Alison is the Co-founder of Steep’t Cocktails, a new category in the cocktail space making dehydrated cocktails in teabag format. It’s a “near-ready-to-drink” product that can make your favorite drink in two minutes or less.
Briefly introduce us to how you came to found Steep’t.
Chloe, my Co-founder, and I met the first night at Harvard Business School. Soon into our conversation we realized we had very similar backgrounds and career aspirations. Both coming from retail but passionate about food and beverage, we wanted to start companies in that space but didn’t think we could right away. However, after seeing all the entrepreneurial opportunities at HBS we decided to give it a shot.
Chloe and I participated in the Startup Bootcamp program together our first year and were working on an alcohol infusion product. We developed a product of all natural dehydrated ingredients inside mason jars, and customers would ‘cold brew’ alcohol overnight by filling our jars with alcohol and placing them in the fridge. Then, you would simply add club soda to the alcohol to get a delicious cocktail. We actually had the inspiration for the product from a trip we took to Portland, Maine, where we came across this mom-and-pop cocktail bar that sold these homemade cocktail kits in mason jars.
But, ultimately we pivoted our product. Through customer interviews we learned instant gratification was of #1 importance, so we changed to a teabag format to deliver the all-natural dehydrated ingredients using a form factor that took only 2 minutes or less! The next semester we hired a food scientist to come up with our 3 current flavors, and have been working on Steep’t ever since.
Do you mind discussing these customer interviews a bit more?
The interviews were all through focus groups. We found that people are more spontaneous when they want a cocktail, they do not necessarily want to plan what they are drinking a few days or weeks ahead. Maybe more importantly, it showed us how important it is to interview potential customers early on when you are building a product.
How do you see RTD (‘Ready to Drink’) products affecting the cocktail & alcohol industry?
RTD products are seeing a huge period of growth right now. Before COVID the category was seeing 21% growth, and since the pandemic, that has skyrocketed to 90% growth. I think this is a sign for overall growth in off-premise. I don’t think this trend will go away anytime soon. However, I do think the RTD category will continue to change to meet other trends such as premiumization, health-conscious drinking, and spirit growth. Last year the drink of summer was definitely White Claw/Truly/insert-any-name-of-spiked-seltzer-here. However, this year we’re seeing players like High Noon be the “drink of summer,” positioned as a more premium drink, healthier with fresh fruit juices, and using vodka instead of malt.
Steep’t is a modified RTD product — nearly as quick to enjoy, but preserves transparency with all-natural ingredients and sustainability by using a teabag format.
What changing paradigm do you think has a greater impact on the RTD category — where people are drinking or what people are drinking?
I think both of these factors are important as mentioned above, but for RTD I do think where people are drinking is leading the growth more, especially with the timing of COVID. People are drinking outside, camping, at lake cabins, or wherever they happen to be remotely working that week.
A big trend that the market is realizing is that Gen-Z is the most sober curious generation that we have seen. Brands like Haus — a DTC low-proof aperitif — as well as other health-focused categories leveraging adaptogenic and nootropics are gaining popularity. I think these forces are going to take a bigger bite out of the overall market and Steep’t is going to play a part in that.
For our next SKU that is coming out, we are going to be very conscious that the product also functions as a standalone drink as well as with alcohol. We want to make Steep’t available to everyone, including those that don’t drink. And for those that do, we believe that the dynamic of making a delicious, restaurant caliber cocktail is a different experience than a RTD malt drink that you are just drinking to get drunk.
How are you developing your brand and digital presence as you scale?
We will be using Facebook and Instagram as our main marking channels. Interestingly, we have seen support for our Skinny products in different fitness communities online. We think that we can get a lot of value from partnering with influencers and certain PR placement to gain exposure to our target audiences of moms, wellness enthusiasts, as well as bartenders and F&B lovers.
In terms of brand, we are currently on our 3rd version. We really built the brand from scratch, it literally started off as Chloe and I designing it ourselves! But now, we are focused on taking it to the next level. We know that our unboxing experience is going to be pretty critical of our product. We believe that a certain virality can be applicable to Steep’t once we have a particular packaging. That is something we are going to be investing in as we grow, we want to have a thoughtful and unique experience and have some ideas in store!
Making a great cocktail is quite artisanal. At what point did you feel comfortable with the taste profile of your products?
It definitely took a few iterations with our food scientist to nail the recipes, but this was the fun part. As mentioned, Chloe and I are both major foodies and huge F&B enthusiasts. We really were making the cocktails for ourselves. For the spicy margarita, we wanted to find the right level of spice to appeal to a broader audience. And we didn’t just want it to be one-note. That’s why we have pequin peppers in addition to jalapeno in our margarita, it adds an extra depth to the spice profile that lingers for the perfect amount of time as you sip. It was harder to nail the margarita than the old-fashioned for this reason.
As a young first-time founder, what aspect of building a consumer brand have you found to be more difficult than you expected?
So many things! Everything takes time, especially when you’re building a new category. We thought production would be a lot easier, but then realized how unique the manufacturing process is and have encountered many challenges on that front. We think we’ve finally overcome them and are building out our supply chain now.
What is Steep’t’s superpower?
Taste is where we think we win every time with Steep’t. Our customer reviews on our website speak for themselves here! We want to help customers create a truly delicious cocktail — the caliber of one they’d get at a cocktail bar or restaurant. We think we’ve achieved this! Your readers will just have to try it out for themselves to see :).
What is your creative outlet and how does it help you channel a flow state?
I love Broadway. Sadly, Broadway has gone dark for the rest of 2020, but I always listen to my Broadway show tunes to get into different zones. Getting to watch Hamilton on Disney+ this summer definitely sparked joy.
What is one daily ritual that you cannot live without?
My morning coffee. During quarantine I’ve even gotten into making my own almond milk. Now I can’t live without that either. It just makes the morning routine so much better!
If you could have a Steep’t with one person, who would it be?
Chrissy Teigen (after she gives birth — good luck on the 3rd pregnancy)!
What is the last:
TV show you binged?
Schitt’s Creek. I don’t think I’ve been this obsessed with a TV show ever before. If you haven’t watched it, I’m so jealous of the hours of enjoyment you have ahead of you. I even received Schitt’s Creek pens and an oven mitt from my brother and friends respectively this year for my birthday.
Movie you watched?
Extremely Wicked Shockingly Evil and Vile (Netflix’s Ted Bundy movie featuring Zac Efron).
Song you listened to?
Taylor Swift’s new album Folkfore.
Podcast you listened to?
How I Built This hosted by Guy Raz.
Book you read?
I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter series on Audible this summer. It’s great for road trips. I’ve read the books and watched the movies already of course, but the audio books are so enjoyable too. The reader does a different voice for every character — he’s amazing!
Full disclosure, I am an investor in Steep’t Cocktails.
Up Next: Jake Bullock, Co-founder of Cann.