Creating a new drinking narrative, with Laura Willoughby MBE

alcohol policy alcohol units club soda drinks campaigner drinks industry drinks policy hospitality industry inclusivity and equality laura willoughby no & low alcohol sober curious Apr 07, 2024

Rethinking Our Drink Culture with Laura Willoughby

This week on the podcast I had the pleasure of speaking with Laura Willoughby, the trailblazing founder of Club Soda. Laura shared her insights on understanding and enjoying alcohol-free drinks, but above all we talked about the changes in government policy and hospitality industry practices that can accelerate and facilitate individual behaviour change.

Appreciating non-alcoholic beverages

Laura emphasised that non-alcoholic drinks shouldn't be seen as lacking when compared to their alcoholic counterparts. The industry isn't about creating exact substitutes; it's about crafting unique experiences and flavours. With evolving technology, we're witnessing a renaissance in what alcohol-free beverages can offer - not just in taste, but in the sophistication of choice.

Encouragement for exploration

Part of Laura's mission is to encourage people to explore the variety of non-alcoholic options available. She advocates for treating these drinks as a part of special occasions, contributing to the joy of the moment without the need for alcohol. This approach not only diversifies our palate but also promotes inclusivity in social settings.

Challenges for pioneers in the industry

Despite the growing popularity of alcohol-free options, Laura highlighted the struggles that small, independent producers face. Overwhelming regulations and high equipment costs create barriers to entry and consumer choice, often leaving bigger brands to dominate the scene. Yet, it's these smaller producers that are often at the forefront of innovation.

Clarity and education on alcohol levels

A central theme of our discussion was the importance of reviewing industry definitions of ‘no & low’ alcohol drinks, and educating consumers about alcohol content. Misconceptions around consuming products with 0.5% alcohol content and the nuances of 'low-alcohol' labels need to be addressed. Consumers should be empowered to make informed decisions based on their comfort with alcohol levels.

The societal shift for inclusivity

Laura's activism is fuelling a societal shift toward equality in social circles, making space for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. She illustrated how current social norms, centred around alcohol, often exclude non-drinkers. Laura passionately calls for updated government policies and better tax thresholds for alcohol-free beverages to cultivate a more inclusive and diverse drinking landscape.

Building an alcohol moderation community

Laura's entrepreneurial spirit led her to establish Club Soda as a platform like "Weight Watchers for booze." The initiative began as a way to support individuals wanting to adjust their drinking habits. Today, it has blossomed into an inclusive community poised to change how we consume and view alcohol. Club Soda's mission has expanded to offering free courses for hospitality workers and advocating for the widespread availability of alcohol-free options. By doing so, Club Soda is fostering a mindful drinking culture that caters to various lifestyle choices.

Advocating for industry and governmental change

Despite the challenges, Laura and her work with Alcohol Change are vital in bridging the gap between public conversation, governmental policy, and industry practices. She argues for a significant overhaul in how the government approaches alcohol policy, advocating for a health-focused perspective over profit.

Personal stories and core values

Throughout our discussion, Laura and I delved into our own personal experiences with alcohol and how our journeys have shaped our worldviews. We discussed how it is to lose touch with our true selves while drinking, and how recognising this led us to change our own drinking habits, reconnect without authentic selves and take a powerful stance in supporting others.

Join us on this journey to reshape the drinking narrative and celebrate the diverse possibilities that alcohol-free life offers.  You can listen to the episode here. And as always, please remember to rate, review, and follow the podcast for more thought-provoking episodes.

Listen to the podcast