Even if you couldn’t make it to our May Power Hour, you definitely don’t want to miss out on the great advice we got from our panelists from up-and-coming beverage brands Privateer Rum, RISE Brewing Co., and RIPE Craft Juicery.
At our latest power panel, we heard three influencers from around the Northeast share stories about their brands’ growth and how they generate “super fans.” Coming from a broader geographic area than our primarily Boston-based speakers from past panels, this month’s speakers talked about the best aspects of harnessing a community and building strong local ties while growing as a company.
Read on as we talk through some of the highlights from the panel, or check out the full recording below.
Our Panelists: What You Need to Know
Because each of the panelists come from a unique background, we asked them to expand on the basics behind their brands.
Melissa Kalimov, COO, RISE Brewing CO. : “A couple of co-founders started messing around with cold brew in their apartments...”
Ever since their founders started “messing around” with cold brew coffee, the demand for RISE Brewing’s products have been difficult to keep up with -- theirs is a story of people wanting more. They built their brand from the ground up by walking from restaurant to restaurant, and were pushed to step up their game when a restaurant with a broken espresso machine ordered 2 kegs to be delivered in a few days -- an almost insurmountable request with their current production schedule.
From there, RISE has expanded to office settings, and released canned cold brews to further expand their reach.
Kevin Martin, VP of Sales, Privateer Rum: “Massachusetts is steeped in rum history, believe it or not...”
Privateer Rum has a rich New England history, one almost as old as the Massachusetts’ rum industry itself. Privateer’s founder, Andrew Cabot, launched his company seven years ago after discovering that rum runs seven generations deep in his own family. One of his own ancestors turned out to be one of the most famous privateers patrolling the American coast during the Revolutionary War. When the war ended, his interests turned to distilling rum and he used his crew to transport his rum around the world.
Building on this historical foundation, Privateer’s modern mission is a commitment to quality ingredients (including 100% unadulterated sugar), a trait that distinguishes their rum from the rest of the market.
JD Altobello, co-founder, RIPE Craft Juicery: “We have the product all around the Northeast -- anywhere cocktails are appropriate. Which, in my book, is everywhere.”
RIPE is a brand on a mission. Creating the freshest juices with traceable ingredients, they create both mixers and stand-alone drinks that are free of unnecessary additives.
RIPE was born out of necessity when two of the co-founders, working as bartenders at the time, became tired of creating cocktail mixers before their bar opened for the day. As one of the co-founders of RIPE, JD Altobello is passionate about this initiative and getting his product out in the best way possible. RIPE started small with 10 placements in mom-and-pop stores, but, after scoring a meeting with some higher-ups at Whole Foods, the brand was poised to make its first expansion. Because the executives liked their product, RIPE was able to spread to its first 56 Whole Foods locations.
Not All Growth is Created Equal
Our panelists outline how they reached the phase their brand is at now -- and the steps it took to get there.
Melissa: “ [Our super fans] build an absolute fandom for the coffee, and then they look for it on the shelves”
For RISE, evolution has come in distinct stages. After spending about two years honing their flavor and product (how do they get it to pour like a Guinness!?), the next three to six months were focused on maximizing office sales to develop a core group of “super fans” -- daily RISE coffee drinkers. With people drinking their products Monday through Friday, RISE has office workers wondering how they can get their fix during the weekend. To bridge this gap and, as Melissa jokes, “chase people home”, The next phase for RISE is going to market with a canned, ready-to-drink product.
This newest development opens up a completely new market -- shelf stable products. With a shelf stable arsenal, expanding into e-commerce territory becomes infinitely more realistic.
JD: “It’s almost tough to call it one business model; the two are so divergent.”
Because RIPE works in two separate beverage categories, natural juice and cocktail mixers, it takes a lot of energy to meet requirements for both types of sales during each stage of growth. One of the biggest struggles in hitting these targets is the need for perishable juice to be refrigerated. Although cold chain distribution is the norm in grocery store settings, it is less accessible on the liquor store scene. In order to remedy this issue, RIPE is partnering with a liquor distributor to help to defray the cost of certain aspects of cold chain distribution. Since liquor stores run on a different cycle entirely, it is important that the team at RIPE stays on their game in both categories to continue their growth even further.
Kevin: “The thing about alcohol is, I do my projections 4 years out.”
Due to the aging time necessary to authentically produce aged colored rum, Kevin meets with a distiller each quarter where he predicts how much Privateer will be selling in four years. This type of foresight requires tons of analysis, and to make this more manageable Privateer scaled back their distribution in recent years to cover more of their home state, Connecticut, while simultaneously generating devoted local fans.
By bringing production and distribution back home, the Privateer team uncovered an issue with both production (because they sold out almost immediately, not enough rum was being produced) and distribution (since the rum is only available in Connecticut it will eventually need to expand). Since these realizations, Privateer has completed one expansion and is poised for their second this summer.
Reel it Back in; Sell Local
We asked our panelists to share how they use their local community to their advantage.
Melissa: “Getting people near you to be obsessed with you is so much more powerful than just being thin everywhere.”
RISE uses depth in the New York City region rather than a wide distribution to provide a unique edge and build a local community of people that are obsessed with their brand.
Their office keg model provides the perfect platform for generating this type of cult following, and their expansions into canned beverages only pushes this advantage further.
JD: “For us, a big thing was going to where locals are.”
By looking towards local media, restaurants and bars, RIPE is able to focus on going to where the locals are to generate maximum support. This type of local presence helps to solidify the idea in the minds of community members that RIPE is “one of us” and spread the word in a more organic manner.
Kevin: “We’re not the company that’s gonna fly you to Barbados. Why would we do that? It’s all right here.”
In terms of distributors, Privateer emphasizes the importance of having partners instead of customers. Kevin focuses on educating distributors on how they can correctly use the product to maximize their profits rather than providing them with elaborate gifts in order to generate local support.
Distiller’s Drawer day is an occasion to celebrate! Join us Saturday at 11am to sample 4 new single casks: Metropolis, Navy Yard Bottled in Bond, Cigar Box, and North Atlantic Maritime being shared for the first time. #agedinipswich #distillersdrawer #madenotbought pic.twitter.com/raq2ieCQ8y— Privateer Rum (@PrivateerRum) April 20, 2018
Although none of these influencers followed the same path to reach their current positions in the market, all of our panelists model a unique form of growth. Privateer, RIPE, and RISE, although all operating in the beverage industry, manage to scale their brands to a level that resonates heavily with locals and has the added potential for growth as production and distribution continue to expand.
Sara is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly and is excited to help brands grow. Sara is studying Public Relations and Environmental Analysis and Policy at Boston University, which basically just means she could talk about climate change and plant-based recipes all day long. She is passionate about lions, the clarinet, and her Mickey Mouse slow cooker.