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Distill Ventures invests in booze-free Ritual Zero Proof

Diageo-backed investment unit Distill Ventures has acquired a minority stake in non-alcoholic drinks brand Ritual Zero Proof.

The Ritual Zero Proof range was created to be used in cocktails

The investment will help drive the brand’s growth in the US through funding its direct-to-consumer business and supporting its debut in the retail market.

Described as the “first spirit alternative distilled in America that echoes the taste and smell of spirits”, Ritual Zero Proof was founded in Chicago by three best friends Marcus Sakey, GG Sakey and David Crooch in 2019.

As with all firms that work with Distill Ventures, Ritual’s founders and current investors will maintain majority ownership and will continue to run the business independently.

“We are thrilled to welcome Ritual Zero Proof and its seasoned team of drink entrepreneurs into the Distill Ventures portfolio as we build the future of non-alcoholic drinks, a category we have proudly supported since our investment in Seedlip back in 2015,” said Heidi Dillon Otto, portfolio director and non-alcoholic lead, Distill Ventures North America.

“We look forward to working closely with Ritual’s team to unlock growth as, together, we shape the global non-alcoholic drinks landscape and continue to provide consumers with a broad array of choices when seeking out their drinks.”

Created to be used in non-alcoholic versions of classic cocktails, the Ritual range includes Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative and Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative.

Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative is said to mirror the “familiar flavour of gin” with ingredients such as cucumber, juniper berries, mint and basil and can be served with tonic water.

The Whiskey Alternative is described as “warm and soulful, with notes of oak and vanilla, the perfect match for orange and bitters”. It is recommended served in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Since its launch in September 2019, Ritual said it had sold out of its projected six-month supply of product in five weeks.

‘Changing the landscape’

Ritual is the first public non-alcoholic brand from the US to join Distill Ventures growth accelerator programme, which supports high-potential brands with investment and expert guidance.

Non-alcoholic brands make up a quarter of the firm’s 15-plus portfolio. The company is “actively investing in brands which fulfil this need, and is always seeking new investment opportunities in this area”.

According to a 2019 Distill Ventures study, 58% of consumers are drinking more no-and low-ABV drinks than last year, while 55% of the most influential bartenders in New York, Los Angeles and London believe the no-and low-alcohol trend will continue to grow within the next 12 months.

“This is a movement,” said Marcus Sakey, founding partner and chief brand officer of Ritual Zero Proof. “Just like almond milk and veggie burgers, spirit alternatives are changing the landscape.

“In 18 months, we predict non-alcoholic options will be on every menu and the shelves of every grocery store. Americans want more choice, and Ritual Zero Proof is all about more – more flavour, more moments, more life, that is.”

Eugene Khabensky, ventures director at Diageo, said: “We are excited to support such an interesting new brand in the vibrant non-alcoholic space.

“We put the consumer at the heart of our business, and Ritual Zero Proof is a fantastic offering that provides consumers with more choices of the highest quality.”

Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative and Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative are priced at US$24.95 per 750ml bottle and are available in more than 12 premium outlets in Chicago including major drinks retailers, bars and Michelin-starred restaurants. The range is also available to buy from online retailer Amazon.

In August 2019, Diageo upped its shareholding in non-alcoholic ‘spirit’ Seedlip to a majority stake.

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