The Craft Without the Booze
A new non-alcoholic drink is quickly being embraced by both consumers and New Orleans’ food and beverage community
tangerine, lemon, peach, basil, lemongrass
pomegranate, ginger, lemon, apple, rosemary, tonic water
Baron Von Blue
blueberry, mint, rose, soda water
In a city where “laissez les bons temps rouler” often includes alcohol, how popular could a canned mocktail beverage be?
Apparently, pretty popular.
Literally first cooked up in the home kitchen of Tarik and Aimée Sedky, the first cans of Mockly — a zero-alcohol, low-carb canned beverage — came on to the market in 2020. In just four months, the company sold out its initial run of 12,000 cans— a success they said came as the result of reaching out for a little help early on.
“After a few rounds that were decent but far from exceptional, we agreed: Surely there is someone in New Orleans who knows what they’re doing here,” said Aimée Sedky.
The Sedkys found the help they needed in New Orleans-based mixologist Jesse Carr, who joined the team to develop the signature blend of flavors in the products. The partnership with Carr proved integral in creating a product that Aimée Sedky said goes way beyond one-note sodas or mixers already available in stores.
“It was important that we developed a product that wasn’t simply a booze-free replica of existing cocktails, but something that could stand on its own as a unique, delicious option with or without alcohol,” added Sedky.
“We wanted our mocktails to have the depth and ingenuity of a craft cocktail, as well as an option that was low on sugar. We worked with Jesse to develop three complex, delicious mocktails that each had its own spin on what a mocktail should taste like.”
Currently, Mockly retails for $9.99 for four 250-ml cans and is available online, in more than 30 local restaurants and bars, and in 20 grocery stores and markets such as Rouses, Canseco’s, Robert Fresh Market and Breaux Mart.
Capitalizing on the close-knit nature of the New Orleans business community, the Sedkys relied on their professional backgrounds in communications and marketing to launch the Mockly brand, as well as to forge connections with distributors. The relationship with Crescent Crown — the exclusive off-premise distributor of Mockly to grocery stores in Southern Louisiana — grew out of a chance encounter at a cocktail party.
“When we got our first true production samples just over a year ago, we had, like, six cans of each flavor but we didn’t have any investors, customers or commitments, said Tarik Sedky. “Aimée had recently met someone who knows a lot about the cocktail business at a party and said, ‘Let’s get his advice.’ So, we packed a can of each flavor in a cooler and brought some plastic cups to [Sazerac Company owner] Jeff Goldring’s office.
Unbeknownst to us, he had invited Nick Hazard from Crescent Crown to join the tasting. While we were going through our presentation about the category, the product and our aspirations for growth, Jeff saw the projections and asked, ‘Why do you have it taking so long to get big?’ We told him since we didn’t have any distribution, we assumed it’d take a while to get traction. Nick, who had just finished his third sample, looked at us and said, ‘These are delicious. When can we get ’em?’”
The couple connected in a similar fashion with Neat Wines, which distributes to on-premise locations in Louisiana. This relationship led to Mockly’s availability at several local restaurants.
“We were introduced to Neat Wines through an intermediary — BRG Hospitality, the owners of Shaya, Willa Jean, Luke and others,” he said. “I had done some advertising work for them a year earlier. As we were validating the Mockly concept, I asked BRG’s co-owner, Octavio Mantilla, what he thought of the idea. Octavio thought it made sense and said he’d serve it at one of his restaurants if it tasted good. Sure enough, Shaya was our first restaurant customer, and Mockly has been flying off the shelf there ever since we launched. Their director of operations, Maria Zissis, is a huge Mockly fan and just added it to the menus at Willa Jean and Cho Thai.”
According to the company, Mockly’s success has revolved around two unexpected matrixes: “sales velocity and repeat purchases. Repeat purchase has been very strong, with 90% of bars, restaurants and markets that take an initial delivery continuing to repurchase Mockly in ever-greater quantities over time. Online sales are growing as well, with month-over-month sales increasing 40% into year end.”
But for the cocktail-heavy culture of the Crescent City, how can a zero-alcohol product compete? The Sedkys said Mockly beverages provide an exciting alternative for times when imbibing may not be an option or for those looking to take a break from drinking, a concept that reaches far beyond New Orleans.
