My Drynuary: 'We’ve assembled a team that would give the Avengers pause'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

My Drynuary: non-alcoholic spirit alternative Ritual Zero Proof

Related tags NABLAB non-alcoholic Us alcohol-free

Our series profiles movers and shakers in the alcohol-free category. Today we talk to Marcus Sakey, founding partner and chief brand officer of Ritual Zero Proof: a non-alcoholic spirit alternative founded in Chicago in 2019.

BD: Introduce us to Ritual Zero Proof!

Marcus Sakey

Ritual Zero Proof started on my cutting board. I’m in my forties, father to a very energetic daughter, and while I love a cocktail, I wanted the option to have it with or without the alcohol.

After a year of development with the best distillers and chemists in the business, we launched in 2019 with Gin and Whiskey Alternatives, followed by Tequila and Rum.

We’re proud to have Diageo as minority investors. When the world’s largest distiller sees the opportunity in liquor replacements, you know you’re onto something.

What sets your brand apart from the rest?

We’re the bestselling liquor replacement in America because we’re easy to understand and easy to use. Ritual Zero Proof alternatives taste just like their traditional counterparts, so you can have the same cocktail without the alcohol or calories. Have a brunch margarita and a workout, or enjoy as many 'G&Ts' as you like while pregnant.

Where can we find Ritual?

One of the advantages to selling a nonalcoholic product that replicates a spirit is the breadth of channels open to you. We distribute via three-tier, but also grocery, a custom wholesale portal, and of course DTC via our website and Amazon. We sell in liquor stores big and small, grocery chains and bodegas, candle stores and maternity shops, health clubs and hotels, plus restaurants and bars across the country.

There’s a misconception that non-alcoholic products are coastally-oriented, but it just ain’t so. Per capita, the demand is about the same in Kansas as it is in California, in Minneapolis as in Miami.

How do you see the low/no market changing?

When Ritual launched, we were the only direct spirit replacement in America. In the three years since, more than 70 other companies have entered the space. It’s a clear indicator that the world’s relationship to alcohol is changing.

We liken Ritual to oat milk, or the Impossible Burger, which are simply a part of modern life now. The non-alc market is the same.

Any Drynuary activities to highlight? 

We think January 2023 will be the tipping point, the moment when spirit alternatives explode into the mainstream. Last year we sold a bottle a minute. We projected we’d double that this year, and based on the first few days of the month, we’re on track to exceed that.

Most exciting, while every January sets a new high water mark, this is a twelve-month category. Consumers buy both oat milk and traditional dairy; once they try Ritual, it just becomes part of their lives. We’re rolling out into a number of new retail chains in the next months. It’s also exciting to see the on-premise space recognizing the opportunity here–every restaurant that doesn’t sell non-alc alternatives is leaving money on the table.

What does your job involve? 

I work with my two best friends, one of whom I’m married to. We’ve assembled a team that would give the Avengers pause. I paused a career as a successful novelist to do this because it’s something I believe in, but also because it’s a freaking ball.

The greatest challenge–and opportunity–is that we’re not just selling a product, we’re building a category. Five years ago there was no such thing as liquor replacements. Now it’s the fastest growing category in beverage, according to Nielsen.

That means that we not only need to reach consumers, but also win hearts, minds, and real estate on- and off-premise. There’s always resistance to changing how things are done; the best way to overcome that is to demonstrate that it results in greater profit, which non-alc does. After all, 52% of America is actively trying to drink less, and 30% doesn’t drink at all. That’s a lot of opportunity.

What inspires you on your low/no alcohol journey? 

Non-alc beer used to be a punchline, but there are astonishing options these days. I’m a particular fan of Athletic Brewing, both the beer and the company – we work with them often and it’s been a joy to watch them just crush it.

What’s your favorite product from your line-up?

Our Tequila Alternative earned 98 points from the Beverage Testing Institute, and for good reason–it’s wonderful, and in a well-made margarita is indistinguishable from the traditional stuff. But we’re based in Chicago, and in these cold weather months I prefer our Rum Alternative, which tastes like the holidays in a glass.

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