The pandemic has seen many changes. Some people are drinking more. Others are more health-conscious than they were and looking for a non-alcoholic night out which still offers as much fun as the booze-filled ones did.
However, the pandemic simply accelerated the health-conscious, non-alcoholic trend that was already happening. Three Spirit, a company started in 2018, was ahead of the game in spotting this trend. The under 35’s were already looking for better ways to look after themselves, even before the pandemic making the non-alcoholic market ripe for disruption.
Co-founder Tatiana Mercer
I chatted with Tatiana Mercer to hear more about her journey and what brought the three founders together on this non-alcoholic journey.
Tatiana’s parents both had businesses. By five, she was playing with her price gun and security tags in her mother’s stockroom and by six, trying to sell mud for face-masks. The entrepreneurial genes were already showing. Instead of university, she found a position in international merchandising and then worked as Events Manager for Paul McKenna Training, managing a team of 200 hypnotists.
From there, she became Sales and Marketing Exec and Events Manager for Capital Partners. She loved the time there, finding it fast and exciting, and stayed until she then felt ready to launch a business of her own, which she did very successfully with BarChick in 2010.
BarChick is a site that uses WhatsApp, slack, messenger to interact with the consumer using first reservation software. The consumer can search and find the coolest bar wherever you are. You can choose a bar by criteria, where it is, whom you are going with, what you want to drink. It has been an enormous success. Tatiana is no longer involved with it but friends with the girl who runs it now.
In 2017 she joined Prehype, an innovation and Venture Development studio helping established companies and VCs and start-ups through a variety of programs. She describes it a the sort of place entrepreneurs go when they need some time out. She worked with the drinks giant Diageo, Lego, and other large corporations, helping them with new ventures in the ideation phase. For Tatiana, this was more like a university full of people she related to. One of those was Meeta Gournay, a partner there, with a history of successful start-ups.
With her background, Tatiana knew a lot about the drinks industry and had become aware of the new space opening up with people seeking to lower the alcohol intake or move to non-alcoholic altogether. At PreHype, the futures team was talking about opportunities there too. As a drinker, the concept of no alcohol for Tatiana was always negative, all about abstinence and lack of fun.
Tatiana is married to Dash Lilley, known for several successful wellness brands. He was used to sourcing ingredients. His businesses were all about what people were consuming, the benefit of the different elements producing magic.
They started asking themselves about the benefits of alcohol and what they felt they would be sacrificing; energy, sleep, euphoria. They could see that if those moods could be reproduced in non-alcoholic drinks, it would be a win-win. Meeta joined in the chat and said, let’s do this.
From the start, Dash led on products. Dash spent much of his time in libraries and working with herbalists, scientists, and, more recently, Michael Heinrich from the UCL School of Pharmacy. Tatiana knew the worlds’ best bartenders and insisted that the taste had to pass their approval rating, so she brought them on board.
The Non-Alcohol Alchemy
Alchemy in Medieval times was a mixture of chemistry and philosophy. Practitioners sought to turn other metals into gold, discover the universal cure for disease and a way of prolonging life. Its original roots stretch further back into ancient philosophies BC. Three Spirits are working for a happier and healthier life by producing non-alcoholic drinks that delight in their own special kind of alchemy.
The three original non-alcoholic drinks instead use plants from all over the world, some of which would have been at home in any Medieval herbalists’ stock, valerian root, lemon balm, and apple cider vinegar. Others are familiar names to us, passionflower and hibiscus from the garden, spices such as black and Sichuan pepper, cayenne chili, ginger, caraway seeds.
You may have heard of cacao, but guayusa, Schisandra, ashwagandha are more unusual. These are just a few of their ingredients sourced from plants, many used in potions or ceremonies through the ages.
While the ingredients are sourced worldwide, the drinks are made in the UK and sustainably packed. They are – of course – non-alcoholic and also vegan.
The Three Spirit Drinks
Try the Livener in a Bellini or Margarita or mixed with tonic to start your evening. Move on to the Social Elixir, a mood influencer to lift your spirit to full-on partying and finish off the evening with a Dream Maker, an after-dinner drink served on its own over ice. This gives a dreamy, mellow feeling to help you wind down. Non-alcoholic perhaps but with the same mood cycle as alcohol can bring to an evening.
Three Spirit’s Entrepreneurial Journey
Three Spirit was founded in December 2018, and within a month, they were on the menu of Harvey Nichols, and London’s smartest bars and restaurants. The non-alcoholic content was an instant success. Initially, they self-funded since when they have added in two small Friends and Family funding rounds.
Tatiana leads on marketing. From the start, she felt that while traditional drinks companies rely on sales through bars and retailers, they would concentrate on social media. They needed to educate and explain an entirely new concept of drinking non-alcoholic drinks yet still experiencing the sensations of alcohol. They could only do that by mixing with their market and talking to people, garnering feedback.
Initially, they designed the packaging themselves. It proved challenging. They wanted a cork stopper, only to be told they couldn’t have one. The glass they wanted they couldn’t have. They persevered, and the resulting bottles are gorgeous, opaque reminders of the potions that went before. They have since put more efficiencies into their manufacturing processes.
The supply chain would be a challenge at any point in time as they use over 50 ingredients. Meeta and Dash have made a big hire recently finding David to be their Head of the Supply Chain. Tatiana says she has learned it is easier to hire people better than you at something than try to teach someone. This way, she expands her knowledge too. David is fixing many of the errors and hiccups that dominated and made life difficult.
Demand planning has been the biggest challenge or all. They held back when COVID hit, not anticipating that, in reality, demand for delicious, non-alcohol drinks would increase massively. As a result, they ran out of stock several times.
Their lockdown year has exceeded their expectation of success with their non-alcoholic drinks. How 2021 will do with the challenges of post COVID, they are cautious about, but never the less are full of plans.
They are concentrating on the US, where they have been for three months, and anticipate will soon exceed UK sales. Canada is also becoming a reality though they are still debating the merits of focusing versus grabbing an opportunity when you see it. They too are leaping on the non-alcoholic bandwagon. Three Spirit are currently fulfilling in Europe but will, in time, have to move into there fully post Brexit.
They have three more drinks ready, variants of the original three but ready mixed so they can be drunk straight from the bottle. And bottles they will be, not cans, as most other ready-mixed drinks are. These, Tatiana thinks, will be better for the retail market.
They have already turned down interest from retailers. With these so much more suited and the brand more established, Tatiana thinks they may now be ready to revisit. Also, they are looking at manufacturing in the US and working on how to ensure consistency.
I asked Tatiana what drives her. She explains that every day is different; she is never bored. It is fast-paced, and you can learn every day. She thinks if you ever hit the ceiling of learning, there is a severe problem. As the business grows, they get to work with an increasing amount of exceptional talent, such as within the digital agency they are now using, which teaches you to be better.
Most of all, in both her job for Paul McKenna and at BarChick, it was the amazing stories the customers would share. With Three Spirit, these are even louder, the gratitude and the thanks incredible, for wonderful, non-alcoholic nights out.
Another amazing entrepreneur you might like to read of is Hannah Spilva of LVLY – Telstra’s business woman of the year 2020