Interview with Emma Heal, Managing Director of Lucky Saint

Emma Heal has enjoyed a long and successful background in the food and drink industry – moving from working as a buyer for Tesco, to helping launch Innocent Drinks, and leading Graze from ‘clicks to bricks’.

Find out how she has navigated her career around motherhood (and why she has no time for mum guilt), and what tempted her to join alcohol-free lager brand Lucky Saint as Managing Director.

What’s your career background?

I have been in the food and drink world for 20 years. My first job was as a buyer for Tesco, working initially in a big store for six months then across several categories, with all sorts of suppliers from independent entrepreneurs to huge global brands.

I then jumped over the negotiation table and joined innocent drinks when it was still a startup in 2005. I loved the ethics, pace and diversity of the business and went off to live in Stockholm and Copenhagen to set up their Scandinavian businesses.

Before joining Lucky Saint, I was the Managing Director of Graze’s retail business and led the launch from ‘clicks to bricks’. It was a brilliantly intense few years building a wonderful team of 40, to create a £50m retail revenue business, and reaching the heady heights of the UK’s biggest healthy snacking brand. 

Health and wellbeing have always been a passion of mine and coupled with a love of working within dynamic exploding categories, I saw fantastic potential in the alcohol-free space, which ultimately led me to Lucky Saint. I was incredibly impressed listening to Founder Luke Boase talk passionately about his two-year journey to create the world’s best alcohol-free lager.

I was delighted to join the team as Managing Director in February 2020 to help scale a wonderful beer and brand. Lucky Saint is now the leading independently owned alcohol-free beer in the UK, listed in over 30 Michelin star restaurants, as well as +3000 UK institutions like Honest Burger, Dishoom and The Ivy Collection.

It’s a really exciting time to be leading the ever-increasing brilliant team and pushing full steam ahead to achieve our ambitious growth plans.

How did your career change after having children?

After I left Graze (only 24 hours before having my second daughter which hadn’t been the plan!) I took time out to deeply reassess what I wanted from my career in my next role. I reached out to several people I respected to hear what they thought my strengths were and what environment I’d be suited to next.

Post pulling out some themes I made a list of four key things I wanted in my next role. Firstly, the business had to be founder-led with private investment, secondly the product had to be best in class and already ‘proven’, third the category had to be within health and wellbeing and finally the values had to align with my own. 

I’d been an alcohol-free drinks consumer for three years, having had two children in my late 30s in quick succession (there’s only 19 months between them), so Lucky Saint felt like a great fit from a personal level as a consumer, as well as being exciting and fast paced with so much potential.

The three values at Lucky Saint really spoke to me too: Be Generous. Stay Humble. Get Lucky’… because fortune favours the brave and hardworking, and the harder you work, the luckier you get.  

What’s your USP?

According to personality tests I’m an Activator and an Achiever. Luke and I have extremely complementary skill sets, which makes working together a pleasure. My role is to extract the magic from Luke’s head, codify it and make it happen. With our team I’m a big believer in having a growth-mindset, the power of ‘not.. yet’.

I also recommend checking out Jeff Bezos’ ’1 and 2-way door’ ways of working. Once you have clear tramlines in place, I’ve found it really empowers the team to have complete freedom to own stuff and crack on, which is very motivating for people with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Who’s your target audience?

The typical Lucky Saint drinker is someone who has reached the point where they have more responsibilities in life and are therefore aware of when they are drinking, and how often. Eight in 10 UK Adults are moderating and choosing a healthier lifestyle where they can still enjoy all the brilliant aspects of socialising, but in a healthier way.

As we say, Moderation is not the dirty word it once was, especially if you can order a delicious cold pint of Lucky Saint on draught with your friends. Most of the Lucky Saint team are moderators, myself included I drink Lucky Saint in the working week and mix things up at the weekend.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

As a brand, through multiple channels including advertising, marketing, PR, and social media. Also sampling at events is critical because so many people may have had a bad experience with alcohol free beer in the past, so tasting really is believing.

We will hand +80,000 people in 2021 a pint of Lucky Saint. It’s incredibly heart-warming to see people’s minds blown when they try our beer as they’ve never tasted anything like it. Most alcohol-free beers are made in a matter of hours with additives and thickeners like lactose (milk) or chemicals like maltodextrin.

