Culture: Is the Sober Curious Movement a Fad or Here to Stay?
People are drinking less and less these days, and not just during Dry January and Sober October. The evidence? The rise of non-alcoholic (NA) beverages, coupled with the growing popularity of NA-focused retail stores and other spaces. But is this trend a passing fad or a movement with staying power? If it’s the latter, what does that mean for the beverage industry? Could it, as some experts believe, translate to more innovation and diversity?
In this episode, Jacy Topps sits down with Laura Silverman and Emily Heintz to discuss NA culture and how it’s impacting the drinks business. Silverman is the founder of Zero Proof Nation, a platform highlighting NA beverages and the culture driving their growth. Heintz is the founder of Sèchey, a retail bottle shop specializing in no- and low-alcohol beverages in Charleston.
Listen as Silverman and Heintz discuss the increase of NA spaces; how these spaces promote inclusivity; common misconceptions about the category; and how retailers can better educate consumers and select what goes on their shelves.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Jacy Topps, Emily Heintz, Laura Silverman
Jacy Topps 00:08
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. You’re serving of drinks culture, and the people who drive it. I’m Jacy Topps. This week, we’re talking about no-low-alcohol culture. The rise of NA spaces, retail stores and beverages suggest that people are drinking less. And not just during dry January and sober October. There’s a growing trend, but has that trend developed into a movement? I sat down with Laura Silverman and Emily Heintz to discuss the phenomenon in the beverage space. Laura is the founder of Zero Proof Nation, an NA resource platform. And Emily is the founder of Sèchey, a retail bottle shop in Charleston, specializing in no-low-alcohol beverages. So, listen on, as we discussed the increase of NA spaces; the common misconceptions about the category; how the alcohol industry can help in a culture and how bottle retailers educate consumers and choose what goes on their shops.
Jacy Topps 01:16
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Jacy Topps 02:26
Hi, I’m Jacy Topps. My guest today is Laura Silverman. Laura is the founder of Zero Proof Nation, a resource platform elevating non-alcoholic beverages, and its lifestyle. Hi, Laura. Welcome. I’m so glad you can join us today.
Laura Silverman 02:43
Hi, Jacy! Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Jacy Topps 02:47
So your site has been getting a lot of press and I want to kind of know what actually Zero Proof Nation is. So, for our listeners who aren’t familiar, what is Zero Proof Nation? And why did you start it?
Laura Silverman 03:00
Oh, that’s a loaded question. So I’ll start with what it is. And then I’ll go into why I started it. Zero Proof Nation is essentially what I like to think of as a fully comprehensive resource hub for the non-alcoholic beverage culture. And the people who drink these beverages. It has directories for non-alcoholic bottle shops, booze, free bars, beverages, of course, which I had started putting a beverage directory together before there was even a such thing as a non-alcoholic bottle shop. And it was back in late 2019, early 2020, before the pandemic, so a lot of these brands were just kind of coming up or selling direct to consumer, and so I wanted to put as many beverages together as I could in different categories. But it started as an Instagram feed where I featured non ALC beverage founders and some people in the space, really focusing on the founders in a world at that time that told them maybe they might have done better or done better business starting an alcohol brand. Because it’s just easier. I wondered why they started non ALC, there’s usually a story involved. Oftentimes there was a story where either the founder or someone close to them had issues with addiction in their family or they just found themselves getting older and wanting to drink less alcohol. They still did drink mindfully but wanted to provide an option that had inclusivity for everyone. And it was just really interesting getting to know people and why they why they cared about non-alcoholic and speaking of why people care I should probably tell you why I care and that’s rooted in my own story. I’m not sure when this will go live but on July 14, I will turn or will have turns depending on the Airing Date. 16 years sober
Laura Silverman 04:59
So, I got sober at a very young age at 24. And there were no options for people who didn’t drink for whatever reason. Again, there’s a huge sobriety spectrum out there, whether that means that you’re just not drinking for tonight, or you’re doing like a dry January or sober October. So that’s a month are of course we have our nine-month contingent, the people who are pregnant and need to not drink alcohol. And then people who are taking breaks for longer or permanently, there were no options really to speak of there was I mean, coke, other sodas are duels and club soda, but there really wasn’t anything sophisticated. And if you asked a bartender to make you a quote, mocktail back, then it would probably be like really, really sweet or tart or sugary, an afterthought. It most of these beverages were afterthoughts for people like me and other people in the community. So, it’s really only been in the past five years, or even less that I’ve seen that we’ve seen such a huge rise in non-alcoholic beverages, and adult non-alcoholic beverages. But the reason I created this was for myself, because I wanted a resource. And I knew that if I wanted it, other people might want it too. And it’s just become, it’s become my passion. And interestingly, there are a lot of people in this industry that aren’t sober. They just believe in health and wellness and options for all. So, it’s a little bit more rare these days to find someone like me who’s 100% sober. But I know that most of my audience and community are mindful drinkers who are sober, curious, or they consider themselves alcohol free, but not necessarily in recovery.
