The co-founder of leading Australian non-alcoholic beverage producers Altina is a passionate advocate for alternatives to alcohol in corporate settings.
But Christina DeLay readily admits it hasn’t always been this way.
“I was working for a big IT company. My co-founder Alan [Tse] was a financial consultant. We were both very much caught up in corporate drinking culture,” she says.
“Networking events, lots of long lunches and after-work socialising – they all revolved around alcohol.
“I was drinking three or four bottles a week. I was sleeping poorly, then drinking lots of coffee and not eating properly because I was really tired.”
The alcohol-coffee loop caught up with Christina in 2018.
“I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and it turned out alcohol was a huge trigger,” she says.
“I cut right back and saw this huge change in my physical and mental health. Because I was getting better sleep, I was in a better mood, was more productive and had a better mental performance all-round.
“The only problem was I found it hard to do all that fun social stuff without alcohol … It just isn’t the same sipping your fourth glass of sparkling water. Alan and I thought ‘if only there was something out there that gave us all the feelings we get when we drink a beautiful glass of wine paired with food or a craft beer’.”
From that moment, Altina was born.
Christina’s degree in chemical biotechnology and her PhD in plant biology played well into figuring out new methods to create drinks with enough complexity and depth to create the experience of fine wine without the alcohol.
Unlike most non-alcoholic wines on the market Altina beverages do not rely on added sugars, leaning instead on the science of botanical blending to acheive its flavour profiles.
But equally important to developing a product that can hold its own against its alcoholic counterparts, the business is underpinned by the idea of social change.
While Australia lags behind Europe where the “alcohol-free movement” is already relatively mainstream, Christina is noticing a cautious shift towards a more “sober-curious” society.
However, she says any real paradigm shift will require genuine buy-in from employers to become a force for good.
“In many industries, you see alcohol used not just as a social lubricant but also a mechanism to help further your career. You’re going to work parties with people who make decisions and alcohol will almost certainly be served.
“If you’re getting a gift in the corporate world, nine times out of 10 it’s a bottle of wine. It’s not very inclusive.”
Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) marketing and communications officer Grace Carr is proof of the positive impact an alcohol-free workplace counterculture can have on employees.
She says CBRIN’s regular alcohol-free events have made for a more inclusive workplace.
“I have never been a big drinker and never really understood why you would have alcohol at professional events,” she says.
“I am only 25 and pretty new to the corporate world, but I have been to other professional events before my time at CBRIN where the risk factors have been increased because of the alcohol around.”
But she says limiting non-alcoholic beverages to water, juice, soft drinks or sugary mocktails won’t cut the mustard because it relegates booze-free alternatives to dull or unhealthy.
“If you really want to take the pressure to drink off your staff and guests, you want decent alternatives – something that tastes great and won’t make them feel like the kid at the party drinking Fanta,” she says.
“Altina definitely makes it easier to relax and feel safe at events while still feeling a little bit fun and fancy.”
Christina says the feedback from workplaces stocking Altina has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People get excited about the possibility of drinks that tick all the boxes in terms of meeting social cues, but don’t have the health implications of alcohol,” she says.
“We have hundreds of workplaces signed up for subscriptions that make it easier for them to restock their bar fridges with non-alcoholic options for their staff.
“We have Christmas bundles with baubles and beautiful garnishes to elevate the non-alcoholic experience, and they make great gifts.
“We are also working on exciting new products, so watch this space…”
Visit the Altina website for more information.