IN an attempt to find a way around the boozy world of consulting, a Canberra couple built a business that empowers people at events through fun, non-alcoholic drinks.
It started as a hobby business in early 2018 – after the silly season – and has since taken off, allowing Christina DeLay, 29, and partner Alan Tse, 30, to move from their kitchen bench in Charnwood to a shared work space in Fyshwick.
It’s also raised the interest of the Canberra Business Chamber, which recently chose Alan for its future leaders program.
“I was super excited to be selected,” says Alan, head of business development and sales at Altina Drinks.
“They only select one person out of about 30 and I’m really new to business so I hope to learn from the experienced business leaders from a business point of view but also a boardroom perspective.”
Despite Alan’s degrees in economics and accounting, it’s the first time he and Christina have run a business of their own.
Before this, they were both run off their feet in consultancy jobs that involved long hours and numerous alcohol-centred events.
“It was great at the start but it was a lot harder to work the next day,” Alan says.
“We just got really sick both mentally and physically and for us it wasn’t about drinking all the time.”
Christina, who is the CEO and head of product development at Altina Drinks, hatched the idea that they’d take a break from drinking.
“It wasn’t ‘Let’s go quit our day job and start a business’ – we said, ‘Let’s go find an alternative’,” Alan says.
“We tried alcohol-free wine, alcohol-free beer but it was too sugary.”
Alan and Christina became frustrated with having the boring options of either juice or soft drinks at events, so Christina, who has a PhD in plant biology, decided to go back to her training and create a drink that’s sugar-free and alcohol-free but also tastes great.
“We tried to achieve something that’s an alcohol-free alternative that tastes great, has complex flavours, looks great and makes you feel like you’re part of the party,” Alan says.
Christine uses ingredients such as organic rose petals, organic hibiscus and sweet orange and Alan says there’s no fermentation in the products.
So far, only one of their bottled, alcohol-free, chill-and-pour cocktails is available online and at about 10 shops in Canberra. It’s called Light Me Up and is based on native Australian flavours such as forestberry and wattleseed combined with apple and green tea. They also have more flavours in their pop-up bar including Espresso Yo Self, which combines a cold-brewed espresso with scorched orange, warm spices and chilli. Alan says they’re looking at getting these bottled, too.
The pop-up bar was created so Alan and Christina could give people the option of an alcohol-free outlet at weddings, parties and corporate events.
The couple, who met at high school in Queensland before moving to Canberra about seven years ago, say Altina Drinks isn’t about demonising alcohol.
“We’re both not anti-alcohol,” Alan says. “What we’re saying is if you choose not to drink in a corporate setting, there’s no alternative besides juice and soft drink.
“People want to hold on to something that’s not just water and we saw a gap in the premium, alcohol-free market.”
Alan says they’re not alone, which he discovered when they went without alcohol last year.
During that time, he spoke with colleagues and friends who said they would hold on to one beer for the entire night or make up an excuse about not being well so they wouldn’t be questioned about why they weren’t drinking at an event.
“It led us to ask: ‘Why do we need to come up with excuses?’ ” he says.
“Then we said: ‘Can’t we have something nice, too?’
“Caterers always have the best craft beer, the best wine, the best alcohol list but alcohol-free drinks are always soft drink and juice.”
Alan says having a quality alcohol-free product is also beneficial for pregnant women, designated drivers, young people and those who don’t drink for religious reasons.
“We’re trying to challenge the notion of drinking by saying alcohol isn’t the only way to celebrate an occasion,” he says.
“Every glass of Altina is one less glass of alcohol.”
And while Alan and Christina have created full-time jobs for themselves in just 18 months, Alan says the journey has been harder than expected, which is why he is excited to learn from experienced business leaders in the future leaders program over the next year.
“You can have a great product but people need to know about you before they buy it,” he says.