Jacy Topps 06:45
Thank you for sharing your story. Laura. That’s amazing.
Laura Silverman 06:49
My pleasure, my honor.
Jacy Topps 06:50
So, like you said, there has been a little bit of a shift and rise. And the numbers don’t lie, right? Like people are consuming alcohol differently, whether it’s lower alcohol or no alcohol. So, I kind of want to know, like your point of view. Do you think that there’s this sober movement, like doing research for this podcast? I was looking was all these articles like the sober movement. So, is there a movement? Or what do you think?
Laura Silverman 07:24
Yes, absolutely. It’s had so many different iterations. Up until now, I think we’re really in a place right now where people are drinking less. And I think the pandemic had a lot to do with it for a variety of reasons, obviously. But people are finding themselves in in a in a place where they want to make healthier decisions. And that might not mean going sober altogether, it might mean drinking less, but there is this sober, curious and sober and alcohol free, non alcoholic movement. But it’s definitely afoot, and maybe some people would have thought it was a trend that is going to go away or would have gone away by now. And it’s entirely possible that I mean, this was on the rise for a while pre pandemic slowly. But once the pandemic hit, it kind of took a an exponential, vertical direction going up. And I really don’t think it’s a trend anymore. I think it’s; I think it’s, it might be trendy, but it’s not necessarily something like a fad that’s gonna pass. I think we’re really in a place where hospitality is seeing these adult non alcoholic beverages as a way to make money. And rightly so. If they didn’t have anything on their menus, it would be leaving money on the table. There are so many people that want to space out, drinking alcohol, maybe drink a session cocktail, which would take longer and intersperse that with non alcoholic beverages. And of course, then there are all the people that that don’t drink. So I think we’re really finding ourselves in this heyday of non alcoholic culture, non alcoholic movement, whether we call that a sober movement, sober has a variety of meanings for people, it can be a loaded word for some, but at its core, it’s it just means not intoxicated. So in that sense, in that in that definition, I definitely think there is a huge movement. But let me let me take myself out of the equation for a second. Because it’s all I think, all the time. And I realize that it’s not necessarily mainstream for everyone. However, I think we are starting to and when I say we, I mean, me and the others in the movement. I think we’re really starting to infiltrate into the mainstream, and it’s evident by by all of the press that beverages are getting bars, bottle shops, there’s all these things popping up all the time. I mean, JetBlue the airline recently partnered up with athletic brewing, and they’re having an athletic on some of their flights. You
Laura Silverman 09:59
And I really do think that it’s, it’s a steady movement. And people can come and go, they can do a one month, sort of stint in it. And that’s fine too. But if it pl
ants the seed of just becoming a little bit healthier, I’m not here to be a prohibitionist and I and I really do think that there are a lot of people who can drink alcohol safely, and who want to drink wine and beer and spirits, for the for the taste and for what it represents maybe historically, and if there’s any sort of tie to their own culture, but there is evidence that shows that alcohol is, is toxic. And there’s more and more research coming out. Now that is showing that virtually no amount can be considered healthy. That being said, again, I’m not here to, to tell anyone what to do. I’m not here to shame anyone. And frankly, I just want there to be options for everyone. So if I go out with friends who are drinking alcohol, I want there to be options for them to switch off with. But selfishly I want options for myself. And I think we’re finding because this is a movement that now we’re finding that there are more venues out there, there are more retail opportunities to get knocked out whether it’s ecommerce or brick and mortar.
Jacy Topps 11:16
Well, I’m glad you brought up actual venues and brick and mortar places. Because you know, for listeners who aren’t familiar, including myself, what is the difference between what like a quote unquote, bar, typical bar and a non alc bar? Is it solely just the drinks that they serve?
