Making the product
Like all startups, this one has struggled against challenges that couldn’t be known ahead of time. Having a co-packing strategy makes complete sense when you look at the cost of investing in infrastructure vs. using your capital to build your brand. There are countless co-packers in the adult beverage industry so clearly finding one to work with to make Soda Joy would be easy right?
Nope, not even on a good day. I crawled the internet to find a co-packer who
a) wanted my business and
b) said they could deliver my product to my specifications.
I found one locally that seemed to fit both criteria. That is until we actually started down the path. There are a number of factors at play right now in the beverage industry. One is that with COVID-19, bar and restaurant business has come to a crawl at best and a standstill at worst. What that means is that every beverage supplier who had been providing kegs of their product to the hospitality industry had to now pivot to canning their product to continue delivering it. That had a ripple effect on the co-packing industry where they were overwhelmed with demand. Mobile canning operations are booked out months ahead of time. Now add in the fact that as I started down the path to produce my product we started to run into major issues.
One, the co-packer altered my formulas and the resulting samples were not the flavors that I had developed. We had a “lively discussion” about it and then they informed me that due to the high demand for their canning operations and the increased complexity of co-packing, they were exiting the co-packing business but would deliver me the initial production run since we had a contract and I had already paid a 50% deposit. This was not increasing my confidence in the partnership.
In addition, they had changed compliance companies to process the necessary formula and label approvals with the TTB and somehow the formulas were taking a mysteriously long time. I had gotten my formulas initially approved within 5 business days, but for some reason they were in a 5 week review period on the submitted applications just for the recipes. As if that wasn’t enough, I started to question the carbonation levels on the samples and quickly found out that there were extreme limitations on the level of carbonation they could achieve in their process.
This was a line that was suited for beer and cider, both of which were providing an ample amount of business for them. Now I had to become a carbonation expert and quickly learned that this limitation was not solely theirs, but that this was a byproduct of an industry that had developed and only required low levels of carbonation for the products produced.
What makes Soda Joy so special is it’s high carbonation level. It has a soft, bubbly mouth feel and stays carbonated while drinking as long as it’s kept cold. This was a key difference between my product and the rest of the industry. In fact, the more I consumed Soda Joy the more I found current RTD canned cocktails to be flat and syrupy. I learned that there were processes but they were geared more toward soda production.
I could find co-packers who could produce the product but they required me to change my packaging and required very high minimum order quantities, which for a new product is a very high risk proposal.