Cheers! No-alcohol gin wins over French drinks giant

26 March 2020
Craig Hutchison and Maria Sehlstrom hope to translate their UK Ceder’s success to France
By Brian McCulloch

French drinks giant Pernod Ricard have backed the makers of a no-alcohol gin, with the first bottles set to appear on supermarket shelves in France this summer.

The move shows that the trend towards no-alcohol “spirits”, laughed at when it started, is now serious.

Craig Hutchison, who started selling Ceder’s no-alcohol gin with his wife Maria Sehlstrom in the UK two years ago, said: “It is estimated that one in three 18-30-year-olds in the UK do not drink alcohol.

“The figures for France are similar, because you find that trends across Europe spread through social media in ways that did not happen five years ago. But it is also for people who, for whatever reason, want an adult drink without alcohol.”

The couple worked for Pernod Ricard – Craig as a strategist and Maria in communications. “It was when Maria was pregnant that it hit us how there was such a limited choice for people who did not drink alcohol,” said Craig.

“From working with a drinks company, where you could try new and exciting drinks and cocktails, to being limited to fruit juice, or cola or other fizzy drinks was a shock.

“It was then we decided that our wish to be entrepreneurs could take the form of a no-alcohol gin.”

Ceder’s is sold at a similar price to premium gins, £19.99 for a 50cl bottle, and prices in France are likely to be similar.

As well as being flavoured by juniper berries – the basis of all gins – Ceder’s uses other plants, including two from the Western Cape in South Africa, where Craig comes from. Rooibos and buchu come from a property in the Cederberg mountains the couple bought.

Using a variety of distilling and infusion methods, the couple take the plant flavourings to Sweden, Maria’s home country, where they are mixed and then combined with pure Swedish water.

“It is much harder making a no-alcohol gin this way than an ordinary gin, because alcohol is such a good carrier of flavours,” said Craig. “We had many flops before we learned how to do it. I compare it to baking: you have to be very precise with your ingredients but also in the sequence you do things. One mistake with either will mean you have a flop.”

France does not drink a lot of gin but Craig is confident that Ceder’s will take off. Blind tastings have shown people who try to drink Ceder’s neat notice a difference to alcoholic gins, but when it is mixed with tonic, most people have difficulty telling which is which.

Ceder’s is already on the shelves of some Paris cocktail bars and specialist caves.

Support for the idea that no-alcohol drinks are taking off comes from research in the US by the largest drinks industry analyst, IWSR.

In a note released in January, Brandy Rand, chief operations officer of the Americas, said the trend, though not widespread, was gaining momentum. “People want a high-quality, handcrafted low-alcohol or alcohol-free cocktail experience, and are willing to pay for it.

“On-premise operators need to move beyond soda and juice concoctions and develop a serious no- and low-alcohol cocktail menu with high-
quality fresh ingredients.

“It’s also up to brand owners to develop products and provide education to the trade on how to do this well,” she said.

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