Laura Silverman 11:38
Yeah, that’s it. It’s just the drinks. You would if you went into any of these booths, free bars, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar place, like sands bar in Austin, or a pop up, like Absence of Proof in New York and the founder, Elizabeth does pop ups all over the country. Now. There are some young girls, young women in LA called Zero Proofed, and they do a lot of pop ups and in LA and really the only thing that’s different is the level of alcohol by volume in the beverages because the vibe is just like in there. The vibe is just like any bar. And there’s a bar for everyone, right? So, there’s like a fancy cocktail bar, there’s a dive bar, there’s a karaoke bar, there’s a gay bar. We’re finding that there are more of these subcultures in booze free bars now. And it’s really something kind of wild to see. So yeah, the only difference is that the beverages served don’t have booze in them, but it’s just the same as any other bar. And it’s for anyone, we’re not saying do you drink alcohol at the door? If you do, you’re not allowed. No, anyone can come in. And it can be a starting place. For some people, it can be an ending place for some people, or it could just be the place to hang out if you decide that you just don’t want to drink alcohol for the night.
Jacy Topps 12:58
Yeah, I like that. I think that kind of invokes inclusivity. I think that the food and beverage industry, especially the wine industry has been talking about inclusivity over the last, I don’t know, five years. And we’ve been talking about it in terms of gender and geographical and winemaking and marketing and things of that nature and language. But I guess we haven’t really talked about making sure that there’s space in products for people who don’t drink wine.
Laura Silverman 13:30
Hmm. Yeah, that’s, that’s a huge thing, Jacy, Because, you know, I don’t go to wineries anymore. It’s not that I don’t like them. I think they’re beautiful places. They often have good cheeses and mustards and all the charcuteries. But usually wineries, especially the fun independent ones, or are local to the, I guess, to the terroir that you’re in just don’t have the financial capabilities to do alcohol, eyes wine, and
have a non-alcoholic option on their on their tasting menus. And so, they wouldn’t necessarily have flights for people who don’t drink alcohol. But you’ll find them much larger wine brands have that capability built in. And of course, there are a lot of individual brands that are starting out completely non-alcoholic and staying that way. I’m not a scientist or even play one on TV, but there are a variety of ways to make non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer and some of these some of these companies don’t alkalis in the first place and then D alkalis. They might just use their zoo and unfermented grapes. So, I guess all that is to say that there’s a huge element of inclusivity in the wine industry in the beer industry that is just starting to sort of be uncovered and that is in having non-alcoholic options for people and that includes people who also drinking alcohol, they just might want to drink less. And so it’s always good to offer something else.
Jacy Topps 15:07
Yeah. Well, I’m really glad that you brought up the different types of products because I guess beer has always had, like a head start when it comes to no alcohol, a low alcohol, right, like non-alcoholic beer. So I know a lot of people are saying that they’ve had beer that actually tastes like beer. And it’s, you know, it’s not beer, it’s non-alcoholic, or here are the producers getting this right? Is the taste, the smell? If people who like want to do lower alcohol or no alcohol, is the experience still there? Are people get still getting their experience, even though it’s not alcohol?
Laura Silverman 15:48
Gosh, that’s such a good question. Because, yes, and. There’s a range of quality and products and I had a really unique experience in London earlier this year, when I was a judge at the inaugural World Alcohol-Free awards were across two days, all of the judges tasted 400 different beverages across a multitude of categories. And I tasted a lot of really good wines, and a lot of OK wines and some pretty bad ones. And of course, they will all be unnamed, mostly because I have no idea what I tried. It was all blind. They’re blind. Competition should be. But there’s really a variety in quality. And there are some really phenomenal producers in my mind. A lot of them are domestic now to the US. But the sort of the, the heartbeat of the non alcoholic beverage movement started in the UK. And there’s a lot of innovation in the UK, you probably have heard of seedlip That was one of the first sort of non-alcoholic adult non-alcoholic spirits if you will. And it’s really a botanical distillate. And there’s a whole category of those now, inspired by seedlip. But there’s a fantastic wine brand that does sparkling and stills based out of the UK called Noughty. And they are they’re phenomenal. I just tried for the first time a Chilean non alcoholic wine brand. And we all know I believe we all know that Chile has pretty phenomenal wine. A lot of wines come from Chile, but not a lot of non-alcoholic wines do and so, I mean, I should just let all of the listeners know that I haven’t had alcohol in almost 16 years, essentially 16 years. So I don’t really remember the mouthfeel of it. I don’t remember how it necessarily made me feel. But I do kind of remember tastes and textures and effervescence. And in that regard. I think a lot of producers are getting it right. And if they’re not getting it right in their first production, they listen to feed back and they get it right the next time. And I know that a lot of beverage producers are small and large and also sort of the crossover alcoholic. The big guys in big alcohol but they many of them have non-alcoholic wings to their company. So of course, we’ve got you know, Heineken and Heineken zero and Tanqueray has Tanqueray, zero, Martini and Rossi have their zero lines. So a lot of big companies are producing non-alcoholic too. But in terms of wine, I really do think that there are some people that are just nailing it. And it’s really, it’s really cool to see. And it’s really cool to taste, obviously, all of these new products. And there’s just all this innovation that’s constantly happening. And so I think the mark of a good, really good producer. And a really good organization is one that listens to feedback from, from its audience. And if something’s not working quite right to iterate and reiterate and make sure that it that it’s right the next time but there’s a lot of good stuff out there. And people can check out my site for some for some inspiration, but there’s tons of bottle shops, individual bottle shops, and also you know, if you go to big box wine stores like Total Wine and more does a lot of really great stuff in the spirits, mixers and non-alcoholic beer. I think there’s still a way to go with their non-alcohol wine selection, but they’re starting to I think they just brought in a couple of brands that I drink myself.
