Melanie Masarin is Behind Ghia, the Drink Taking Over Your Instagram Feed

Melanie Masarin’s career spans from Financial Analyst at Goldman Sachs to Head of Retail and Offline Experiences at Glossier. Now she’s striking out on her own as the founder of beverage brand Ghia, the non-alcoholic apéritif that’s taking over your Instagram feed.

Launching a new brand is never easy. Launching a new brand during a pandemic is all but impossible. For Melanie Masarin, founder of non-alcoholic apéritif brand Ghia, the circumstances of the last six months have only strengthened her belief in the brand even as she’s had to shift the launch strategy from experiential to D2C.

While many founder stories begin with endless market research, Ghia was born of Masarin’s personal journey. “I love bringing people together, hosting dinner parties, and creating safe spaces that spark meaningful conversations. Over the last few years I realized that alcohol wasn’t for me and there weren’t many non-alcoholic alternatives on the market that were easily adaptable to people with varying lifestyles.”

On a trip to Milan last year with friends, she started thinking about how she could bring more intention to drinking, in the same way there’s intention to enjoying a great meal. “I looked around the table and saw people sipping on Aperol Spritz and wanted to bring that same element of togetherness and spirit to non-alcoholic drinks.” The non-alcoholic aspect came with another added benefit: the ability to wake up the next morning feeling clear-headed and physically well.

With a clear idea—and a clear head—Masarin started developing the recipe that would go on to become Ghia. “We went through 55 weeks of R&D until we landed on the bright and clean flavor we wanted.” The process was easier said than done given the need to create a flavor profile that could compete with well-known alcohol brands.

Ultimately, Masarin settled on a number of potent botanical extracts that don’t rely on alcohol to be stabilized, including gentian root which provides the same signature bitter profile in classic Italian apéritifs. Masarin describes it best: “ingredients that taste like the sun and leave you feeling your best so you can enjoy the night and remember it in the morning.”

The formula had been perfected and that left just one thing: the actual brand.

Bringing Ghia to Life

As Glossier’s former Head of Retail and Offline Experiences, Masarin knew the importance of creating a special and memorable customer experience. “Everything from our packaging to user experience and recipe book is created with the user in mind.”

“Everything from our packaging to user experience and recipe book is created with the user in mind.”

To accomplish this, Masarin worked with multi-disciplinary design studio Willo Perron & Associates, the same studio behind some of today’s most visually stunning productions such as Kanye West’s performance at the 2015 Brit Awards and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty’s 2019 show. “I tracked him down to help me create a visual identity that was both elevated and approachable, honoring the past, relevant to today.”

The labels and packaging take cues from classic hospitality signage. Stacked on top of each other, the result is a single totem pole inspired by postmodern Italian design. The name itself was chosen because it reflected the feeling of the brand: fun, positive, and approachable in many languages. The imagery, too, reflects this feeling through a combination of nostalgia, glamour, and the now, a delicate balancing act that captures the essence of the brand in its entirety.

With the creative set, it was time to introduce Ghia to the world.

World Meet Ghia, Ghia Meet World

Like any new brand set to launch, Ghia had its work cut out. The challenge wasn’t just to get Ghia in the hands of consumers, but to introduce breezy Mediterranean culture to an American public not exactly known for disconnecting. “While aperitivo is not (yet) well known in the U.S., the craving for a drink that isn’t too sweet and that primes the appetite and the conversation before dinner is.” 

A straightforward assumption and one tested easily in normal times when restaurants could offer customers a drink before sitting down for dinner. By the time Ghia was ready for its debut in June, however, it was anything but normal times. “We originally planned to launch offline in restaurants and at events so when we shifted our model to be completely D2C it was important for us to have a direct line of communication with our customers.”

“When we shifted our model to be completely D2C it was important for us to have a direct line of communication with our customers.”

That line of communication took the form of a hotline, 707-TXT-GHIA, the Gen Z version of a newsletter. Used more than 2,000 times since launch, the hotline provides wellness-forward, sober-curious, and traditional cocktail consumers alike with everything from original recipes to curated playlists, whetting the appetite for the Ghia experience.

Once it was safe and permissible to do so, Masarin was able to flex her experiential muscles, partnering with popular New York eatery Westbourne on a Spritz window, allowing friends to sample the product while social distancing, a teaser of the full Ghia experience to come.

Additionally, as restaurants have begun to reopen and people have ventured back into the world, Ghia has become available by the bottle at trendy restaurants, bars, and hotels across the country.

A Much-Needed Chaser

Three months into the public life of the brand and consumers are thirsty for Ghia. Despite reports of increased alcohol sales during the first three months of the pandemic, the amount of people consuming Ghia is on the rise.

In fact, it may have even worked to the brand’s advantage. “After months of drinking alcohol, people are looking for healthier choices and alcohol alternatives.” Better yet, around 10% of Ghia orders are gifts, meaning customers are sharing the drink with friends, a physical manifestation of word of mouth. 

As a non-alcoholic product with an uplifting message, Ghia may go on to play an integral role in the collective imagination, revealing itself as the perfect companion to the treat-yourself lifestyle that has come to define life under lockdown.