The beverage industry is a vast and diverse sector that includes many products, from sodas and energy drinks to coffee, tea, and alcohol. The alcohol industry is a global market that produces and distributes a wide range of alcoholic beverages. This industry includes everything from small craft breweries and distilleries to large multinational corporations producing and selling beer, wine, and spirits.
- While these beverages are increasing in demand, sustainability has become an increasingly more important differentiator in the beverage industry. As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of their choices, they are demanding more sustainable options from the companies they buy from. This has put pressure on beverage companies to reduce their carbon footprint and minimize their waste. Drake’s Organic Spirits is one such organization that was founded for the purpose to create smooth-tasting spirits that are sustainable and carbon negative. Kristen Anderson, Co-Founder of Drake’s Organic Spirits, was with the CEOViews team to share Drake’s story on how they are building the brand for a better future.
CEOViews: Minneapolis-based Drake’s Organic Spirits launched in 2017, creating a new health & wellness category in the beverage alcohol industry with a full line of sustainable, organic spirits. How did you develop this idea? What was your mission at the outset?
Kristen: From inception, the mission of Drake’s Organic Spirits was to create a new “better for you, better for the planet®” category within the beverage alcohol space. We were, and are, the first and only spirits brand to achieve and maintain the “big 5” certifications: USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, OU Kosher, Vegan per Vegan.org, and Gluten-Free per the Gluten-Free Organization.
My husband grew up in a farming community, so he valued and understood sustainable and organic agriculture from an early age. As the larger population has come to embrace and value sustainability, Drake’s Organic Spirits has enjoyed an accordingly rapid growth trajectory. Today, our products are sold in 44 states and five countries, and we also sell our award-winning organic alcohol B2B in bulk. Customers include distillers, copackers, blenders, flavor houses/extract manufacturers, and other companies seeking high-quality, sustainable, organic alcohol.
CEOViews: Drake’s Organic Spirits has been recognized as the “Innovators of the year.” How was your journey so far?
Kristen: This has been a big year for us in terms of recognition, and we are very proud to be Innovators of the Year! This year we also won our first Growth Brands Award in the “Rising Star” category from Beverage Information & Insights Group; debuted in the Inc. 5000. Drake’s Organic Premium Vodka also won a Gold Medal in one of the largest and most prestigious spirits competitions in the U.S., the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. We also launched our B2B sales this year, and I think that is probably what triggered our Innovator award. Rather than thinking every drop of beverage alcohol in the world needs to be sold under our brand name, our goal is to help any and all companies make better, sustainable products while protecting the environment. The more companies that are doing this, the better for all.
Drake’s Organic Spirits was the first to bring the convenience of boxed wine to the cocktail arena in 2020 when we launched our BOXTAILS™.
CEOViews: What ingredients does Drake’s Organic Spirits use to create a line of ultra-premium spirits?
Kristen: Drake’s Organic Spirits are distilled exclusively from non-GMO, organic cane sugar that is sustainably grown in Colombia’s Cauca Valley. Most American spirits are distilled from genetically modified corn, engineered to withstand chemicals sprayed to kill weeds and insects. This results in hundreds of thousands of tons of pesticides and herbicides being dumped into our food and the environment yearly. In addition, GMO corn requires annual planting and tilling, leading to rapid soil erosion. By contrast, sugar cane is a fast-growing grass that can be harvested twice per year for up to four years before tilling and replanting. Our cane is grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or inorganic fertilizers.
CEOViews: How does your firm manage to provide ultra-premium handcrafted spirits to its clients at a competitive price as compared to the leading volume-produced brands?
Kristen: Mark started his career as a commodities trader specializing in organic and non-GMO food and beverage ingredients. We have an annual production capacity to produce 12 million proof gallons per year. As a core value and being an organic producer, we meet extremely high quality and purity standards. This is why the food/flavor extract and fragrance industries are increasing the use of our ultra-pure alcohol in their products.
CEOViews: Drake’s Organic BOXTAILS™ are ready-to-drink, ultra-premium organic cocktails in an eco-friendly 1.75-liter box format. How do you create this so innovatively?