Jacy Topps 19:29
Yeah. So do you think that the booze industry, the brand’s the media? Are we helping or are we hurting, or should we get out of the way? What do you think?
Laura Silverman 19:42
Wow! I don’t think the alcohol industry is hurting the non-alcoholic industry. I think there are some things that could be done to better enable coexisting and making sure that there’s that element of inclusivity. So there’s a lot of, I don’t know, if you’ve heard of just the low alcohol movement as well there’s, there’s no and low. So there’s, there’s the opportunity to go sort of have these with certain spirits, for instance. And there’s a brand out there called Spirit lists that essentially has that as their motto, it’s less as Yes, and go have these, you know, mix foolproof whiskey with half zero-proof whiskey. And that’s a way to sort of work together with both alcohol companies and non-alcoholic companies. I also think that, you know, just like, most non-alcoholic beverage companies are likely not going to go into producing alcohol, a lot of alcoholic companies are not necessarily going to open their portfolio to non alkyne. That’s okay, too. But for those that are able to, and are interested in having sort of another wing to their company, I think it would be great to listen to the non alc movement.
Laura Silverman 21:00
And many and many are, and the very, very nature that I’m on a Wine Enthusiast podcast means that you’re listening, and I appreciate it, I definitely think there’s more opportunity to work together and to sort of promote a healthier way of drinking. And that doesn’t necessarily mean eradicating doesn’t mean eradicating alcohol, but just encouraging trying new things. And I think that’s a diplomatic way of saying that there’s still a ways to go, but there’s not any overt hate towards the non-alcoholic movement. And if anything, we’re bringing more customers to bars and restaurants that might feel kind of ousted, or just feel like they’re not included with a seat at the table. But we’re, we’re by having options on menus by having options in a company’s range. There will be more devoted followers, there’ll be more people drinking beverages at the end of the day. Yeah, I think that’s a good point. You know, and I think that being part of the media, I think that language is really important. I know, you talked about basically, calling it has these are or basically saying that, you know, there are certain alcohol that’s healthy, and then there, you know, like, it’s not, you know, then I think here at one enthusiast that we’ve actually get that right. You know, if if people want to consume alcohol, that’s, that, by all means, but don’t call it healthy because it’s not healthy. It’s for your enjoyment. And that’s just what so I think, I think that language is a really big part of how people sometimes I end, I feel like language can get in the way and it can definitely hurt the situation. So, I would, I think that’s kind of where my question came from, like, is the language that we’re using better in Canada get better? I think it can absolutely get better. And there’s, you know.
