#184 – Episode 184 – Living Alcohol Free With Laura Willoughby


Laura Willoughby has gone from drinking all the beer to being one of the leading voices of the alcohol-free movement in the UK. In this episode, she discusses the extraordinary success of her alcohol-free off license.

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about this episode

I’m so excited to welcome Laura Willoughby to the show today. Laura is a fabulous person who I’ve really grown to love and admire and she’s revolutionizing the recovery scene in the UK.

About Laura Willoughby

Laura Willoughby MBE is co-founder of Club Soda, the Mindful Drinking Movement. Their aim is to help people drink more mindfully and live well.

The inspiration for Club Soda comes from Laura’s experience of giving up drinking ten years ago. A campaigner at heart with a background in movement building and politics, she realized that one of the big sticking points was a way to support people to take a self-guided journey to change their drinking.

Club Soda has over 70,000 individual members and nearly 100 brand members who they support through research and collaborative projects. They have built a drinks guide and they run the UK’s only Mindful Drinking Festival which is now in its 8th edition. Laura and her team opened the pop-up alcohol-free shop in London’s West End in 2022. They are now crowdfunding for a permanent shop. She is co-author of How to Be a Mindful Drinker published by DK books.

Laura is Imbibe’s No & Low ambassador and judge for the IWSC awards.

key highlights

Beyond the shop

In the UK, liquor stores are called off-licences. Turning that concept on its head, Laura made the bold move of opening an alcohol-free off-licence called Club Soda.

Club Soda showcases the numerous brands of alcohol-free from around the world, showing people an alcohol-free version of something familiar. But for Laura, it’s about more than that.

It’s about being social and the conversations and the smiling faces of people finding something that they really enjoyed in her shop.


The Club Soda experience

The Club Soda shop was originally started because Laura wanted a physical space for this year’s festival. But they started getting regular customers and people asking them to stay open and what was meant to be a six-week experiment turned into a permanent shop.

“The really important part of the shop is that everything is available to sample.” – Laura Willoughby

When you buy alcohol, you’re not buying the brand or the taste. You’re buying the brand’s effect. It’s not the same with alcohol free.

When you’re switching out alcohol for something else, you’re looking to recreate an experience or something that makes you feel equally sociable. Your taste buds are different, you’re a little bit fussier, you might care about the sugar or the calories.

You want to buy something you like.


Mindful drinking

“There are many different types of mindful drinkers but we all have this one overlapping point: we want something interesting to drink when we go out or when we’re with friends.” – Laura Willoughby

Laura’s customers range from people who have never had alcohol before for religious reasons to people who have given up alcohol and everything in between.

As it becomes more socially acceptable, more and more people are choosing to reduce or remove alcohol from their life.

That means more people are adding them to their diet and every time they do that, that’s one less alcoholic drink.

This is a massive social shift.

resources mentioned

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