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‘I feel so freaking amazing’: Unusual Aussie business makes $250k in 6 weeks

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Sans Drink Irene Falcone poses with some of her non-alcoholic drinks.
Unusual Aussie business makes $250k in 6 weeks. Source: Supplied

Australian entrepreneur Irene Falcone remembers vividly the first time she asked for non-alcoholic beverages from her local bottle shop.

It was in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2019, and the Nourished Life founder was sick of drinking so much and wanted to see if she could swap out a bottle of wine for a non-alcoholic bottle for her next barbecue.

“The way they looked at me, behind the counter, the look I got was the exact same look as when I asked for natural deodorant 10 years ago which sparked me to start Nourished Life,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Falcone launched natural health and beauty store Nourished Life in 2012 with $100 and sold it for $20 million in 2017. Standing at that counter in 2019, Falcone realised she had her next business idea: Sans Drinks - an online non-alcoholic drinks store.

And it’s been monstrously successful. Falcone attributes that to her experience running Nourished Life.

She had the blueprint for building a successful ecommerce business, and all she had to do was follow that exact formula.

Falcone launched Sans Drinks two months ago, making $250,000 in the first six weeks. It’s on track to turn over $4 million by 2021, thanks to the “tsunami” of interest.

Sans Drinks stocks drinks from McGuigan Wines, Lindeman Wines, Heineken, Carlton & United Breweries and dozens of smaller suppliers like Lyers and Seedlip.

“I did very, very little promotion and I didn’t have a warehouse, I was doing it out of my bedroom during Covid and…I just didn’t need to push it, the demand itself was crazy,” she said.

“It’s really hard to get and to find, you can go into Dan Murphy’s and maybe find one or two things but you need to go into another store to find something else and it’s very limited. You do get the weird looks.”

But that’s changing, she added. Australian sales of non-alcoholic drinks have more than doubled in the year to June 2020, Drinks Trade reported, and according to Nielsen data, non-alcoholic beer sales increased 44 per cent in the US in May 2020 - even as the Covid-19 pandemic turned others to booze.

There’s also a growing awareness of what constitutes bad drinking habits: while the stereotypical image of alcoholism might be someone sitting on the corner drinking from a paper bottle, the reality is that risky drinking among older Australians is increasing.

Falcone said that for herself, it was very easy to have a glass of wine on weeknights, a couple more on Fridays and Saturdays. Then, a Sunday barbecue would cap it all off and before she knew it, she was drinking more than was recommended.

But her message isn’t for Australians to give up drinking, but to consider swapping out the odd glass, bottle or event.

However, she understands that one of the biggest hurdles is the social aspect of drinking in Australia.

People drink to feel good, to celebrate, connect and even for liquid courage.

What’s interesting to Falcone is that she - and several of her customers - have reported that “tipsy” feeling while drinking their non-alcoholic beverages.

She herself has asked her partner if he’s sure he poured her the non-alcoholic wine on a couple of occasions, and she’s checked the label on the bottle.

“I feel so freaking amazing on it,” she said.

What she’s found is that the combination of a social occasion, or even a personal wind-down, combined with a cold glass of non-alcoholic wine, beer or a cocktail that can pass for alcohol will trigger the same feelings of relaxation and happiness.

“Drinking non-alcoholic wine at a barbecue or a party, you forget that you’re not drinking alcohol,” Falcone said.

The studies back it up: a 2013 study from Indiana University found that the taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol, can trigger dopamine - or the feel-good chemical - in the brain.

Another 2018 study published in Chemical Senses found that the flavour of beer, regardless of the alcohol content, triggered the same reward response in the brain.

Falcone has now given up alcohol entirely, and she thinks it’s the beginning of a revolution.

“I can only compare it to something like a coffee cup. Ten years ago, it was really cool to have a disposable coffee cup with a yoga mat and people like me set out to make a reusable cup sexy.”

Today, the reusable coffee cup is ubiquitous and non-alcoholic drinks are next - and with an even bigger pay off.

She pictures a Christmas with no hangovers. We’ll drink to that.

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