Launched in October 2019 after two-and-a-half years of research by founder Richard Clark, Drynks has invested £1m in creating vacuum distil technology to create its 0.05% ABV Smashed Cider, Citrus, Hops, Berry and latest addition Smashed Lager – each of which contains less alcohol than a banana according to Clark – at Robinsons Brewery in Stockport, Cheshire.
Currently distributed by wholesale supporters Matthew Clark and LWC Drinks and stocked across Brunning and Price’s estate of around 70 pubs as well as 2020 Publican Awards-winning Best Pub Brand/Concept Hickory’s sites, Clark explains that his meticulous, pre-launch, fact-finding is being reflected in a careful expansion plan.
“Rather than going out with a ‘spray and pray’ approach, we’ve focused on the north-west and the Midlands so we could manage them well,” Clark told The Morning Advertiser. “That's where we are currently.
“We are talking to pub groups at the moment but we've got a solid base and are just starting now to go into the cities of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, using the support network of our two wholesalers.
“We'd love to have national distribution in the next 12 months. We took two-and-a-half years to set up from the initial research because we wanted to have the ability to scale up in bottles and cans and then on draught – which we're testing at the moment.
“For me, it's about having a solid base, being able to satisfy demand. It's a relatively small category we know to be worth more than £120m, but it will expand.”
What do you drink when you can't drink?
A former area sales manager for Bass, Molson Coors and Whitbread Brewers, Clark founded Drynks off the back of two decades “tiptoeing” over the bar on his long days driving between pubs in the north-west.
“I didn't like the low-and-no offer,” he explained. “I didn't drink high sugared soft drinks. ‘What do you drink when you can't drink?’ became a lifestyle question for me because of work and family, and going out with my friends and socialising.
“I always launch things and I've launched a number of brands in my time – starting way back I launched Reef, I launched Caffrey's for Coors. Before that I launched the first Britvic dispense systems that were auto friendly to the till. I launched Crabbie’s ginger beer as the marketing director at Halewood. I relaunched Whitley Neill gin from the cottage brand it was to the global gin it is now.
“I've always been involved in creating things, had an entrepreneurial streak to me and enjoyed working in teams with experts around me whether marketing, engineering, liquid skills or the art of selling. I've managed to be very lucky with the people I've worked with.”
While a number of new low-and-no launches look to steer clear of using the same language as alcoholic alternatives, Drynks’ launch of Smashed Cider and Lager alongside its Citrus, Hops and Berry brews demonstrate Clark’s faith in both approaches.
“I like alcohol in a controlled way – we are not about stopping people drinking alcohol,” he explains.
“Our research found people are 'flexitarian' – which, by my definition, means they have their favourite alcohol whatever it is but might be going out for three or four hours at something like a wedding where they're socialising for eight hours or so and don't want to drink for the whole time and may switch to a low-or-no option.
“What they want, in terms of taste and refreshment, is something similar, something that they know. Something that they want to be associated with. Maybe when they're socialising, they want to have something that's familiar to the people that are drinking with them.
“That sociability of it is sometimes said to be a more challenging aspect. It’s more of a technical challenge to create a product that is low in sugar, vegan, gluten-free, lower in calories, great tasting, that you're proud to hold – so you feel like you're part of the group – and that you can drink more than two or three of.
“For me, if you're going to do something, have something that's going to have a long-term presence and reason for being – we focused on those areas because we thought there was an opportunity.”
‘Flexiteering’, not replacement
Clark, however, argues that the fundamental shift in how people are consuming alcohol won’t see a knock-on effect on the way pubs look and feel and could, if anything, help extend dwell time in the on-trade and serve up a positive.
"If venues are destinations – what retailers want is duration,” he says. “If people drive there, you want them to stay. What we're providing is a range of products that supplement or complement spirits, draught beers and lager. If we can help retailers’ confidence to list a wide range of low-and-no products that keep consumers in venues longer when they're eating or just drinking, then that's a good thing.
“People go to socialise. Yes, they go for food more than they 20 years ago – that's just part of an evolution – but they still go to drink. Which days they go to drink on will change as working lifestyle changes, but we're just there to support the retailers to keep the consumers in their venue longer and enjoy themselves.
“I do think alcohol and non-alcoholic do work in tandem – it's about ‘flexiteering’, not replacement.”