“A big part of my job is educating people on what a shrub is – the fact that it is not a tree, but something you drink,” said Charlie Berkinshaw, founder of Element [Shrub], a startup he launched late in 2014 after discovering fruit preserved in sugar and vinegar can make “a really incredible drink.”
He further explained that his shrubs are made with apple cider vinegar, fresh fruit, herbs and spices and can be mixed with soda water, alcohol or used as an ingredient in food recipes.
Given that shrubs, and drinking vinegar in general, are relatively unknown in the US, Berkinshaw employs several strategies to drive initial trial – many of which can apply to products across categories.
Strategy 1: Encourage consumers to try it before explaining it
When introducing consumers to shrub for the first time, Berkinshaw says, “I try to avoid using the word vinegar as much as possible and just tell people it is shrub and really delicious. … Then once they try it, they are like, ‘Oh, wow! This is surprisingly good.’”
But, Berkinshaw says, if he mentions the “v” word before newcomers can take a sip, they are less willing to try it.
“Usually they say, ‘Oh, vinegar? I don’t want to drink vinegar.’”
Strategy 2: Offer something for everyone
Berkinshaw also tries to entice newcomers to the category by offering a line of diverse flavors that “don’t really compete with each other, so it gives everyone an opportunity to try something they want.”
Currently, Element [Shrub] comes in five flavors:
- Chai Pear, which doesn’t have tea in it, but mimics the flavor profile – making it a great addition to bourbon or a pan of pork chops, Berkinshaw said.
- Honeydew Jalapeño, Berkinshaw’s favorite, but which he acknowledges “most people either love it or hate it” depending on their view of jalapeño.
- Blueberry Rosemary, a summer seasonal flavor that also is a nod to his daughter who was the size of a blueberry in her mother’s womb when the company launched.
- Lemon Mint, which Berkinshaw says is a “gateway shrub because it is the easiest flavor to relate to.”
- Pineapple Turmeric features an extremely trendy ingredient that Berkinshaw says also pairs well with rum and tequila.
- Cranberry Hibiscus, the latest addition to the line, arrived just in time for the holidays.
Strategy 3: Offer samples at events, not just in stores
Demonstrating shrubs with seltzer water in retail stores is a low-risk way for consumers to try shrubs and to easily buy them if they like, Berkinshaw says. But an even more effective way to sample the product is at catering events organized by Union Kitchen – the Washington, D.C., based incubator of which Element [Shrub] is a member, he said.
“The catering arm of Union Kitchen has been really helpful spreading the word about our product through various cocktails and mocktails” at events with hundreds of people who can experience and talk about shrubs together, Berkinshaw said.
Strategy 4: Offset negatives with benefits
The $19 price tag on a bottle of Element Shrub might deter some new consumers, but when Berkinshaw tells them there are 25 drinks in each bottle of concentrated shrub people “feel more comfortable with the price point,” he said.
“If you think about buying 25 kombuchas that is going to be 25 times $3.50, which is a lot more than $19,” he says.
In addition, selling Element [Shrub] as a concentrate gives people “the opportunity to use it in many different ways. And what we really like about our shrubs is they are really versatile, so you can use them in cocktails and mocktails, but you can also cook with them,” he said.
He added: “If the shrub was sold in sort of a ready-to-drink format or some other type of format where you just had to use it in one sitting, it would be a lower price point, but you couldn’t mix it with tequila or pour it over a salad.”
Strategy 5: Offer trial sizes
This fall, Element [Shrub] will launch a sample pack of four 2-ounce bottles that will each have four servings.
“A sample pack is a great way to experience the different flavors of our shrubs without sort of committing to one larger bottle,” he said, adding, “Then, when they figure out which one they like, they can go back and buy their favorite bottle.”
With these strategies in place, Berkinshaw said he is optimistic that he can educate and reach enough people that he can expand his brand’s distribution to more stores and regions and add new flavors to appeal to even more consumers.