Mark Livings: How Lyre's plans global expansion

Few drinks categories have seen as much start-up activity as alcohol-free spirits in recent times. Lyre’s chief executive Mark Livings concedes his brand was beaten to the market by the likes of Seedlip and others, but he’s convinced that rapid scaling, rather than being early to the game, holds the key to success.

“One of our core tenets is to try to run it like it’s a Silicon Valley-style tech company rather than a traditional consumer products business,” he says. “In technology, if you are the first scaler rather than the first mover, history shows you tend to end up winning the market.” 

Pre-Lyre’s, Livings and his team at the Australian marketing and advertising agency Kinetic won a host of awards and recognition on tech industry best-of lists for their work for clients including Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé and Diageo, before he decided to become a brand owner in his own right in 2016. It took three years perfecting recipes before the Lyre’s brand hit the market in 2019. 

Since then, despite the pandemic, it has launched 22 types of non-alcoholic spirit, five RTDs and is just making its first move into sparkling wine. Lyre’s products have entered 63 markets through traditional distribution routes and are in another 30 through direct-to-consumer ecommerce. 

“Ecommerce is the great leveller to allow small and medium businesses to compete with the global giants,” says Livings. “You no longer need a relationship with a major retailer to get your products moving quickly.

“Smaller businesses have an advantage in launching a business through D2C. If you’re a business like Diageo or Pernod Ricard and do that, you have all the retailers you already have a relationship with tapping their pens on their desk saying: ‘When did we stop being your partners?’” 

Lyre’s has distribution hubs in Rotterdam for Europe, Shanghai for Asia, and on each coast of the US. 

It eschews the conventional alcohol-free production approach of making a full-strength spirit and de-alcoholising it, instead making a “combination of essences, extracts and distillates and a little bit of beverage technology magic” at sites in Germany, Shanghai and Atlanta. This concentrated “serum” is then transported to seven manufacturing points around the world to be bulked up into the  final products. 

“It gives us a small carbon footprint and a robust supply chain,” says Livings. “It’s allowed us to continue to scale up almost uninhibited, and open up new markets during the pandemic.” 

Lyre’s has avoided regulatory pitfalls in some markets by avoiding terms such as ‘non-alcoholic gin’ or ‘non-alcoholic whiskey’, instead opting for descriptors that convey their equivalence: London Dry Spirit for gin, American Malt for bourbon, Italia Spritz for that country’s numerous aperitifs, and so on. 

“We don’t launch all of the SKUs in every market,” says Livings. “We optimise it around what we know the consumers are looking for in different places.