Murdo MacLeod of Zest Mixology creates the Netflix of cocktails
Zest Mixology started as a pop-up cocktail service that people could hire for dinner parties. It branched out into bigger events until covid saw bookings cancelled. Fortunately, the company had another idea, virtual cocktail events to break the tedium of lockdown. Neverbland caught up with founder Murdo MacLeod to talk green screens, Zoom fatigue and “passion star” martinis.
Neverbland: So, Zest Mixology, what’s the big idea?
Murdo Macleod: It’s a company that delivers ‘wow’ factor drinks experiences either live or digital.
NB: Drinks events at home would have felt unusual at home before the pandemic. Was this a covid pivot?
MM: Yes, it was. I’ve run the company for ten years. When I started it was inspired by Come Dine With Me. People want to impress their friends at dinner parties, so what you get is me or a master mixologist in the corner of your home, with a pop-up bar serving top quality cocktails.
NB: Then what happened?
MM: The business grew year-on-year until covid. We had gone from doing little dinner parties, to becoming sole cocktail providers for the NEC Group and exhibition stands. We partnered with Compass, the biggest caterers in the country. We cater to about eighty of their venues across the UK. We were doing villas and yachts in Ibiza. And all this was building and building.
NB: Then covid?
MM: Yep, I saw a year of bookings wiped out. We had to figure out a whole new direction. And that was digital.
NB: Digital cocktails, how does that work?
MM: We invested heavily in a digital product studio. So we could broadcast cocktail shows over Zoom in HD, with green screens effects. We send out cocktails in their component parts to peoples’ homes, business teams (we’re eighty percent B2B) and viewers shake a few together as a team building activity in the space of an hour.
NB: That’s better than a quiz, isn’t it?
MM: Absolutely, and we try and do with a bit of charisma and entertainment. Cocktails are a sexy product.
NB: What kind of cocktails? New ones or the classics?
MM: We had to go through a journey – what’s in the cocktail box? What can work in transit? For a mojito, for instance, can you send fresh mint? No, you can’t. But we managed to distil it down to a set of classic cocktails with a twist, these worked well in transit and that our fulfilment company were able to pack and send out across the UK at the time.
NB: Which ones worked?
MM: We try and put a twist on the classics, so rather than an espresso martini, we’d do one with dark chocolate. We also discovered new ways to send ingredients, so herbs we would incapsulate the essence in a bottle. We like to add some intrigue. We couldn’t do a pornstar martini, because the word ‘porn’ wouldn’t get past company firewalls. It became the “passionstar” martini.
NB: Passion star sounds almost ruder, doesn’t it?
MM: It does! But this all worked. We did hardly any revenue in a year, and then in December 2020, we did a year’s worth of business in one month.
NB: Is this because digital cuts your overheads?
MM: Yes, delivering live events, you have multiple vans going in different directions. There are accidents, things break. You have lots of variables. There’s more profit in digital.
NB: How much does it cost?
MM: A typical price is £50 per person in the UK plus Vat. And that person receives a box a cocktail shaker, and ingredients for four different cocktails.
NB: How are you planning to expand?
MM: It’s about volume and scale, so we’re running a 24/7 facility – I’ve been here since 04:30 this morning, entertaining Australians. And we opened to the global market, with a global logistics company. So, we can safely and securely get our boxes to every corner of the planet. We now ship to Australia, Asia and America every day.
NB: You’re like the Netflix of cocktails.
MM: I love that analogy, yeah. It’s quite unbelievable that these boxes are shipped from the UK to all these countries, but it’s a proposition that everyone seems to enjoy.
NB: Are you worried that this stuff will fade away when (or rather, if) the virus is brought to heel?
MM: Virtual is here to stay, we’re way past thinking that everything’s going to be either/ or. Even after the first shock of the pandemic, people are more used to meeting and working via video call. And it’s just proven to be more efficient, safe and environmentally sound to get your global team on a virtual call rather than have them fly around the world. There’s a place for live and a place for virtual, that these are the spots we’ll be working in.