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Cide Road CEO: 'Not everyone likes switchel, but people that love it, really love it...'

By Elaine Watson+

03-Feb-2016
Last updated on 03-Feb-2016 at 01:56 GMT2016-02-03T01:56:59Z

CideRoad organic switchel is made from water, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, ginger and cane syrup
CideRoad organic switchel is made from water, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, ginger and cane syrup

When Kevin Duffy first started test-marketing his Cide Road organic switchel in 2014, he was either met with blank stares (“to be honest, most people had never heard of switchel”) or evangelism (“I met all these enthusiasts that drink apple cider vinegar every morning and swear by it”).

That’s changed over the past year as switchel has generated more ‘buzz’ among bloggers and trend-watchers. But it’s still a novel beverage for most Americans, says New Jersey-based Duffy, a former Wall Street trader, hedge fund marketer and real estate executive who hit 40 and decided he wanted to do something different with his life.

The sweet but tart taste of switchel – which Cide Road makes with apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, ginger, cane syrup and water in a 14oz glass bottle with a suggested retail price of $3.29-$3.49 - can be “polarizing”, he tells FoodNavigator-USA.

But it meets a growing demand for bolder, more sophisticated, flavors that has helped to drive sales of products such as kombucha, adds Duffy, who has now secured listings for Cide Road in 1500+ stores on the east coast including Whole Foods and Kings Food Markets, and hopes to be in more than 3,000 stores nationwide by the year end.

“Not everyone likes it, but people that love it, really love it. We thought it would appeal most to Millennials, but what we have found is that it’s not really about age, but attitudes and lifestyles – so people that like Patagonia clothing, or outdoor sports.”

I never wanted to harp on about health benefits

While some affionados make all kinds of claims about switchel’s purported digestive health benefits, Duffy prefers to focus on its distinctive taste and all-American roots (each bottle features the strapline, 'America’s original thirst quencher').

“I never wanted to harp on about health benefits as that just gets you into [legal] trouble. I like to talk about it as a fun, great tasting beverage that’s really refreshing. It’s also unique, a conversation piece.”

Founder Kevin Duffy's 1961 red Land Rover features heavily in the brand's marketing materials

I sprayed some paint onto the tires of my 1961 red Land Rover …

Duffy himself came across switchel (of the home-made variety) during a family vacation in New England, and it blew his mind.

I asked the lady who made it for the recipe, and she basically said – it’s like lemonade – go and figure it out yourself.”

Photo by @madebyjulianmedina

So he did, initially in his kitchen, and later with beverage consultancy MetaBrand, which helped him formulate a commercial recipe and find the industry contacts to turn his vision into a commercial reality.

The custom-designed bottle – which features a distinctive tire tread – was Duffy’s idea:  “I sprayed some paint onto the tires of my 1961 red Land Rover [which features on Cide Road’s marketing materials and website] and drive over [some paper] and then faxed it to the designer at Berlin Packaging that MetaBrand put me in touch with, and said, can you do something like this? And he said, Sure.”

While most start-ups don’t opt for custom packaging, the Cide Road bottle cost “under $10,000 for the design work and the molds” and was worth every cent, says Duffy, although it was slightly scary knowing that he would have to sell 155,000 bottles (the minimum number permitted on the first production run).

I knew in my heart that this could be a hit

However, the great reception he had received at farmer’s markets and from students at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York had made him feel pretty confident that he was onto a winner, says Duffy, who worked with beverage industry guru Bob Sipper at Cascadia Managing Brands to put together a go-to-market strategy for his brand.

“I knew in my heart that this could be a hit.”

The first orders came in around January 2015, says Duffy, who has struck deals with natural products distributors UNFI and KeHE over the past year and is now working on several line extensions.

“We’re still a very small company without a lot of foot soldiers, so we’re still at the stage where everyone has to wear every hat; I was up until midnight last night packing boxes. When you’re trying to raise money and run the business as well, it’s a challenge, but we’re getting there.”

Interested in new beverage trends such as switchel?

Register for our FREE online beverage innovation summit  on Feb 18 to find out whether market watchers at Kroger, Euromonitor and Canadean think it has legs...

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