Laura Silverman 22:57
A lot of people out there have feelings about the word mocktail. I’m one of the people that has some feelings about it, but I don’t hate the word I just don’t really use it in my own in my own life. Because for me again, I’m speaking on my own behalf no one else’s that it just kind of connotes somewhat of a kiddie beverage or, or something that is an afterthought. Now there’s sort of like the new mocktail which is the type of mixed cocktail that doesn’t have any kind of spirit analogues as Derek Brown, of mindful mixology says he calls them analog so like it doesn’t have a non-alcoholic whiskey, or rum or gin or whatever. It’s just like botanicals and maybe juices and alcohol, free bitters or something it might just be crafted without any kind of alcoholic analog intention. But then for the for the drinks that do you use those analog spirits. I prefer calling them just cocktail-, non alcoholic cocktails na cocktails. Zero proof you have to be somewhat careful with that even though I know I’m zero proof nation because if a brand is going to call themselves zero proof, they better hope that there’s 0.0 ABV just because there are some people drinking these beverages that are very highly attuned to having alcohol in their system, whether it’s related to a history of addiction, or there might be some allergies and or people who observe halal, they can’t have any kind of alcohol content. So there’s there definitely needs to be more massaging and attention toward language as as it pertains to describing these beverages. But there’s also regulatory issues too. And I believe you can’t call an a beer and a beer on the label. I think you have to call like a non-alcoholic brew or a malt beverage or something based on FDA regs. So that’s a whole other podcast. There’s a lot what a lot around language for sure. And
Laura Silverman 25:04
I like what’s going on in the alcoholic space. I mean I’m I watch things I see things and I think there’s a lot of really good that’s happening with more diverse producers with more attention toward sustainability. And I think there’s a lot of that in the non-alcoholic beverage scene too. And we care about a lot of the same values. And, and then for people who are in non-health, we kind of go one step further, because many, but certainly not all are many beverages are healthy. But I can’t do a blanket statement and say that every single non-alcoholic beverage is healthy. I mean, there’s sugar content, there’s preservatives, there’s this there’s that it’s up to every individual drinker to be discerning about what they put in their system. Yeah, I agree with that. This is the lifestyle for you. And for many others, do you think that this is going to be a trend that goes away? Like, not for you and other people, but as far as marketing and media, and we were talking about it now? Is this going to go away? Are we going to stop talking about this? Or is this going to be forever, I don’t think it’s going to go away, I think we’re going to see the curve, normalize a little bit. And it already is starting to. So I’m kind of looking mentally at this graph of sort of the rise of non-alcoholic beverages pre pandemic, and it was always rising, but it was very, very glacial and almost horizontal, when the pandemic hit, it almost shot up immediately vertically. And everyone got on that bandwagon for a variety of reasons, like I touched on before, whether it was because alcohol brands couldn’t ship directly to consumers. And we were all sort of at home. And they had to produce different products that were non-alcoholic or non-alcoholic products were just kind of forming and coming to be by other producers. The curve definitely like took a sharp, straight up turn, I’m not making sense, but the graph kind of shot up. And now what we’re seeing is a little bit more of a normalizing of that of that curve, so to speak. It’s still increasing and decreasing a lot more than it was pre pandemic, but it’s not sort of the same exponential vertical growth as it was before. But I mean, all of the stats out there, everyone is doing statistics related to these beverages are showing that the valuation is just out the roof. I mean, I think there was a statistic out there by like, 2034, it’ll be like in the trillions or something. I don’t know, please don’t quote me on that. But it’s, it’s definitely not going away. For sure whether or not it’s as in the forefront of everyone’s mind, it may it may taper back a little bit. It’s still kind of novel and new. Even though for me, it feels like it’s been going on for years and years, I look back and it’s just, it’s pretty nascent in sort of what we’re seeing now. But I don’t think it’s going away at all. And I think if anything, people are seeing that they want to drink less, maybe they’re not going to give it up entirely. That’s okay. But maybe they just want to drink less, and they want options for weeknights. Maybe they don’t want to drink on a weeknight, but they want to have an Aperol Spritz, well, they can have that they can have like Wilburton, bittersweet, Aperitivo. And they can have something with Tennyson or Pathfinder, or all these phenomenal brands out there that provide the same experience, the same taste profile, the same ritual without any risk of a hangover. So, I definitely think we’re still going to see it increase. Maybe, maybe there won’t be press about it every single day, but maybe there will be I hope there. And for everyone, to everyone.
Jacy Topps 28:55
Laura, I have one more question for you. Of course, what was what’s in your glass? What are you drinking these days?
Laura Silverman 29:02
Oh, gosh, so many different things. And I thought you might ask that. So, I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you that it’s not that exciting. Right now I’m drinking liquid IV from a water bottle because I just worked out and I have to stay hydrated and have lots of electrolytes, but I am loving. I’m loving our RTDs and na beers and just kind of cracking open a can. I had a can of health aid passionfruit and tangerine kombucha earlier today, but I am probably definitely going to have some sort of beer tonight. I love my friends at athletics. I’m also really loving go brewing out of Chicago. They’re doing some really phenomenal things. And they’re solely a non alcoholic brewery. And I also really enjoy wines with dinner and cooking and it’s just kind of fun to feel like I’m a grown up and have that kind of a ritual to so I have five bar carts and a beverage fridge now. I get sent a lot, of course, but I also, I also buy a fair amount and I’m trying to buy less because I have to go through what I have. But there’s so many different categories out there for just about any, any mood. Functional, as you probably know, is having a huge movement right now functional beverages are everywhere. Yeah, I have something different for whatever mood I’m in. And I do want to give a shout out to pink cloud beverages because I am loving their CBD cocktails inspired by flavors of Hawaii. And it’s sort of what it reminds me of like spindrift, but with Hawaiian flavors and CBD as well. So there’s just a lot of good stuff out there. And it’s a really fun place to, to discover and explore.
