Halewood CEO: No interest in zero-ABV ‘spirits’

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Whitley Neill owner Halewood Artisanal Spirits will not jump on the non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ bandwagon, according to its CEO, who claims it is overpriced and unsustainable for the on-trade.

Speaking to The Spirits Business earlier this week, Stewart Hainsworth, group CEO of Halewood Artisanal Spirits, formerly known as Halewood Wines & Spirits, said the no-ABV sector “falls flat for a number of reasons”.

He explained: “One basic problem in the on-trade is once you’ve opened the bottle the shelf life is extremely short. It is extremely difficult for a bartender to get the rate of sale once it’s opened. In some cases it is two to three weeks, and the product is spoilt.

“It’s not sustainable as a model for the on-trade, particularly with the amount of product on the market. How can a bartender have three or four different variants of non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ if they are all going off in three weeks time.”

Hainsworth also branded the pricing of alcohol-free ‘spirits’ as “ridiculous”. He said: “There’s no excise tax in there and it’s not giving full value to the customer – it should be much lower in price.

“If they wanted to encourage people not to drink alcohol for the health benefits then that is all well and good, but don’t rip them off on price.”

He noted that while the “whole industry has jumped on the bandwagon”, Hainsworth is “quite happy for our competitors to chase that rainbow. Do I see it as a major challenge to alcoholic spirits? No, I don’t. Maybe I’ll be wrong in five years’ time. The mouthfeel of alcoholic spirits is not replicated by non-alcoholic ‘spirits’.”

Low-ABV opportunity

Earlier this year, Halewood acquired an 80% stake in Vestal Vodka. The group had previously owned a 48% stake in the business, founded by bar owner William Borrell.

Borrell’s 4.4% ABV spirit-based brand Willow is also now part of the Halewood portfolio, which includes brands such as Dead Man’s Fingers spiced rum and Crabbie’s Scotch whisky.

Hainsworth said the group sees “an opportunity in the 5% [ABV] area”, citing the popularity of hard seltzers in the US, but it’s “not an area we’re particularly focused on”.

He said: “We are traditionalists in a new way. We’re looking at whisky, we’re looking at rum, we’re looking at gin, those are the big categories. These are the ones where we can control the process and produce it our self. We’re not third partying it to someone else. It’s all about being artisanal and offering something different to what the big boys do.”

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