Great Resource! BevNet’s Taste Radio Podcast Series

I’ve just discovered the podcast series put out by BevNet. Taste Radio covers the CPG food and beverage industry. I was impressed with the relevance of a recent episode to the kombucha industry. Expand Your ‘Luck Surface Area’ with Kelly Gasink & Jill Burns of Austin Cocktails.

The adage “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” is often quoted by successful entrepreneurs. And it would stand to reason that the more opportunities you have, the luckier you’ll be. But how do you best position yourself to create more moments, chances and meetings that might change the trajectory of your business?

Austin Cocktails co-founders Kelly Gasink and Jill Burns, who founded the brand in 2012 and helped usher in a new era for premium RTD cocktails, say that the answer is two-fold: be okay with being uncomfortable and strive to “expand your luck surface area.” Doing so helped them land deals with Madison Square Garden and Virgin America airlines. It also led to an unexpected and pivotal meeting with the CEO of Constellation Brands.

Introduced in 2016, Austin Cocktails markets full-strength canned cocktails made with premium spirits and natural ingredients. The products are distributed across the United States at a variety of retailers, including Whole Foods, BevMo, Target and Total Wine.

In this episode, Gasink and Burns explained how they identified the opportunity for a premium tier of RTD cocktails, why they didn’t emphasize a specific target demographic, how an unorthodox but highly effective sampling strategy unlocked new retail and distribution opportunities, and how they assessed the timing for a sale of Austin Cocktails to Constellation Brands.

Gasink and Burns also spoke about the challenges in getting the products made, why “everything good happened” at sampling events and why maintaining the brand’s core tenets amid growing competition paid off. Later, they explained how their personal and professional networks were instrumental in the brand’s development and why basing innovation solely on data may not be the best strategy.

Listen to the conversation and simply replace “cocktail” with “kombucha” as they list the challenges and opportunities they faced:

  • Introducing a new category of beverage to the market.
  • Their learning curve as partners with little beverage industry background.
  • Taking advantage of the “luxury of time” to tweak ingredients, packaging, and selection of target markets.
  • The advantage of face-to-face meetings with the public at everything from car dealerships to apartment openings, where they gladly provided free samples.
  • Why getting out of the office in front of customers is the best use of their time. “That’s where the magic happens. Say yes to everything.” Getting too far from the consumer is “the beginning of the end.”
  • Being willing to accept the changing dynamics of the category: “a gender-neutral, premium product appealing to a wide range of ages, a very broad demographic in our mind.”
  • Starting the company on a visceral belief the time was right for this new product.
  • Taking advantage as a small company of a category below the radar of big beverage brands.
  • Being open to any and all networking “luck” — in their case a neighbor knew someone at Madison Square Gardens where they were informally able to meet and introduce their product and grow from there.
  • Put yourself out there and “be OK with being uncomfortable” to expand your “luck surface area” and know that “if you’re so nervous you’re shaking, good stuff happens.”
  • Being aware that “by the time things show up in data, you are almost too late,” so as a small company trust your gut instinct and launch!

Kombucha-related episodes

A quick search unearthed a number of past kombucha-related episodes:

GT Dave of GT’s Kombucha. Oct 2017. Dave explained how the brand and company have evolved over the past two decades while remaining independent and staying true to its core values.

Revive Kombucha: Sean Lovett. Jan 2018. The founder and CEO of Revive Kombucha, a maker of organic kombucha based in Sonoma County joined John Craven and Mike Schneider for a deep dive into Revive, including the key decision points behind its creation and efforts build an enduring brand. […prior to the 2022 decision to discontinue making kombucha.]

Daina Trout, Co-Founder/CEO, Health-Ade Kombucha. Jun 2018. Trout explains how a monthly strategy day and one-on-one weekly manager meetings have supported the company’s growth and her development as a leader and why accepting every media opportunity turned out to be a bad habit that she has since changed.

Humm Kombucha: Jamie Danek. Dec 2018. Danek sat down with BevNET’s Ray Latif for a wide-ranging conversation that explored her transition from a career in recruiting to co-founding Humm Kombucha and the role that Bend, Oregon played in her journey. Danek also discussed how she and co-founder Michelle Mitchell divided responsibilities, how her leadership style has evolved over the years and the four core values and three pillars that guide Humm. She also spoke about her growing concern with kombucha made from concentrate and how Humm landed a deal with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

What Happened To Kumbaya In Kombucha? May 2019. The hosts discussed the fallout from a controversial profile of GT’s Kombucha creator GT Dave in Forbes magazine. Dave’s comments about competing brands [“He turns his ire on fast-growing rival Health-Ade, which now has $50 million in sales. “You know what they are? . . . Cherry-berry. Tropical punch. . . . [They] make it basic, make it mainstream.” Health-Ade sells its drink in medicinal-looking yellow-tinted bottles, which draw even more of his disdain.”] ignited a debate about production standards and the impact of strategic investment in the kombucha category, including Health-Ade co-founder/CEO Daina Trout, who posted a response to the article on LinkedIn [“I don’t expect him to appreciate our flavor choices or our packaging, but I feel that it is every brand’s responsibility (especially big brands) to support a growing category that still has a long way to go.”]

The ‘Better’ Way to Rethink Brand Strategy. Oct 2019. Ashleigh and Trey Lockerbie, the co-founders of organic kombucha brand Better Booch, join us for a conversation about the good, the bad and the ugly of a brand revamp. They also explained why they were an industry pioneer of kombucha in cans, how they evaluated the original label design and why competitors motivated them to launch a revamp. Later, they spoke about why defining brand pillars of “create, cure, cultivate and educate” was critical to the redesign, how their branding partners helped extract key elements of the Lockerbies’ vision for Better Booch, and whom they relied upon for honest feedback about the new look.

Why Successful Brands Respect And Love Their Competitors: Hannah Crum. Aug 2020. Hannah spoke with Taste Radio editor Ray Latif about how her background in acting and love for fermented foods provided a useful foundation for the establishment of KBI, how she worked with kombucha entrepreneurs to address a category crisis in 2010 and how she sourced guidance and feedback on KBI’s code of practice. She also discussed the impact of new kombucha-based and shelf-stable products on expanding awareness and sales for the category and shared her thoughts on the increasing influence of strategic beverage companies getting involved in the space.

Bill Moses, Founder/CEO, Fermented Sciences. May 2021. Having made his mark in non-alcoholic beverages as the co-founder and former CEO of probiotic drink and kombucha brand KeVita, Moses saw an opportunity to re-imagine the beverage alcohol space via a better-for-you platform of products. Shortly before the sale of KeVita to Pepsico in 2016, one that netted over $230 million, he launched Fermented Sciences, a platform dedicated to developing and launching “innovative fermented beverage brands to transform the alcohol industry.” In February of 2018, the company introduced its first brand, Flying Embers.

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