Jacy Topps 30:56
Thank you so much, Laura, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Laura Silverman 31:00
Oh, thank you so much. It’s been a treat.
Jacy Topps 31:08
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Jacy Topps 32:11
My next guest is Emily Heintz. Emily is the founder of Schey, a beverage retail store based in Charleston, South Carolina. Welcome Emily. I’m so glad you can join us today.
Emily Heintz 32:22
Thank you for having me.
Jacy Topps 32:24
So Sèchey is a retail shop. Can you explain what actually you specialize in and why you decided to open the store?
Emily Heintz 32:34
Sure. So Schey is a nod to the French word for dry. So, we specialize in alternative beverages, which could be anything from dealcoholize wine, beer, distilled spirits about alcohol to functional beverages. And we designed such a as a retailer around the celebration, and socialization and connection, but not necessarily around alcohol. It’s really about providing alternatives for us to celebrate and socialize without leveraging alcohol.
Jacy Topps 33:08
Okay, great. And I know that we at wine enthusiast has kind of given you a couple of nods as well, as far as you know, a beverage a non-alcoholic beverage store to try to check out.
Laura Silverman 33:24
I find that wine is an excellent way to start your sober, curious journey and just to think about alcohol in a different way. Because you still get a lot of the benefits, you know, from pouring wine into your glass but not a lot. Not a lot of the negative effects.
Jacy Topps 33:43
Okay, great. So my previous guest, Laura Silverman, who you I know, are familiar with. I think she did a great job and enlightening us as far as about that non-alcohol beverages. But I wanted to get your perspective because you are in retail. Do you have you seen an uptick in interest in non-alcohol? Or is like the demand higher these days?
Emily Heintz 34:09
The demand is absolutely higher. We’re right on King Street. So, they get a lot of traffic and visitors to Charleston. So they’ll walk in thinking we are a traditional bottle shop and it’s amazing to see the surprise that we carry alternative options and the alcohol, eyes wine and beer. But then we also have the customers who are looking specifically for alternatives that seek us out. And there’s I would say there is equally equal enthusiasm across both groups. Because while they’ve, you know, they probably do drink alcohol, they’re looking for options. And recognizing that there are other options out there. It’s just about finding them and the convenience of them.
Jacy Topps 34:55
So you sell products that are no alcohol, obviously. Do you also sell products that are lower ABV?
Emily Heintz 35:04
So certain states, you’re required to get a beer and wine license, even if the ABV is below point 5%. So right now we carry 95% alcohol-free products that fit that 100.5%. But we do get requests for low alcohol. So we’ve started to carry traditional wine to complement the assortment from a convenience factor. And we really want to embrace everyone’s relationship with or without alcohol. And we found that that was the best way to get customers to come in is to really offer them a variety. So that’s a state-by-state thing. It is a state-by-state thing. Yes, but technically Sechey is a concept for the alcohol flexible. So the majority of our customers do you have some kind of relationship with alcohol and are just looking for options like different tools in their chest? Right, like maybe they’re going out to a work event? And we’d like to get up early the next morning, so they choose a dealcoholized version of wine or a cocktail with spirit free tequila for their evening.
Jacy Topps 36:17
I’m curious, I know, cannabis, obviously a state by state these days and obviously I know South Carolina does not legalize THC. Do you have any products that are had to have CBD.
Jacy Topps 36:31
So we do we carry CBD and functional beverages, which really is a category that includes nootropic adaptogens, plant based Botanic. And in fact, in South Carolina, Delta Eight and Delta Nine are legal. So we do have THC but it is the type of THC that was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, which is specific to Delta nine it’s a hemp derived THC product and Delta Eight which is synthetic THC.
Jacy Topps 37:03
Okay, that’s I didn’t know that.
Emily Heintz 37:07
I would say like, equally to people coming in looking for alternatives. Without alcohol, we have people coming in looking for a functional beverage, which we categorize as a product that would give you a replicate the feeling that alcohol might give you whether it’s like creating a buzz or relax, you help you sleep down all of those. So, the THC products fall in that category.