As Lucky Saint is brewed to the original Pilsner recipe of 1845, we only use the four natural ingredients you’d expect to find in a beer and take six weeks, which includes four weeks lagering (lager means to store in German), to retain maximum body and flavour. It’s a labour of love to make Lucky Saint, but it’s worth it.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

At Lucky Saint, bringing our alcohol-free beer to pub draught taps across the UK has been a game changer. To be able to walk into a pub and order a cold pint of Lucky Saint completely elevates your drinking experience. So, in a word: Distribution, as the brand and beer speaks for themselves. 

What’s the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

The start of the pandemic in March 2020 we saw Lucky Saint’s on-trade business disappear overnight (we were 70% on-trade as a business going into COVID-19). We had to pivot the business incredibly quickly to survive as we were looking at only three weeks of cash left!

The team were incredible and immediately leapt into direct-to-consumer channels via and Amazon. In only two weeks post lockdown, we were bringing in more weekly revenue than we were in ‘Dry’ January 2020, which had been our biggest month to date. 

We also forged ahead into the UK ‘off-trade’ with Majestic, Tesco and Sainsbury’s and by January 2021 Lucky Saint’s retail and e-commerce sales were up 610% year-on-year. We’re now a team of 30 and the business is split equally into thirds: Ontrade, Offtrade and ECommerce. 

And your proudest moment so far?

Being asked to represent dedicated alcohol-free start-up brands to the government and a committee of industry representatives at a parliamentary round table about the alcohol-free category in January 2021. Importantly it was brilliant to hear all parties are 100% committed to driving the alcohol-free category – so watch this space!

Also on a very personal note, driving Lucky Saint’s B Corp accreditation to recognise that we balance people, planet and profit has been a big and rewarding personal goal. As a company, we took the decision to do it right, not fast – so every single element of what we do and how we do it will be covered across five core pillars: workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

Why is work so important to you?

Looking back I’ve been motivated by different things. In my 20s it was often so I wouldn’t get fired – imposter syndrome was rife back then! In my 30s, once I realised, I’d developed and honed some decent skills, it was to inspire others as I really believe you have to ‘see it to be it’.

In my 40s both of those are still present, but I’m also motivated to do something useful and do it well so my two daughters have a mum they can be proud of. 

Who inspires you?

All the brilliant team at Lucky Saint and so many of the wonderful people I have worked with over the last 20 years in the food and drink industry at all levels and from all areas. 

To pay it forward, I am a champion of several organisations that promote female talent. I sit on the Steering Committee of The Grocery Girls, a social enterprise founded in 2018 by Coop’s CEO Jo Whitfield and am an Ambassador for Retail Week’s Be Inspired program. Both these organisations have a clear ambition to inspire and support women to achieve their potential and reach senior leadership positions. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

I have to work at finding balance every day and force myself to find ways to decompress. It’s taken me many years to understand the power and importance of putting on your own life jacket first, so I block out time in my diary to nourish my body and brain. The only way I managed this, was to learn the hard way that I can serve my partner, children, team, friends and family much better if I’m feeling good.

Some small hacks that help me are putting my own to do list into my bigger work one, that way stuff isn’t pushed to the bottom and ignored. The biggest unlock for me was to accept constant change as part of daily life and ‘this too shall pass’ is my mantra.

On a very practical level, having reliable childcare is essential and my partner Ed and I split the parenting responsibilities 50:50. Finally, a big tip is to simply sod the mum guilt! Know that you, and what you’re doing, is good enough.

What are your top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

You have to love the journey. As start-up life is hectic, and you’ll be wearing ALL the hats until the product/service is really motoring and you can bring in dedicated skill sets. Create a culture of excellence and strive to make each part of the business equally important but also accept that ‘done is better than perfect’ on some stuff to be able to move at pace.

I believe you have to break muscle to make it, so build an exceptional and diverse team, encourage open comms, then listen and trust the people you work with to own stuff and deliver. Always keep curious – reach out and ask for advice, as people love to help! 

Find out more about Lucky Saint.