HOME sweet home! After a long day at work and being stuck in a horrendous jam, I’m looking forward to finally getting the chance to unwind with a nice tipple. Opening the kitchen cabinet, I grab a short round glass and a bottle of Merlot from the drinks stand. Popping the cork, I pour the contents into the glass.

The dark red liquid which flows out emanates an intense aroma of blackcurrant and blueberry. I swirl the glass and sniff the drink before sipping it. Feeling satisfied, I sit on the couch and reach for the remote to begin my nightly ritual — binge-watch Friends, the popular 1990s sitcom. I take another sip, longer this time. The sweet and bitter taste of the liquid lingers in my mouth.

Before anyone thinks about, erm, frowning on my choice of tipple, hold your horses! The Merlot is actually alcohol-free, one of the products from a range of non-alcoholic beverages being distributed by brothers Ahmad Fazrin Ahmad Farouk Faizi, 29, and Ahmad Firdani Azim, 26.

Their aspiration to bring a touch of luxury to proceedings, particularly for Muslims, gave birth to Zero Drinks, a company inspired by their business model of importing exclusive drinks with zero alcohol content.


Fazrin and Firdani (foreground) started their business six months ago.

THE ORIGINS

The initial idea to create Zero Drinks came from their aunt, Zauyiah Ibrahim, or Zac, as she’s fondly known.

Zac, who had been living in New Zealand for 25 years, ventured into the cafe business from 2007 until 2009. Her cafe, located in downtown Auckland, offered both western and Malaysian fare.

Shares Zac during our meeting at her nephews’ office in Shah Alam: “Professionally, I was a computer programmer. In New Zealand, a laid back country, once you’re bored with something, you’ll do something else. That’s what happened to me. I was always involved in the food industry and have always had a passion for food so I opened a cafe. Of course, all the Mat Sallehs there wanted their ‘drink’ to go with their meal but I didn’t want to serve alcohol at my cafe.”

Since New Zealand didn’t really have the alcohol-free drinks that could come close to the real thing, Zac decided to find alternatives. She sourced from as far as the United States to cater to customers’ demands. It was then that the idea to bring similar products to Malaysia was born. It wasn’t hard to convince her beloved nephews to embrace her vision.

“Everything came together when our aunt came back for a visit. She told us about how she wanted to bring the non-alcoholic wines into Malaysia. We could immediately relate and understand as we always felt left out whenever we used to hang out with our friends and they’d be drinking alcohol,” shares Firdani, adding: “It’s not really about the alcohol but more that our choices were so limited.”

Zac chips in: “The opportunity is there. Yes, in our culture and as a Muslim, wine is a no-no. But we do have non-alcoholic ones, so why not? These beverages are big in Dubai and selling well in other Arab countries so it can be done here too.”


The selection of non-alcoholic beverages by halal-certified Belgian brand Vintense.

PREMIUM CHOICE

And so the search for the best alcohol-free wine began. The duo bought several different brands from all over the world and invited friends to blind-tasting sessions before deciding on the award-winning, halal-certified Belgian brand Vintense. Says Firdani: “Vintense really impressed us as not only has it won awards and competitions in Europe for its taste, but feedback from our friends too were promising.”

Currently, Zero Drinks offers four choices of Vintense’s finest — Rosé and Blanc from the premier bubble range, and Merlot and Chardonnay from the premium wine range.

“As it is alcohol-free, you can now enjoy your time more with your friends. No more feeling left out. You can also enhance the experience when you pair the drink with food. We tried the red wine with steak during my birthday, and it was sublime! That’s luxury for me,” confesses Fazrin, smiling.

The drinks can also be used in cooking. Now there’s no need to substitute the alcoholic red wine with grape juice if you want to cook steak. Just pour the Merlot in and you’re good to go. It’s also a good alternative for those who enjoy alcoholic drinks but can’t drink them anymore, perhaps for health reasons.

Even pregnant women who want to enjoy their premium wine can do so with this range.


Rosé from the bubble range.

THE ROAD SO FAR

Since they started this business six months ago, the brothers have been plying their “wares” at events, weddings, restaurants and cafes.

“The market, as well as the purchasing power, is in the Klang Valley. If you don’t get the right target market, it won’t go so well,” Firdani says, smiling.

But it’s not easy to penetrate the market, he concedes. “We need to focus on two things — distribution and education. It takes a lot of effort to go to restaurants one by one, and at the same time try to educate consumers about this beverage. We must find balance because there’s no point if we distribute all over the place but no one actually knows about it or how to find our products,” adds Firdani.

Zac, who’s involved in sales and marketing, concurs. “It’s quite challenging for the boys to educate consumers because when you hear the word ‘wine’, you automatically think alcohol. But I think the younger generation has a different kind of thinking now and is more open-minded. Once the drinks become a lifestyle, things should be ok.”

So what’s the synergy like between the brothers? Fazrin and Firdani chuckle before the latter replies: “Oh, we argue a lot! But then, we always decide what’s best for the company. Whatever Fazrin decides, I’ll support him, and vice versa.”


Merlot from the premium wine selection.

FAMILY BUSINESS

The affable brothers, who live in Shah Alam, come from a well-educated family of six. Fazrin, the eldest of four siblings, graduated from Auckland University in New Zealand. He has been working with his father for seven years, aspiring to be an entrepreneur.

“As for me,” says second child Firdani, the more talkative of the duo, “I graduated from Nottingham University, the Kuala Lumpur campus, and have been working in my dad’s company for two years.” He says that he has always been business-minded from a young age and is inspired by powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

Fazrin, however, is shyer, book-smart and prefers to go with the flow. Zero Drinks is his first attempt as an entrepreneur. “At first, it was just a part-time thing. But I felt it was going too slow. I believe in this product so I put my career on hold to really focus on Zero Drinks,” confides Fazrin, who attributes his newfound confidence to the person who inspires him the most — his dad, who’s the executive chairman of an international reinsurance broker company. “I learnt a lot from my dad, the way he does business and the confidence he has. I want to follow in his footsteps.”

What’s in the pipeline? I ask the brothers as we reach the end of our chat.

After a pause Firdani replies: “We’ll bring more brands under Zero Drinks in the future. Hopefully, we’ll be the only company that offers this kind of beverage in Malaysia. Although Zero Drinks is still at the infancy stage, it doesn’t deter us.

“This is just the beginning of our journey. We feel very positive about our product and are delighted that there’s now a halal drink that can complement our food and celebrations so well, adding that touch of luxury.”


It’s quite challenging for the boys to educate consumers because when you hear the word ‘wine’, you automatically think alcohol, says Zauyiah Ibrahim

For more details, visit www.zerodrinks.com