Jacy Topps 37:32
I’m pretty curious about this, because I feel like you know, I talked to Laura previously. And she said that she feels it’s definitely a movement like the no alcohol is definitely a movement. Do you feel, I know your background is in sales? Do you feel that part of that movement is because of the legalization of cannabis lately? Or is it just people who are just kind of wanting no alcohol?
Emily Heintz 38:00
I think that during COVID, and this is just my personal experience, and the stories that people have shared, you know, we all relied a little bit too heavily on alcohol and emerged from COVID Wanting to socialize but also recognizing the negative effects that traditional alcohol have on your sleep on your body, on your mood. And we’re looking for alternatives. And then, you know, as we emerge from COVID, as well, and the 2018 farm bill and the legalization of cannabis, those two movements are converging. So you’re really seeing the impact today and someone likes to shave our retail assortment which covers both. We want to carry a variety and you choose how you want to celebrate whether it’s with cannabis, dealcoholized product or traditional alcohol. How do you find new brands? Well, I am always in the market looking for new brands based on my personal preferences. But I recognize that, you know, those are also limited. So we tend to ask for recommendations from customers, we look through Instagram, some of the brands that I already work with will recommend other brands. And then as Sechey has created, you know, ourselves as a leader in the movement, brands will come to us, thanks to you know, Wine Enthusiast and others who have put us out there as an alcohol-free alternative bottle shop, but it’s a constant. There’s so many great options, whittling them down and curating them is the hardest part because what I might like might not be what someone else likes, but we want to have a variety where someone feels like there’s there is a product for them that they can incorporate into their drinking routine.
Jacy Topps 39:46
That’s great. You know, also like I know the wine and beer industry. There has been lots of talk about inclusivity and diversity and do those things matter? Basically, when you’re stocking your shelf. Are you interested in women lead products or producers that are people of color or LGBTQ? Does that matter for you as a brand?
Emily Heintz 40:11
It does matter. And I do try to be diverse. The traditional alcohol industry is incredibly male dominated. So, I find it really refreshing to be able to support brands new to the beverage space. So we carry it all we carry brands specific to LGBTQ, we have a lot of female founded brands, women of color, I think I’d like to continue to expand that assortment and even designate areas where we can highlight those founders because people want to support these independent brands that just have a fantastic hero product and a wonderful story behind them. And it’s hard to sift through the number of brands to find them. And we want to make sure we’re putting them at the forefront in our store.
Jacy Topps 40:55
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think inclusivity also can include people who are drinking no alcohol or or lower alcohol. So I think that’s a good conversation to like inclusivity can mean people who are not drinking.
Emily Heintz 41:10
Exactly. Judgment free is really why I started Sèchey, I wanted a place where you could walk in regardless of a relationship with alcohol and find something that you’ve loved. And by increasing the awareness, the availability and then the education of these products, were actually able to, to service you like hey, what do you normally like to drink? Let’s talk about it. Like what do you love about that? What do you not like? Do you want low sugar? Is 0% Alcohol important to you? You know, is it just about like, one night a week? And you’re want to pour from a cannon make it easy? Or do you want the celebration around making a cocktail from amazing high-quality ingredients?
Jacy Topps 41:50
So especially here at Wine Enthusiast, we don’t like misinformation as far as calling alcohol healthy. Alcohol is to be enjoyed. But we need to realize that it’s not healthy. Are some of these products that are alcohol free? Would you consider them healthier?
Emily Heintz 42:12
Yeah, it’s a great question. It depends on how you classify healthy, because you do really need to be aware of consumer and look at the ingredients and the can just because it doesn’t have alcohol does not mean it’s healthy for you, there could be a lot of hidden sugar, there could be something added to the beverage that make it shelf stable even that you may want to just be aware of. But in general, when you remove alcohol from a product, you’re going to reduce the sugar content and reduce the calories. So you could broadly classify alcohol free is healthier. It just depends on you know the exact ingredients. So, we really try to educate our associates and our working on. Same with our E commerce like taking you through a journey based on the ingredients because you know, like as you shop and grocery, like gluten sometimes can trigger grapefruit and trigger, you know, generations that are taking medication. So, we’re really hyper aware and are working towards ways to make it easier for customers to shop the assortment based on their preference and on the ingredients in the beverage.