Kristen: Drake’s Organic Spirits was the first to bring the convenience of boxed wine to the cocktail arena in 2020 when we launched our BOXTAILS™. The goal was to reduce waste and provide an eco-friendly premade cocktail option that could last multiple years on shelves; at 12% ABV, BOXTAILS™ achieved this goal. Drake’s Organic BOXTAILS™ are sustainable from the inside out. All of the ingredients are organic, kosher, vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO. Each 1.75-liter BOXTAIL™ contains 14 perfectly pre-mixed cocktails handcrafted with organic fruit juice and Drake’s Organic Vodka. The outer cartons are made from recycled paper and are 100% compostable, and the inner bladders and spigots are fully recyclable. Each Drake’s Organic BOXTAIL™ prevents five aluminium cans from going into landfills. All of this makes BOXTAILS™ not only better for you but better for the planet and an ecologically sound choice. To find a local retailer please visit our website www.drakesorganic.com or place your order online and have it delivered to your front door.
CEOViews: Drakes’ Organic products carry all five certifications. What type of certifications are they? Can you explicate?
Kristen: Drake’s Organic Spirits holds the “big five” certifications from the five most legitimate certifying bodies: all of our products are USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, OU Kosher, Vegan per Vegan.org, and Gluten-Free per the Gluten-Free Organization. Drake’s must re-certify with all five organizations every year, which involves a lot of work and cost on our side, but it is worth it for us. We know that our farms and factories are following proper protocols to remain in compliance with our certifications, but we make the investment in maintaining all of the third-party certifications so that the consumer can have absolute certainty that the claims are true.
CEOViews: Can you share with us your approach towards helping animal welfare as well as environmental causes?
Kristen: Environmental protection is very important to us, and a portion of Drake’s proceeds support environmental and animal welfare causes. Two of our priorities include The Galápagos Island Relief Fund and we also manage the Long Lake Animal Rescue, which rescues a variety of animals from 4-ounce kittens to 1,500-pound retired racehorses to give them a better life.
CEOViews: Can you tell us about your most innovative drink to date? What was the process used for producing it?
Kristen: I’d say our most innovative product was not exactly a drink: it was our SpikedIce, the first frozen, organic adult popsicle with both 15% and 12% ABV versions on the market. We invented SpikedIce in 2017, and now frozen adult popsicles are a billion-dollar industry. Drake’s SpikedIce pops are organic, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO. We have proprietary chemistry allowing such a high ABV to freeze in conventional home freezers.
CEOViews: What challenges do you face while manufacturing your innovative spirits products? What helps you in overcoming those challenges?
Kristen: While manufacturing has its challenges, they are controllable. The bigger challenge is selling beverage alcohol in the United States, which has a very restrictive “three-tier” system in place, which is a hangover – if you’ll excuse the pun from the end of Prohibition. In brief, by law in the U.S., unless you are selling a product directly out of your production facility, you must adhere to the three-tier system. This means that we must first sell Drake’s products to a wholesaler (often called a distributor); only the wholesaler can legally sell our products to stores and restaurants, and then only the stores and restaurants can legally sell our products to the end consumers. It’s no minor challenge, but we strive to find good distribution partners across the U.S. to provide consumers with the choice of sustainable, organic spirits.
CEOViews: According to your vision, what are the upcoming market trends in your industry?
Kristen: The juggernaut trend in the beverage alcohol industry is the rise of ready-to-drink cocktails, also known as RTDs. Today almost every alcohol company has its own version of an RTD, and the space is getting more crowded every day. Drake’s Organic BOXTAILS™ are still the only spirits based organic certified, gluten-free, kosher, vegan, and non-GMO.
CEOViews: Any special advice you would like to give your peers for manufacturing their products innovatively?
- Believe in what you do; only belief will give you the grit and tenacity you need to
- Anticipate that you will make mistakes but commit to fixing them while they are still small
As an entrepreneur, it can be hard to step back, but you need to give those around you the freedom also to fail and then succeed. Focus on doing the most important thing, “better for you, better for the planet®”.