Pioneering is something that Ben Branson can now adopt as a middle name. In 2015, he launched Seedlip, a non-alcoholic distillate, something for which there was no market at the time. Three years later, he had conquered the world and Seedlip was an example for all brands, new and existing. With that in mind, Branson continued to develop new products. Æcorn Aperitifs in 2019, a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs. He now introduces SEASN, a range of 2 non-alcoholic bitters for both bartenders and consumers. On top of that, he adds Pollen Project, a Venture studio to build new brands that contribute to the moderation movement.
Congrats on launching 2 new projects then! Can you tell which came first: the idea for Seasn or the idea for Pollen?
The idea for seasn began six years ago when I started experimenting in my kitchen with different plants and making cocktail bitter blends for bartenders and events. Pollen Projects is the venture studio, developed in the last two years as a way of structuring a business to be hands on and operational across a number of my different ideas and to create a model of testing and launching that’s efficient.
In 2016, you had the support of Distill Ventures. This is obviously a) linked to Diageo and b) not specific to non-alcoholic drinks. To what extent is Pollen different from a company like Distill Ventures? And do you aim to offer a similar exit strategy, where your main company can acquire a majority stake? Or does Pollen run completely independent?
Pollen Projects is not an incubator or an accelerator. We are not consultants but hands on, totally independent and we are not bringing in other businesses at this stage. Instead we want to build premium, high quality brands that we run and these might not just be products and liquids, we are interested in the whole ecosystem of the moderation movement and in time working with other partners outside of our core expertise.
What was you’re a-Ha! moment for Seasn? And can you tell us a bit about how you started on this project?
There wasn’t an obvious AHA moment as the creative process has taken six years but four things I found really OH WOW.
1. Cocktail bitters is a monopoly dominated by Angostura
2. Cocktail bitters are incredible at bringing both flavour as well as adding complexity or balance or depth or accentuating taste in a concentrated liquid form.
3. Cocktail bitters as a category have largely stayed in the bartenders pocket and not really reached the consumer.
4. We season our food, why don’t we season our drinks?
Seasn aims to make it simple for consumers, disrupt the monopoly and introduce foodies to the magic of seasoning all their drinks with just three dashes.
If you compare the starting phase of Seedlip, Aecorn and Seasn, what would you say are the biggest comparisons? And what are the biggest differences?
/ They are all high quality premium liquids I am very proud of. They all meet a consumer need & have memorable, relevant brands and communications.
/ They are all focused on taste and flavour rather than the abv or trying to imitate alcohol.
/ They are all served by the best restaurants, hotels and cocktail bars.
/ I had no experience of the drinks industry when launching Seedlip. No-one was talking about non-alc and Seedlip was the first of its kind. The category is more developed now with over 1000x non-alc brands globally and valued at more than $10bn in the top ten markets which is incredible.
/ seasn is not about non-alcoholic drinks it’s about seasoning all your drinks [& they’re amazing in food!] whether they have alcohol in or not. seasn is not an alcohol-free bitters, it’s ‘the salt & pepper of drinks’ and is vegan, 0.0% and allergen free.
To what extent could you use the knowledge of founding Seedlip and Aecorn when starting with Seasn?
I have learnt so much in the last 10 years and I am still learning and so my experience has been very helpful in creating seasn from the liquids to the business plan to our first customers [four Michelin * restaurants & a world Top 50 cocktail bar are our first five customers which I’m so happy about!] I really do feel like I am just getting started!
What was the inspiration for Dark and Light? Or was it ‘just’ salt & pepper 😉
I wanted to make it easy for people and that meant not having a huge range of products or individual flavours. I split the world of flavour and drinks in two. Light & Dark and then saw it in two colours; Green & Red. I then built blends around this. So seasn LIGHT is green & zesty with a more’ish salty bitterness and great for lighter drinks like soda, G&T’s, margaritas and martinis. seasn DARK is aromatic & spicy with an umami peppery bitterness and great for darker drinks like ginger ale, whisky highballs, Manhattans and old fashioneds.
Can you tell a bit about how these are made (production process) and which ingredients are used?
We blend and compound lots of different plant extracts including lime, grapefruit, rosemary, kombu, king of bitters, quassia, sea salt in seasn LIGHT and kola nut, star anise, cinnamon, smoked cherrywood, king of bitters, black pepper in seasn DARK.