By Nicole Di Tomasso
The Thompson family saw an opportunity to capture a growing market that has historically been underserved. Enter, Clearsips – a business dedicated to bringing high-quality non-alcoholic drinks to Canadian bars and restaurants.
Launched in May 2022, Clearsips is run by David Thompson, president & co-founder; his wife Margaret, co-founder; and their two daughters, Mary, Marketing director, and Emily, Public Relations and Social Media manager. David, Margaret and Emily have chosen to live a sober lifestyle while Mary has chosen to live a sober-curious one.
“My life without alcohol is better than my life was with it,” says David Thompson, who previously ran Vintage Trade, a medium-sized Ontario-based agency selling wine and spirits to the LCBO and restaurants. He’s also WSET Level 2 certified. “Being sober for the last eight years, there were very limited sophisticated alternatives. It became so obvious there wasn’t many quality choices out there for someone who wasn’t drinking alcohol to choose from when they were dining out, going to events or bringing home to enjoy.”
“I have a heightened awareness of my alcohol consumption,” says Mary Thompson, who’s currently working on achieving the WSET Level 1 and Level 2 certifications. “I regularly take breaks from alcohol. There was a four-month period of complete sobriety and in that period the biggest thing I struggled with was social anxiety. Especially as a younger woman going out to parties, socializing at restaurants, I felt awkward because there wasn’t a real non-alcoholic drink option available for me. My friends would be drinking wine and I had to order a Diet Coke or a water. It made me feel left out. Experiencing that firsthand, I realized other people likely had similar experiences. There’s a need in the market for anyone, whether you’re drinking alcohol or not, to feel included in a social environment. That’s why working at Clearsips is such a personal passion.”
Clearsips imports, distributes and retails national and international esteemed non-alcoholic spirits, wine, beer, cider and ready-to-drink cocktails. The brands Clearsips currently represents are L’Argolle, Oddbird and Pierre Chavin (wine); HP Juniper, Monday, Sobreo and Solbru (spirits); Nirvana, One for the Road and Sober Carpenter (beer/cider); and Cipriani, Edna’s, HP Juniper RTD and Piquette Zero (pre-mixed).
“Typically, online sellers aren’t focusing on restaurants. We have a bit of an advantage having run a wine agency for 25 years,” says David Thompson. “Using my sales force to focus on restaurants, grocers and direct-to-consumer online, as an important part of our overall marketing effort, we’ve been able to bring on premium brands. We ordered a bunch of products to do tastings and we ended up picking 16 suppliers and their range of products.”
“Because taste is such a personal thing, we really strive to have alcohol-free options within each category from wine to spirits to beer,” says Mary Thompson. “There’s something for everyone, for every occasion.”
Additionally, the Thompson family works closely with restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retailers and venues. They can also assist with training, menu development and strategy for operators introducing non-alcoholic options to their business for the first time. Wholesale customers include The Pearle Hotel & Spa in Burlington, Ont., Oliver & Bonacini restaurants in Toronto, Chef’s Paradise in Ottawa and Dundurn Market in Hamilton, Ont., to name a few.
“Our single serves are great for restaurants because there’s no waste,” says David Thompson. “We try to get an idea of what their customers like and find interesting ways to present our products. We also provide cocktail recipes with our spirits because not every restaurant has a mixologist. That’s all it takes. You can go from having no non-alcoholic options to a fairly nice selection for less than $200. This provides a new revenue stream for restaurants.”
“We listen to each restaurant’s needs to find the most suitable product and offer training if needed,” says Mary Thompson.
Clearsips has had to jump over a few hurdles, but the business is poised to shake up the beverage-alcohol industry with uncontainable passion.
“Finding an efficient and safe way to get products across the country has been a challenge,” says David Thompson. “In Ontario, we have a great third-party fulfillment company but for outside of the province, they have to rely on partners, so we’re one step removed. Overall, we have an almost perfect delivery rate, but it took some work to get there.”