Written By Retail Brew | Erin Cabrey
Boisson founder Nick Bodkins says that as it grows in popularity, consumers’ non-alc beverage purchasing behavior has come to mimic that of alcohol.
Festivities spanning from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s—with plenty of Friendsgivings and office holiday parties in between—means a significant uptick in imbibing at the tail end of the year. But for non-alcoholic (NA) beverage retailer Boisson, the holiday season is its busiest time of year, too.
“People are actually experiencing these products in the same moments that they would with alcohol,” Nicholas Bodkins, president of Boisson, which sells NA wines, spirits, aperitifs, and beers, as well as adaptogenics like Kin Euphorics and De Soi, told Retail Brew. “The moments really haven’t changed. The ingredients is what we’re seeing change a little bit over time.”’
The NA space has evolved a lot since Boisson opened its first of five New York City locations in February 2021 in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, and its business has continued to grow since. The retailer secured $12 million in seed funding last year to expand to locations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami, as well as launch its wholesale and import distribution business. In September, it brought in another $5 million in a bridge round from alcoholic giant Pernod Ricard’s venture arm Convivialité Ventures, and is on track for triple-digit revenue growth this year.
Despite what you may think, NA beverage purchases don’t actually revolve around “a thematic month that has a kitschy name,” like Dry January or Sober October, but continue year-round, Bodkins said, so Boisson is gearing up for a busy holiday season and beyond as the category’s momentum continues to build.
Cheers to that: Boisson’s marketing for the holidays will feature messaging centered around “evolving” how people drink, rather than changing it or being “preachy,” Bodkins said. That messaging reflects the fact that 90% of its customers also drink alcohol, he said. “For most of our customers, this is an ‘and’ and not an ‘or.’”
While the NA category started with just a few product innovations, Bodkins said the category has entered its “second wave,” where 15–20 brands will pitch Boisson weekly. Boisson has also carved out its identity as a premium retailer (and often super premium—it carries what Bodkins said is the most expensive bottle of NA red wine available), as it has found its consumers aren’t looking for a “the bottom-of-the-bin value option.”
“The bar has changed pretty significantly, just in terms of what it takes to impress us,” he said. Now, Boisson is looking for three things: a unique product, a compelling origin story, and whether a brand can fit in its portfolio across all sales channels (i.e., the brand is seeking a distributor or importer as well as shelf space in its retail stores).
“Our pitch to brands is that we’re your go-to-market platform; you will always be only with us,” he said. “But if you want to get validation quickly of whether your product has product market fit in the market, we have the most engaged and dynamic consumer base in the non-alc category.”
Boisson is preparing to sell “an absolutely massive” amount of sparkling wine through the end of the year, Bodkins said. In its first year, he said the retailer sold around 12–14 times its average weekly volume in the three days leading up to New Year’s Eve. While NA sparkling wine peaks around the time of bubbly end-of-year toasts, Bodkins said he believes the NA wine category is the “next frontier” for NA beverages, a space which has largely seen NA beers from giants like Heineken and Guinness dominate headlines.
What’s next: As Boisson grows across e-commerce and wholesale, he said brick-and-mortar retail will continue to be part of its “core strategy,” and it will likely open more stores in New York City. As the retailer continues to expand to other locations, it’s zeroing in on walkable cities with public transit, and likely won’t be a retailer situated in a large parking lot, he said. New locations outside New York will also serve as flagships that can host tastings for its wholesale business, he said.
“You know a lot more about what your customers are, who they are, what they think about your product and the feedback you get from them by physically having the stores,” he said. “It’s been a big part of the reason why we’ve grown the way that we have.”
Written By Retail Brew | Erin Cabrey