got to be reimagined. But I feel that the way you guys are doing it, it still feels genuine – you’re filming it in the bars, for one! I know that sounds kind of trivial, but it makes a difference. I do my masterclasses sitting down at my desk. It feels a bit odd. But yeah, the fact that you guys really sort of go all in, have as close as you can get to the original experience. When Stephen was showing me the box, I was like, “You guys have thought of more than everything – this is incredible – down to the bar mat.” I was amazed that the bar mat was in there. I was like, “Oh, that’s so cool. They have everything they need.” And also it’s learning a new skill! People are desperate for these kinds of activities and interactions now more than ever. So yeah, well done, guys.

We really appreciate the kind words, Ed. Bright things indeed on the horizon. Speaking of which, aside from the virtual classes collaboration, have you guys got any sort of interesting plans you want to let us in on?

I’d love to let in on all of them, to be honest! Seedlip always has stuff in the works, and there are always exciting things going on. We do have some very exciting projects coming up. Some you’ll know about very soon, some not so soon. I can’t wait to see them come to fruition. But yeah, watch this space. It’s going to be big.

We’ll be watching with bated breath! So this is the part of the interview where we ask for your go-to cocktail.

I’ve gone around this question in my head, whether to go for the nonalcoholic-alcoholic here. I’ve decided to go for the Negroni. At first, I’ll admit, I hated it. Then I got to understand it, and now I just can’t get enough of it. I’m mad about bitter flavours. And the aperitivo culture as well has always been something I absolutely love. And if I’m not drinking, the No-groni is always the go-to. It’s really simple to make the non-alcoholic version with just a mix of Seedlip, Aecorn Bitter, and Aecorn Aromatic. And even further than that, using one of the bottles from your shelves, one of my favourites is East London Liquor Company’s London Dry Gin. I’ve always been a fan of what those guys do, and I actually now live around the corner from the distillery. So shoutout to my neighbours. I can literally shout that out the window, and they’ll hear me! But yeah, I just love using their gin for a low-ABV serve that we really like to shout about. It’s called the Lowgroni, of course. So yeah, for that it’s just nice equal measures of East London Liquor’s London Dry, Aecorn Bitter, and Aecorn Aromatic. It’s tricky, though, isn’t it? When you have a Negroni, you want to have three or four because it just tastes so good, but then you’re just absolutely dead to rights! So a perfect aperitivo is a Lowgroni to lower you gently into a dinner.

We’re grateful to Ed for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us. If you like the look and sound of Seedlip and our virtual classes, then why not enter our giveaway below? We’re handing out a free virtual cocktail party for four and a bottle of your choice from Seedlip’s range to one lucky winner.