ORANGE COUNTY, CA – The experience begins with the can.
Against the black background stands a smiling Yeti; long claws, horns and shaggy fur. It is flanked by hot pink, yellow and orange designs.
Right away it looks like something new.
What’s inside is new too. It is a ready-to-drink mixed cocktail of the whiskey variety with 120 calories and a mild cola flavor.
It is the flagship drink and the first offering of Black Yeti Beverage. The drink is springing from the imagination of Pasadena, Calif. Residents Eric Trueheart and Samantha Franklin.
It was developed with their savings, and it now sits on the threshold of a giant, competitive marketplace with established brands always hungry for market share.
“We’re kind of this rambling little brand,” Franklin said. “We’re a nutty couple.”
Ready-to-drink drinks generate billions in revenue each year with many market segments. Many non-alcoholic drinks include sports drinks and pre-mixed iced coffee. Alcoholic beverage offerings have been plentiful for over a decade. Among them is Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer, distributed nationally. Craft beer companies make hard ciders, and whiskey companies like Crown Royal and Jack Daniels have jumped into the fray.
Hard Kambucha is one of the many emerging segments. Market Research.com estimates that the global market will reach $ 600 million by 2026.
A recent brand that has seen explosive success is White Claw hard seltzer. It emerged in 2016 as another low-calorie option – it has 100 of them – while offering consumers something a little different. He estimates that he has expanded the overall market by $ 1 billion.
Trueheart and Franklin see a lot of room for these new drinks.
The couple tried their luck in an emerging market that already has established players. But they see an opening for mixed whiskey drinks.
Trueheart and Franklin see themselves as the Bourbon answer to White Claw. Both are ready to drink and both are low in calories. White Claw has many flavors – recently adding more. The couple’s drink, called Cosmic Black, is only 120 calories, which they say will make it a top choice for summer parties.
It also borrows from the aesthetic of craft beer. Lots of companies have been playing around with weird names and colorful artwork. The Flying Dog Brewery of Maryland uses art created by Ralph Steadman. And beers like Snape’s “Dead Guy” beer have long populated the market.
This is a branding strategy that aims to distinguish the fledgling business from its more established competition. But the drink itself is also new. Space Yeti, with the hints of rye whiskey, has a slight marshmallow taste, painstakingly crafted to mask the artificial flavor of the sugar.
The road is long but could go quickly. This is why the couple had to shell out 40,000 cans.
They’re ready to go and sitting in a warehouse in Surf City, which they’ve hired to mix their drink. They went door to door with samples. Some buyers want a case or two to try. A potential buyer owns a supermarket chain.
Trueheart said if a trial goes well, they could quickly run out of stock.
Then new problems can appear.
When Trueheart and Franklin started contacting vendors to buy cans, they wanted lean cans, like White Claw and many other ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. Weeks of conversations later, they discovered there was a global shortage of cans. They opted for a box style called Striped Hawaii. The only downside was that it didn’t quite fit the mobile canning unit in the warehouse. Gallons and gallons overflowed, filling the drainage system with the aromatic drink.
“Oh no! These are my college loan payments falling apart!” Franklin laughed.
Purchases of the two year aged rye bourbon that they use can also be time consuming. But the good news, Trueheart said, is that their drink is blended, not fermented. It can be finished and ready to canning in about a day, easily scalable for mass distribution.
But first, they need a big sale. They start with their $ 15.99 per four pack, which contains 6% alcohol per 12 ounce can. But they want to add more flavor. They have three more in development, including a drink called Cosmic Bliss, a blend of cream and bourbon soda with hints of vanilla.
Right now they’re hitting the sales channel, unloading one case at a time until it makes its way.
“It’s one win at a time,” Trueheart said.