Elevator Pitch: John Docherty, Founder of Non-alc & Low ABV Brand 'Sipfree'
January 31, 2023
In the past few years, consumers have become more conscious drinkers, whether through teetotalism, low proof drinks, or ‘tiger-striping’ - the act of switching between no-alcohol and regular strength drinks. With every birthday brunch, anniversary, and baby shower that passes, millennials are especially choosing to opt out of boozy options and are reaching for a non-alcoholic bevvy instead.
According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, this expansion of tastes, production techniques, and diversification of consumption options continue to develop the category’s growth. In 2022 alone, sales of no-alcohol or low-alcohol drinks surpassed USD$11 billion in market value across 10 key global markets, with numbers in Australia, Canada, and the US, expected to see double digit growth by 2026.
This opportunity was not lost on John Docherty, founder of ‘Sipfree’. As a pandemic-born venture, Sipfree is set on distributing alcohol free beers, wines, and spirits, to drinkers in Asia. With award winning craft beers such as Vandestreek (Netherlands), Mikkeller (Denmark),and Big Drop Breweing (UK), you get all the hops with none of the slop.
The distributor is also a key figure in dispersing the non-alcoholic spirits from Lyre’s (Australia) bringing classic flavours to bars, hotels, and restaurants all across Hong Kong to mix and shake up your favourite tipples. The Beat Asia spoke to John about his venture, how he was inspired to start the brand, and what lessons he’s learned along the way.
What’s your ‘backstory’? What led you to this particular career path?
I worked in the beer industry for over a decade before making the move to non-alcoholic drinks. One day in 2018 I was at an event chatting to a group of young adults and they spoke openly about the challenge of going out and socialising in Hong Kong when you’re not keen on drinking alcohol. A holiday to America then drove home the realisation that HK just wasn’t catering to non-drinkers the way other countries were. The rest is history!
What problem or pain point is Sipfree out to solve?
Alcohol isn’t consumed the way it used to be, but the market here isn’t quite meeting customers where they need it to, yet. That’s where we come in. There are excellent, premium and craft non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits out there – you just need to find them. Sipfree is a one-stop-shop for all things non-alc in Hong Kong. Whether you’re looking to stock up at home, expand the menu at your bar, restaurant or hotel, or cater for large events, we have you covered.
Can you share a story about a mistake you made starting this venture? What lessons did you take away from this?
That’s easy – try not to start your business right at the beginning of a global pandemic. On the other hand, if you can make it through that, you can make it through anything!
Who have been some of your biggest inspirations or mentors? Can you share a time when they made an impact or helped you with the direction of the brand?
Of course, I've met people over the years who have inspired me – in particular to leave my desk, go out and talk to others and actually enjoy the product you're trying to sell. When we launched Sipfree, we partnered with local craft brewery Gweilo Beer and that drove home the value of not just building a business, but building a brand.
Can you share three best pieces of advice that you’ve collected throughout your time in this business, and why they matter to you.
- Have a business plan, but don't be completely reliant on it. Things won't always go the way you expect them to - you'll need to be able to adapt and think out of the box.
- See the potential in growing your business in unexpected ways. Sometimes opportunities will come along you wouldn't have considered in the beginning, but they might surprise you.
- Keep an open mind and listen to other people's ideas and advice – just don't always take it.
How will you shake things up next?
We’re ready to return to a fuller events schedule, including larger-scale in-person events. We’re also bringing in lots of exciting limited edition drinks over the next year – including [drinks] from well-known brands, just in time for specific holidays. Finally, the non-alc trend is here to stay and so we’ll do what we’ve always done: Keep our eyes peeled for new and exciting non-alcoholic drinks on the market!
Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous Elevator Pitch profiles here.
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