“We align every part of our business with our values to make a quality product that helps people feel better” naturally with minimal impact on the environment, said Amy Huebner, who co-founded Fire Cider with her husband Dana St. Pierre.
She explained that Fire Cider, a garlic, habanero and horseradish infused cider vinegar that claims to clear congested sinuses within minutes of drinking one powerfully spiced shot, is made in a solar powered warehouse in Pittsfield, Mass, that does not drain as much of the Earth’s limited resources as a conventional facility.
The supplement, which also can be used as a base for sodas, a cocktail mixer, food marinade and salad dressing, is then packed in recyclable glass containers and shipped from a plastic-free distribution facility to further reduce the amount of waste that can wind up in landfills, Huebner said.
“We use paper tape, post-recycled shipping boxes and packing peanuts made out of corn products” that quickly decompose to further reduce waste, she added.
Even the small cups that the company uses to sample Fire Cider are made of sugar so that they can decompose quickly – a lesson that Huebner learned when she left a sleeve of the cups in her car in the sun and they melted.
The family-owned business does use some plastic though, when the positives for the environment outweigh the negatives. The larger half-gallon and gallon jugs of Fire Cider are plastic instead of glass to reduce the emissions necessary to ship such heavy weight. The bottle caps also are plastic, noted Huebner.
But other than that the packaging – including the paper labels, which were designed by Huebner’s brother Brian Huebner – are sustainably sourced, Huebner said.
The four-year-old company decided to emphasize sustainability and protecting the environment from the beginning in part because it wanted “to set an example for other people who are starting a business that you can put Mother Earth first and still make a profit and good product,” Huebner said.
She added that the decision also made business sense because consumers increasingly want products from companies that have a social conscience.
“People are excited to buy Fire Cider not just because of what is in the bottle but because they want to support our whole operation and our goal to try to be as Earth-friendly and sustainable as possible,” she said.
Communicating through certifications
Fire Cider reinforced the quality of what is in its self-named supplement by applying and qualifying for the USDA’s organic seal earlier in 2014, and is working towards being certified as non-GMO, Huebner said.
She explained that gaining the organic seal was more important to Fire Cider than the non-GMO certification because only non-GMO products can qualify as USDA-certified organic and most consumers who care about non-GMO know that. “USDA organic is pretty recognizable,” and holds a lot of weight with consumers, Huebner added.
In 2014, the young company had several other firsts – including attending its first national expo – Expo East in Baltimore – and securing distribution at several major national retailers.
Attending Expo East allowed Fire Cider to meet more shop-owners and sample their product – a key to its success since the description of raw onion, garlic and vinegar can be off-putting, Huebner said.
The firm also secured distribution at Whole Foods “which is a major hurdle” for expanding from a small company to a large one, she added.
While the decision to distribute through Whole Foods may seem like a no brainer to many ambitious start-ups, the move gave Fire Cider a slight pause, Huebner said.
She explained that the company worried about how to meet the product demand of Whole Foods and expanding and still support the smaller natural food stores that supported the company when its product first launched.
“We really built our business by marketing relationships with local stores,” and now that business is growing, the company is trying to “balance wanting to grow and also taking care of the people who got you to that spot,” Huebner said. “But we have taken great care to make sure the smaller payers who supported us continue to get good pricing.”
Expanding the Fire Cider portfolio
The company also wanted to take care of its end-users who are diabetic, allergic to honey or who want to reduce their sugar consumption by expanding its line of honey-free, unsweetened Fire Cider products in 2015 with a 16-ounce bottle. Previously, unsweetened Fire Cider was available only in half-gallon containers, Huebner said.
The unsweetened variety has a bit more of a vinegary bite, but the pungent taste appears to be trending as shoppers seek out bolder flavors.
Fire Cider also is part of a larger trend of drinking vinegars, including shrubs, switchel and Japanese drinking vinegars which have started coming to market in the last few years and are poised to go mainstream.
[Editor’s Note: Find out more about what is trending in the beverage category at our Beverage Innovation Summit on Feb. 4. Register here for free.]