The Lucky Saint pub is all about promoting the booze-free brand in the heart of central London. Over a pint, its founder and MD discuss their plans

In the heart of Marylebone, a stone’s throw from Regent’s Park and the BT Tower, a newly renovated London pub is offering punters an “inclusive” drinking experience.

And that’s not just a meaningless marketing slogan. The Lucky Saint isn’t your typical post-5pm boozer. It’s the new home of the eponymous alcohol-free beer brand, which secured a “record-breaking” £10m investment in January from industry veterans including Jonathan Warburton and JamJar Investments, set up by the co-founders of Innocent.

It’s a significant achievement, given Luke Boase had no previous industry experience when he founded Lucky Saint in 2018. Since then, it has amassed retail listings in Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, Ocado and M&S. The beer – also available online and in bars – took one step closer to low & no category domination with the opening of its own pub in March.

“It’s a physical manifestation of the brand,” says Boase over an afternoon pint. “Everyone who walks through the doors is getting the Lucky Saint experience.” Indeed, Lucky Saint’s branding is evident across the building, from the hand-painted sign outside to the teal gloss-painted wood panelling inside, designed to match its cans and bottles.

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Source: Benoît Grogan-Avignon

‘We want to be what Guinness is to stout’

Lucky Saint’s core lager is, of course, on tap. But so are several others. Wines and spirits are also available. The diverse offering is intended to offer “inclusivity” and track how alcohol-free drinks perform in a traditional pub setting, says Boase.

“It’s going to work as a testbed to help us figure out the opportunity of alcohol-free. So, we’ll test how we can maximise that opportunity in pubs and then take that data and feed it back to our customers.”

Name: Luke Boase

Age: 42

Marital status: Married to Olivia, with two children: Frances Lola and Roxanna

Potted CV: From being a runner on Guinness TV commercials to fund management and much in between. Nothing in drinks or brand, which is a blessing and a curse. Having no prior experience affords you a fresh perspective – but things take longer!

Best career decision: Leaving corporate safety for startups.

Business idol: Jonathan Warburton. He makes the world’s best crumpets.

Hobbies: Anything in the mountains. Skiing, hiking, cycling.

Dream pub guest: I’d grab Noel Gallagher.

The pub doubles up as a headquarters for Lucky Saint’s now 50-strong team. At the back, there’s a podcast studio and upstairs you’ll find office space and bright, airy meeting rooms. There’s even a roof terrace – yet to be given a makeover – on which team yoga sessions could soon be possible, teases Boase.

It’s hard to imagine the 18th century red-brick building was derelict just a few months ago. Formerly known as The Mason’s Arms, the pub was abandoned by its previous owners before coming to Boase’s attention via an unlikely source. “Greg James tweeted a picture of it saying this is the best pub in London and someone needs to save it,” he recalls.

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Boase was already on the lookout for a pub with ample space for an office conversion, and serendipitously, this one fitted the bill. He’s now hoping James will become a regular once again.

His enthusiasm for the space is shared by Emma Heal, Lucky Saint’s MD since 2020. Sipping on a beer next to Boase, she stresses the pub is about more than just drinking. “We’re going to host running clubs because we’ve got Regent’s Park one block away,” she says. “We’ve already had a load of sober Instagrammers having gatherings here.”

““The pub is going to work as a testbed to help us figure out how to grasp the opportunity of alcohol-free””

If anyone can make that work, it’s Heal. A drinks industry veteran, she’s held various senior commercial roles at the likes of Innocent and Diageo over the past two decades. She is a powerful evangelist for the brand, jumping in on Boase’s replies with more business-focused insights, all backed by a relentless confidence in being at the helm of the next big thing.

“Alcohol-free beer is still only 3% of total beer in the UK. It’s double digits in Sweden and Spain, and it’s nearing double digits in France and Germany,” she stresses. “So, we’re on a huge hockey stick of growth.”

They form a complementary partnership: Boase’s thoughtful and considered vision is brought to life through Heal’s effervescent practicality.

And as you’d very much hope from a young business based in a pub, they’re not afraid to go bold. This was seen in their latest and biggest marketing campaign earlier this year for Dry January, which saw ‘thou shalt not, not drink’ splashed alongside religious imagery on the London Underground. The duo believe the tongue-in-cheek ad was seen by 52% of Londoners.

Name: Emma Heal

Age: 43

Marital status: Partner with a 15” height differential, and our two young daughters.

Potted CV: I’ve spent pretty much my whole career in food and drink. I started out at Tesco before moving to Innocent, then Diageo and Graze. I love scaling startups, and that’s why I joined Luke at Lucky Saint in February 2020.

Best career decision: Joining Innocent in 2005 – the equivalent of an MBA in entrepreneurship

Business idol: Martha Lane Fox

Hobbies: Running around Bushy Park before the kids are up and reading autobiographies.

Dream pub guest: I’d love to pour David Attenborough a pint and have a catch-up in our podcast studio.

The increased awareness helped Lucky Saint secure 250 new customers on tap within a month. “We’re in 600 pubs serving draught now; 5,000 other pubs, bars and restaurants serve us in our bottle; and we’re in 66 Michelin star restaurants,” says Heal.

“Then we’ve got the power of our DTC business. Just in January alone, we had three times the amount of unique visitors to the site,” she adds.

Lucky Saint is also now eyeing an expansion into other more lucrative European markets. It recently launched in Ireland, where it has been “gratefully received”, says Heal, as there’s currently “a much smaller range” of low & no alcohol options compared with the UK.

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Source: Lucky Saint

A defining brand

To keep up with ever more ambitious plans, the duo are racing to expand their senior leadership team. They’ve made three new hires in recent weeks.

Former Byron and Rum Kitchen alumna Sacha Harvey joined as people director; former Mindful Chef interim CFO Andy Johnson as finance director; and Lou Pollitt – who has over a decade’s experience working for the likes of Innocent, Bear and Lotus Bakeries – as category & insights director.

“We are now on the map – people are approaching us,” says Heal. “There was a period while we were growing where we recruited 14 people over three months without using a headhunter. That saves you a fortune. All the hard work we’ve put in is really starting to pay back.”

The end goal is for Lucky Saint to become “as big as what Guinness is to stout” in the alcohol-free market. It’s part of the reason the brand has stayed true to its core 0.5% abv lager and resisted the lure of wacky flavours and limited editions.

As Boase points out: “Lager is the world’s most popular beer style… So, when it comes back to achieving this goal of being the defining brand, the defining brand is going to be a lager.”

As the pair finish their drinks, Heal has the final word on the future of the brand. “We’ve got all the foundations in place. Now the snowball is rolling down the mountain.”