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Part 8 – International Women’s Day 2020. Celebrating awesome women in drinks: Laura Willoughby


Guest edited by Sarah Wildman-King, co-founder of specialist creative agency Wonderworks Communications.


Here’s part 8/8 of our Wonderworks series for International Women’s Day: Celebrating awesome women in drinks – with a new story being published each day this week. Read more about Wonderworks and their inspiration in part 1 here.

The change maker

Laura Willoughby, Co-Founder of Club Soda

Pictured: Laura Willoughby

Laura does not need much of an introduction to anyone who knows anything about the no & low category. Club Soda is a social impact organization which works with individuals, brands and venues to change attitudes towards mindful drinking, increase choice, and quality of drinking when you choose not to drink alcohol.

Tell us, how have you got to this point of leading change and creating a category?!

There is nothing like being somewhere by accident- but sober! 

I never thought that when I gave up drinking 8 years ago that I would spend so much time talking to drinks producers and pubs and bars. But when I started asking the questions about better choices this is where I ended up! 

It all came from a piece of research we did when we first launched in 2015 (nudgingpubs.uk). I was interested that the onus from the government and charities in this space was asking the consumer to drink less when they were out. But the choices were meh! You can’t do something if you are never given valid choices. So we started to look at how to change the behaviour of venues, then the new wave of low and no started to hit the shelves.

To me, this is an encouraging sign that things are truly changing. Whatever choices we make about our health, people want to keep on socialising! Which is truly awesome.

What’s your favourite part about working in the industry?

I have learnt so much and feel so inspired by people who stick their neck out and make a drink. I have learnt that hospitality is a friendly and collaborative space with people who really do want to make sure you have a nice time and I enjoy bringing a different perspective. 

I like sharing new things I discover and empowering people to make better choices and even be bolder about what they want. I love seeing new small drinks brands succeed. Most of all, I have enjoyed being part of a changing narrative. Away from some depressing view that if you don’t drink you have a problem to one where choice is respected and picking and choosing when you drink feels empowering. Most of all, the idea that you don’t have to be a social recluse – Club Soda is a pro-social movement!

And least?

That grumpy barman who treats you like a dick if you ask for an alcohol-free beer. I want to spend money mate – just give me what I want (she says stomping her feet!)

And we don’t have enough money to do all that I want to do. We sit in an awkward place in this new emerging market and we are learning (all the time) about how to get our offer right to individuals, drinks brands and the sector as a whole.  

What trends do you see coming through at the moment? 

Lots of products with functional ingredients, such as herbs, mushrooms or even CBD to give you a lift and a sense that you end your night out healthier. 

Then there is a new wave of low sugar mixers to go with it. If you are going to the trouble of finding a better drink you don’t want to drown it in sugar or fake sweeteners. I think tonic will be up for reinvention soon and having good local cordials on the shelf will also free up room in the fridge and provide some great long hydrating drinks that taste better than the lime that was designed for a larger top. 

I think low alcohol will peep its head out soon – people are already making low abv beer shandies with half and half alcoholic and alcohol-free beer, so maybe shandy is up for a make-over too! 

Does being a female in the drinks business create barriers or opportunities?

Only 10% of investment in businesses in the UK goes to women. Drinks are no different. Whilst that is a case women with venues, drinks or other ideas in this won’t even get what they need to scale. The data does not lie!

What’s your Wonder Woman mantra? Or the best piece of advice you have been given?

Ask for the money – one day I may even follow it!

What are your fears and limiting beliefs?

Man – this is a whole other article right. I have to remind myself all the time that those limiting beliefs I have are just thoughts and not orders and it is only me holding myself back. Yet I still apologise for talking too much… 

And secret powers?

Being sober is most definitely a superpower for me. I can do so much more. It is like a productivity pill!

For a woman coming into the industry would you have any words of advice?

Talk to lots of people. Meet for lots of tea and coffees and explore your idea. Get their nuggets of wisdom and don’t be afraid to ask for help from everyone. Reciprocity is as good and sometimes better than money, so you can always pay back or pay forward that support in some way. 

And how can women in the industry help you?

Make time to share wisdom and support and advice – which is why you should always ask!


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