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How the founder of non-alcoholic spirits brand Lyre’s spotted a ‘tectonic shift’ to take on the world

- August 6, 2019 5 MIN READ

Lyre’s Co. co-founder and CEO Mark Livings. Photo: Supplied

  • Lyre’s Co. distills non-alcoholic spirits that taste just like gin, whisky, rum and vermouth, among 13 different flavours.
  • The startup launched this year and features in some of Australia’s best bars and restaurants.
  • The brand will be in 15 countries by the end of the year.

The global spirits industry is set to be worth US$808 billion by 2022, but as the juggernaut rolls on, a breakaway group led by two Australian entrepreneurs is pioneering one of the most fascinating trends in global drinks – non-alcoholic spirits.

With around 20% of the population not drinking alcohol, consumption trends heading down among existing drinkers, and an emerging, liberated middle class in Muslim countries looking to have fun and socialise while eschewing alcohol, marketer Mark Livings saw an opportunity.

Three years ago, he began developing the Lyre’s brand, which can now be found in some of the best bars in Australia and the US.

The drinks startup distills 13 non-alcoholic spirits in Melbourne, with the distinct flavours of gin, whisky, vermouth, amaretto, absinthe and rum among them. They’ve even made a non-alcoholic Negroni.

And being a marketer, the brand name is genius since the Lyrebird is a brilliant mimic.

Lyre’s has exploded out of the starting blocks, posting US$1 million in sales in its first eight weeks since launching in April. The brand will be available in 15 countries by the end of the year.

Startup Daily sat down with Mark Livings for a session, raising a glass to his business, to discuss how Amazon Launchpad, the place to discover new and unique products from the world’s brightest startups, helped propel the global success of Lyre’s.

Livings had been running a marketing agency for nearly a decade, looking after major beer, wine and spirits brands, and had long-harboured a burning desire to produce his own. And while plenty have in recent years, with craft beer and boutique gin and whisky distillery ventures exploding across Australia, he spotted an emerging consumer trend as well as “just how flat-footed most of the beverage industry was”.

A new opportunity

The Lyre’s CEO calls it a tectonic shift in drinks and consumer behaviour.

“For the first time since we’ve been recording alcohol consumption, we have a generation that’s approaching the category and either consuming far less and in moderation, or not coming into the category at all,” he said

Additionally, older generations are cutting back also for several reasons, primarily mindfulness and health-consciousness. However, people still desire interesting, adult flavoured beverages and familiar flavours, which is where Lyre’s sits – the most-loved and time-tested beverages, remade in a non-alcoholic format, and usable just like the originals.”

With total alcohol consumption in decline in volume terms across the entire market for six consecutive years, Livings compares what he’s doing to animal-free “meat” category – think Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – with Lyre’s offering “a fairly frictionless transition” from booze to sobriety without sacrificing flavour or interest.

“There’s clearly a desire for a more ethical, or healthy choice from consumers in a number of categories. If they can make that choice without sacrificing their consumption experience, they will absolutely take it,” Livings said.

Creating a non-alcoholic spirit isn’t hard, he admits, but “creating a high quality one, however, is very difficult” and it’s taken three years to perfect.

“It actually took me around the world more than once to work with one of the world’s leading beverage technology companies and drawing from the world’s largest library of natural ingredients to make our beverages,” Livings said.

“We had no guarantees that we could get them right either, and I wasn’t prepared to launch something sub-standard, so it could have been a gigantic waste of time and cash, but we managed to crack it.”

He asked a good friend, sommelier David Murphy, to help him perfect the final product. The ‘Eureka’ moment came when they were in Germany.

The Lyre’s non-alcoholic Negroni – made from three products they make.

“We had a series of products come back from a round of revisions that were absolutely perfect. We were confident we’d nailed non-alcoholic gin, vermouths and liqueurs – for some of them, the first in the world,” he recalls.

“We quickly made up a Negroni, and Old Fashioned and a Martini from what we’d made, and they were absolutely on point. We knew we had something special at that moment.”

With the product spot on, the next challenge Livings faced was distribution. There were some lucky moments, such as Aria chef Matt Moran’s head sommelier, Matt Dunne, being among the first to take Lyre’s on, giving them pride of place in the bar at Sydney’s Barangaroo House.

But online retailing was critical to the business, especially when it was a product traditional retail channels didn’t know how to approach.

Retailers are approaching the category with caution and are moving far slower than the consumer is in adopting not only our brand but the category more generally,” Livings said.

“I recall seeing some data from the US – online sales of non-alcoholic spirits were outselling the combined on and off-trade volumes for the entire category by a factor of three. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it shows that when consumers really want something and can’t find it, they’ll quickly turn to online retailers.”

Online retail as a strategy for success

Livings was helping a mate in a startup accelerator, volunteering his time branding and marketing masterclasses, when his friend said he had to talk to Amazon about Lyre’s.

“He said, ‘You MUST talk to Amazon about this. They’ll love it!’ Turns out they did. I really owe him a drink,” Livings said.

Amazon Launchpad was a good fit for the new business because trying to build traffic to a website takes time and is expensive, the Lyres boss said.

“We’ve got a great product, but with low awareness as it’s so new. By listing on Amazon Australia, and getting the boost in awareness offered by Amazon Launchpad, we’re ensuring we’re lifting both awareness and availability,” he said.

“Leveraging the turn-key shopping population of Amazon is clearly a major bonus for us at this stage of our brand life-cycle.”

It’s also helped build credibility.

“By having Amazon Australia see us as a Launchpad-worthy product, it’s made talking about our brand so much easier. The cut-through we’ve had has been amazing off the back of this,” he said.

The infrastructure provided by Amazon Launchpad may help Sydney-based Lyre’s scale globally rapidly too.

“Distributor, wholesaler and retailer relationships take time to found, build and for product to get to market in the traditional retail sense,” Livings said.

Fulfillment by Amazon, with its warehouses in Sydney and Melbourne, quickly and efficiently overcomes that problem.

A Lyre’s non-alcoholic Mai Tai.

The future of online retail

So what advice would the CEO of Lyre’s give to others looking to enter the online retailing space?

“Don’t cut corners. Get your packaging right, get your consumer journey right, give people an ability to share your product and tell their own story with regards to why they love it and how they use it,” he said.

Finally, we couldn’t resist asking an entrepreneur and expert who spotted a gap in the market and bolted for it with great success, how he sees retail evolving in the next few years.

“The rise of online retail is undeniable. However, the tactile experience that people crave before pulling the trigger on a purchase is still there,” Livings said.

” I think we’ll see the rise of far more ‘showrooms’, with smaller retail footprints, that allow potential buyers to look, touch, try or try on, but the purchase is facilitated via online retail, and fulfilled directly to the consumer by a delivery network.

“I think people will be happy for the retail experience to be dis-intermediated slightly with a fast delivery process of there are clear savings and range availability for them.” 

To find out more about how Amazon Launchpad can help your startup grow and succeed, check out the details online here

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