“It’s no secret New Orleanians love to drink, but there are plenty of exceptions to that rule — pregnant women and designated drivers, for example,” Aimée Sedky said. “But if you still enjoy socializing with a drink in your hand, Mockly fits right in. Maybe you’re sober or sober-curious. Some people stay away from alcohol for health reasons or because they need to be at their absolute best for an important meeting the next morning. Maybe you’re just taking a break from booze after the holidays or for Lent. Whatever your reasons, we’re just excited to give locals a new option. Mockly mocktails are alcohol-free, but they’re also delicious — an indulgence, not a sacrifice.”
Mockly is indeed riding a tsunami of interest in non-alcoholic beverage alternatives, mostly led by younger millennial and Zoomer consumers nationwide. According to a November 2021 Business Insider report, “Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33% to $331 million over the last 52 weeks, according to data from Nielsen. The products have done especially well in e-commerce, as Nielsen found a 315% increase in online non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverage dollar sales during the same time.”
According to Aimée Sedky, Mockly fits right in with those making a lifestyle change or are merely curious about alternatives.
“We cater to people who are looking to have a good time while sober or sober curious, or just taking a break — whether that’s a few days a week, or a few weeks a year. Mockly is also a great alternative for people who just don’t function well with hangovers. They love to socialize, but not if they have to pay for it the next day.”
Mockly also offers an alternative for those looking to recreate happy hour at home, a big plus during the pandemic quarantine.
“Some of our customers use Mockly beverages as mixers, adding in their favorite spirits, for a delicious, quick cocktail,” said Aimée Sedky. “Because they were crafted by an expert mixologist, we’re finding that at-home and amateur mixologists who like to experiment with different ingredients are inspired by our flavors. And then there are those who serve Mockly at parties instead of hiring a bartender. You don’t have to leave a tip for a can.”
While Mockly is headquartered in New Orleans, the product is produced and co-packed in Philadelphia and Athens, Georgia. Tarik and Aimée said they see themselves playing a unique role alongside other local brewers, beverage producers and bartenders.
“We see ourselves as a complement to them,” Tarik said. “We actually tried to use local brewers to produce Mockly but they couldn’t produce our product, mostly because of the pasteurization requirements and the size of our can. We’re in an 8.4 ounce can, not the standard 12-ounce beer can. One of the most encouraging signs for us in the trade is that bartenders really like Mockly. Not only do they appreciate the basic mixology — the flavor, the nose, the combination of familiar and more obscure ingredients, the effervescence and whatnot — bartenders also know that making mocktails can be kind of a pain, so having something that their customers love but is easy to make and delivers a good margin, is a win for them.”
While Mockly is just getting off the ground in a big way locally, Tarik Sedky said the company is poised to expand regionally in the next few months.
“Our distribution deal with Crescent Crown actually covers the entire southern Louisiana region, so Mockly is heading into grocery stores in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and elsewhere in the state,” he said. “Also, based on our early success at bars and restaurants in New Orleans, we’ve just begun expanding into Austin, Nashville and Atlanta. We plan to close our second round of financing in the next 60 days to further expand Mockly’s distribution and sales throughout the Southeast, and plan to continue raising capital as the business scales nationally. We also plan to continue a strong online presence. In fact, our online sales are seeing month over month sales increasing 40% into year end.”
The Sedkys see Mockly brand’s expansion as a way to transform the profile of New Orleans as a destination for great cocktails and mocktails.
“Our goal is to make Mockly the authority and first choice in the non-alcoholic space in New Orleans and across the Southeast region,” Aimée Sedky said. “And we want New Orleans to become a leader in embracing mocktails as the fun, booze-free cocktail alternative. We‘re looking for ways to move production to the New Orleans area. We’re also developing three new flavors for our next production run. We just came back from a tasting in Los Angeles and they’re coming along great. This next set will feature some unexpected ingredients, like Earl Grey Tea, chili peppers and cinnamon.”
Non-Alcoholic DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN ZERO
International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) defines non-alcoholic beer, cider, wine, spirits, RTDs and alcohol replacements as products that contain less than 0.5% ABV. Low-alcohol beers and ciders contain between 0.5% ABV and 3.5% ABV, while low-alcohol wines check-in under 7.5% ABV