How I Started an
Alcohol-Free Beer Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Johnny Johnson and I’m the Founder of The Alcohol Free Brewing Co. and our brand is UNLTD.
We produce and sell an alcohol-free, low-calorie craft beer with all the flavour of full strength beer. Lager is our first alcohol-free beer.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
This whole idea began in July of 2019, after my wedding celebrations, when I woke up with the mother of all hangovers.
From the age that I was legally allowed to drink, I have always enjoyed going out and getting drunk with friends on the weekends. In my twenties I could always bounce back after a big night out, but since turning 30, the hangovers got worse and lasted longer.
After that ‘mother of all hangovers’ from the wedding, I evaluated what I was doing with my life. I came to realise that my life consisted of working long hours during the week, going out on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, having too many drinks, feeling like crap over the weekend and before I knew it I was back at work on Monday. I wasn’t actually living! Something had to change.
I decided to take a break from the booze and within a few weeks started to feel incredible!
I truly felt like I had superpowers, so this spurred me on to stay off the booze – 90 days alcohol-free and eventually got to 111 days before I had a drink again.
In this 3 month break, I did a lot of soul searching and spent a lot of time working out what I wanted my life to be like. I have always wanted to start my own business and be an entrepreneur and with this newfound lease of life (from going alcohol-free), I sat down and made a plan. But what business would I start? Well, it was staring at me right in the face… Alcohol-Free.
I had never felt so good in myself since quitting the booze, and I wanted everyone to feel this. I spent hours, days, working out what I could do in this area and it was like a lightbulb switched on. Most people nowadays drink alcohol, it’s part of our culture in some ways, but the alcohol-free alternatives weren’t easily accessible in bars, pubs etc.
So, I made it my mission to start an alcohol free beer brand and make it available in as many bars, pubs, restaurants as I could, so that if someone wanted a great tasting alcohol free alternative they could drink my alcohol-free beer.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
To start with, I had no idea how to brew beer, let alone alcohol-free beer! So I spent a lot of time researching how to make it, but more importantly i needed an expert to help me. I eventually found a master brewer who I’ve been working with since and we’ve created what we believe is the healthiest alcohol-free beer on the market.
I had also never set up a business before so again, I spent countless hours researching the things I needed to do, finding an accountant, trademarking logos, building a brand image, route to market etc…
The task list was monumental, but I kept chipping away at it and as each day passed, I learnt something new and checked something off the list.
After 10 months of a lot of work, a lot of calls to different professionals, we finally launched our website and our beer was available to buy.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is really anyone who hates the feeling of a hangover, which I imagine is 99% of the population!
When I began to research the market I discovered that all of my competitors’ products were healthier than the full alcohol alternatives but I thought that we could make an even healthier option.
We now have one of, if not, the lowest calorie beer on the market. We also boast added vitamins so a big part of our target market is anyone who is a bit more health conscious.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
When we launched in June 2020 we sold out within 2 weeks. Since launching we have sold 20,000 bottles (in 2 ½ months). This has 90% sales from our website and other 10% to online retailers.
We launched in the middle of lockdown so have been restricted going to bars, pubs etc but our focus now is to hit the road and start getting in the fridges of big bar chains, supermarkets etc.
All of our initial marketing was via Instagram and Facebook. I started off by doing the paid promotions myself, but have since signed up a PR agency to manage a PR launch campaign and they’ve just started to manage our paid advertising on our social media channels.
I would definitely recommend doing a PR campaign as it has helped massively build up our exposure. As you can imagine, launching a brand with just one person doing all the work is quite overwhelming so bringing other professionals on board to help with some aspects of the business has really helped.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
As we launched during lockdown, our only option was to build up our presence online via our social media pages. I’ve had to constantly create content to keep our customers/followers engaged which in itself is quite a hard task.
I have also built in systems to keep in contact with customers by sending follow up emails, asking them for reviews in return for promotional discounts.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I set up this business to take back control of my life, fed up of working for someone else, making them money and being tied to a desk for long hours. I wanted to work on my terms, work on my time, and have full control of the important decisions.
As we grow and start to employ new people into the business, I want to create a culture of everyone having autonomy of how they work and when they work. The happier you are the better you’ll perform, so giving people the freedom to work from home, spending more time with their families is very important to me.
At the end of the day, we are on this planet to live. We have one life and I personally don’t think we should have to work for 65+ years to then have the opportunity to relax and enjoy life.
Life is about living and being able to enjoy experiences. If we find work that we love doing, then we never actually ‘work’, we just build a passion and hopefully empower people and help improve their lives.
Our alcohol-free beer is for anyone who enjoys beer but hates the effect of hangovers. With our product, you can enjoy everything that comes with drinking and socialising but still live a fulfilled life by not wasting away days being hungover.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
I’ve just started using the Prospect 365 CRM software which is great to manage customer records.
I use XERO for accounting.
Stripe payment software to manage online payments.
I also have a fulfilment company locally to my home to manage all of the deliveries.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Make sure you have full ownership of your brand! Get everything in writing from any 3rd party you use to help build your brand.
If there’s someone more qualified to do something than you, and you have some funds to pay them, then use them! I am not a brewer of a brand designer so outsourcing this aspect has been vital in getting the brand to where it is today.
Plan, plan and plan again! I have spent untold hours forward planning, making sure the business is viable. Work out every single cost that you’ll incur, and find a good accountant to sense check your findings.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The best bit about being a business owner/entrepreneur is being in control of my life. I don’t have to answer to anyone (except my accountant lol).
If I think something should be done differently then I can make that change there and then.
It’s also very exciting, not knowing what is around the corner. Every day I learn something new. Even though I am a rookie in starting a business, I feel more confident every day and I know that to make this business work, I have to do it, no one else is responsible.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
To be honest there is nothing I don’t enjoy. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming with all the different things I need to do, but I thrive off this challenge and it only makes me more focused.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The best podcast to listen to is ‘How I Built This’ by Guy Raz. It’s all about different entrepreneurs and how they built their businesses. Lots of great content!
Also, Tony Robbins’ book, “The Giant Within”. A great book of self-belief.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
My mission is for UNLTD. to be the biggest selling alcohol free beer brand in the UK. In the next 2 years i want to start exporting to the other european countries, the US and Australia.
I imagine the team to grow to 5-10 people and the business generating £5mil plus in annual sales.