Jacy Topps 43:30
Okay, that’s great. What about innovation? Have you seen like, how are these spirits and wine? How do they taste? Do they taste like traditional wine or traditional spirits? Is the mouthfeel similar?
Emily Heintz 43:44
Yeah, that’s a good question too. And all this, you know, every product is different. So, I will speak to wine specifically. First, we’re really in wine 2.0 where the innovation has caught up to the flavor. And you can really find enjoyable red wines or white wines that are similar to their traditional counterparts.
Emily Heintz 44:12
For the mouthfeel and spirits, that’s the second category people are usually looking for, it’s a little bit harder. We do have some brands that have added some magic to the liquid that does replicate mouthfeel that it will taste great on its own over the rocks. But in general, the spirits you want to mix into a cocktail or with club soda or into your favorite drink. And I think we’re on the cusp of wine 3.0 where the innovation in the category has come along so far that winemakers are looking at the grape differently and the vine differently and knowing that they’re making a wine that’s going to be the alcohol lized or like how do you skip the dealcoholize product from the beginning and create a wine that meets the needs of the delocalization without actually having to go through the process because it’s a pretty complex process. And then I’m also speaking with some producers that haven’t yet to come to the US and just trying to support them because I love what they’re doing with the terroir or the grape or the process and making the wine that I find really innovative. So I’m excited to see what comes because I personally am a wine drinker. I always have been and I don’t think I’ll ever not be. So that is the most exciting thing for me right now. It’s like seeing where we’re going with wine.
Jacy Topps 45:34
Yeah, that’s, I feel like you know, beer has had a huge head start right, like there’s been nonalcoholic or low alcohol beer for years. So wine is a whole different process.
Emily Heintz 45:48
It is and and that’s a great point. You know, the fermentation arrested fermentation for beer and just the innovation, the category true Headstart, that’s why you’re seeing, you know, alcohol free beer or beer made with point 5% ABV. Very easy to find, and really easy to find brands that do really well and why you’re seeing someone like athletic Brewing Company has major investment from Dr. Pepper, Keurig, because it is widely accepted now.
Jacy Topps 46:19
Does your store offer a lot of tastings and events for people to become familiar with alternative drinking?
Emily Heintz 46:26
Yes, so because of my background in retail, and my understanding of, you know, how people shop, and US Post COVID really wanting to go someplace to experience we’ve created a tasting salon, in our stores where you can come in. And there’s a bar setup, where the brands can do tastings where we can, you know, actually, like highlight the products, because most people don’t know what these products tastes like, and want to want to experiment with it right? Like I don’t want to commit to buying a $50 bottle of spirits without understanding what an alcohol free 10 Tastes like. And we’ll continue that and are such a flagships. We don’t want to be just a resource for the products, how we really want to be like 360 educations, including the tasting. Yeah, that’s a great point.
Jacy Topps 47:13
You have E commerce, so people who are not in South Carolina can still enjoy your products as well.
Emily Heintz 47:19
We do. We have actually, we started the business with just ecommerce before I had a store, and I was actually just delivering locally around Charleston to see if people cared about alcohol free products. And they did and then we opened a store. So phase two first Sechey is taking that ecommerce experience that exists and just elevating it the way that you would walk into our physical store and have just an amazing experience.
Jacy Topps 47:47
Awesome. Well, Emily, I just have one more question for you. What’s in your glass? What are you drinking these days?
Emily Heintz 47:54
That’s great question. Well, it’s warm here in Charleston. I really love alcohol free rose. And Groovy is in a little glass bottle I drink they’re dry rose I also love Prima Pavé and French Bloom both have excellent sparkling roses. Joyce is another favorite. So, I mean, I could go on. But like if you haven’t tried the dealcoholized wine, a sparkling rose a is a great place to start because it’s very similar to traditional rose.
Jacy Topps 48:27
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us.
Emily Heintz 48:30
It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you, nice speaking, with you.
Jacy Topps 48:38
Whether it’s for a week, a month, or for the foreseeable future, people are choosing to drink less. The beverage industry has been having conversations surrounding inclusivity for a while now. But those conversations really haven’t included the no low alcohol trend until very recently. Maybe it’s time those inclusivity conversations include mindful drinking and NA culture. What are your thoughts? If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your reviews and hear what you think. You can email us your comments and questions at podcast at Wine Enthusiast. dotnet. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out to remember, you can subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google Spotify and anywhere else you listen to podcast. You can also go to wine enthusiast.com backslash podcast. For more episodes and transcripts. I’m Jacy Topps. Thanks for listening.
Last Updated: July 26, 2023