Dec. 22, 2022

Do You Know What’s in Your Canned Cocktail?

How to succeed in the rapidly growing premixed cocktail market


Canned cocktails are all the rage, even if we’re not always sure which alcohol they’re made with (fermented cane sugar, anyone?). Nora speaks with Ryan Laverty, co-founder and CEO of Vide, a canned cocktail company that makes drinks with real spirits like vodka and tequila. Olivia Culpo, creative director for Vide, shares the messaging behind Vide and why she joined the company. For more info on our presenting sponsor, check out https://purple.com

 

Host: Nora Ali

Producer: Raymond Luu  

Video Editors: Sebastian Vega

Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus & Rosemary Minkler

Music: Daniel Markus & Breakmaster Cylinder

Fact Checker: Kate Brandt 

Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop

 

Full transcripts for all Business Casual episodes available at https://businesscasual.fm

Transcript

Nora Ali: From Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, bringing you convos with people you know, and some you may not know yet, to make business less intimidating. Because money talks, but it does not have to be dull. I'm your host, Nora Ali. Now let's get down to business.

There are few things I love more on this earth than a canned cocktail. Anytime you open up my very millennial fridge, you'll see some new canned beverage that intentionally targeted me on Instagram, which I just had to purchase.

But the tricky part, as someone who is trying to be more health conscious, is that many canned drinks either have lots of added sugar or aren't actually made with real spirits. In fact, alcoholic beverages are not required to disclose their full nutritional facts or ingredients to consumers. So you might not know exactly what you're drinking.

Today we're going to hear from the team behind Vide, a canned cocktail company that makes drinks with just three ingredients, including real vodka and tequila. Friends and co-founders Ryan Laverty and Sal Campisi started Vide with the goal of becoming a powerhouse in the beverage industry.

Vide received support early on from a big fan: fashion model, influencer, and entrepreneur Olivia Culpo, who joined the team as creative director. As someone who grew up in the restaurant business and had started a restaurant of her own, Olivia told us she was eager to get behind a product that was not only high quality, but also health conscious. So it's time to crack open a cold one for this convo. We'll get into all of that after the break.

Ryan, Olivia, welcome to Business Casual. We appreciate your time. I'd love to start with a little icebreaker. It's for a segment we call OG Occupations. So I would love to hear what each of your first job was. Starting with you, Ryan, what was your first-ever job?

Ryan Laverty: My first ever job was actually cleaning my neighbors' cars. I would walk around my little cul-de-sac neighborhood during the summer, and me and my friend would clean our neighbors' cars. I think it was for $10 or $20, pretty cheap for two 10-year-old kids. But yeah, we had the cleanest, freshest-looking cars in the whole neighborhood.

Nora Ali: That's amazing. You probably learned a lot from that. Olivia, how about you?

Olivia Culpo: My first job was counting Keno cards for my dad. He is a restaurant guy and he has this really very salt-of-the-earth bar, I guess you could say. So I would count all the Keno cards and organize them, and he would pay me $50. I basically had to know how to count up to 100. It was a task. It was hard for me at a young age.

Nora Ali: Yeah, no, that sounds great. I'm sure you both learned a lot from these early jobs, and then you're very entrepreneurial, both of you now, obviously.

Ryan Laverty: I shine a mean tire, if anything.

Olivia Culpo: I can count to 100.

Nora Ali: Which is probably very useful as someone who is involved with Vide. So let's get into it. Ryan, how would you describe Vide for those who have not come across it?

Ryan Laverty: So I would describe Vide, other than it being a canned cocktail company, I would describe it as being a very young, energetic, fun, transparent company filled with awesome people that sell awesome products.

Nora Ali: What does it mean to be a transparent company when it comes to canned cocktails?

Ryan Laverty: Yeah, so the biggest thing for us, we started this company back in...you know, launched it officially in 2019, but the idea for this company really started the end of 2017, 2018. Back when these canned beverages were just coming out, transparency was not a thing at all. Oftentimes within the spirit-based canned cocktails, you don't even actually have to list the ingredients. You don't need to list the nutritional facts. You could drink a can of something and have no idea what's in it. It could have 300 calories in it or it could have 500 calories in it.

And for us, we wanted to create something that had real spirits in it, was made with high-quality ingredients, but more importantly, it listed all of the ingredients. It listed the nutritional panel, so you actually felt like you knew what you were consuming. And it sounds crazy, but that was not a thing four years ago.

Nora Ali: It feels like a requirement now that we know what's going in our bodies. So Olivia, you're someone who's very conscious about what you consume. And when I look at a canned cocktail or any alcoholic beverage, I always look for low sugar, sometimes gluten-free. All things that you all have covered at Vide. What was it about Vide for you, specifically, that made you want to go, "Okay, I don't just want to consume it; I actually want to get involved with the company"?

Olivia Culpo: I'm definitely conscious about what goes into my body to feel good, and I feel like anybody that isn't is missing the mark. Because you want to feel good in life, and obviously part of that is making sure you're not going to have a sugar crash in five seconds. Also part of that is knowing exactly what you're putting into your body. And with Vide, not only being low-calorie, low-sugar, so you're not going to have that crazy crash or that crazy hangover the next day. Also, having just three natural ingredients, it's the cleanest on the market, just as much for your mental health as your physical health.

A lot of people look at me and they're like, "Oh, she's probably really careful about what she eats." And it's like, "Yes." But it's not about the physical aspect in any way, shape, or form. It's always about the mental aspect. And for me, a lot of that is just about feeling good so I can do the most with my time, and I think anybody that doesn't have that perspective should.

Nora Ali: Yeah. No, I mean no one wants a hangover. And in doing research for this interview, I didn't really realize that the alcohols that are in other hard seltzers, for example, come from fermented sugar, and it's not real vodka or tequila and it's not pure in any way. So Ryan, how did you go about formulating the original recipes for Vide when it's quite different from what already existed?

Ryan Laverty: When I graduated college back in 2016, and I feel like an old person saying this, but when I was a senior in college, I was still drinking beer. I was...and hard seltzers weren't a thing, although it wasn't that long ago.

Now you go to a college and everybody's drinking all these hard seltzer products, White Claw and Truly and all these things. But for us, that really only started to get popular back in 2017. And I think because my age group—I was 22 at the time, we fit directly into that demographic.

Honestly, Sal and I, when we really had the idea for the product. One, we weren't honestly in love with the way that they tasted, and this was just personal preference. I'm not saying that they taste horrible, but a lot of these things were very over-flavored.

But aside from that, we're taking a look at the can and we see in very small fine print, it says, "Made from fermented cane sugar." And we're looking around and we're like, "Wait, is there no vodka in here? I'm confused. What is fermented cane sugar?" We had no idea what the hell that was. And that's when Sal and I were like, "Okay, there's a huge disconnect here. Nobody knows what they're actually drinking."

And that's really how we got the idea started. We started to look around in the market and we noticed that there was very few spirit-based canned beverage products out there, very few that were using real tequila, real vodka. This was 2018. So did some research online. We literally started the whole business by using Google. We had no idea what we were doing. I worked in finance before. Sal was in contracting. The only thing we knew about alcohol was how to drink it, and that was it. And we'd search on Google; we're like, "How do you start an alcoholic beverage company?"

Nora Ali: That's amazing.

Ryan Laverty: We just found this company in Kentucky that helped us make a formula and everything that we could bring to and manufacture, and that's basically how it got started.

Nora Ali: Wow. So how did this partnership come to be between you guys and Olivia?

Ryan Laverty: So we met Olivia probably two and a half years ago. We actually had a mutual friend. Olivia was at a party in LA and there happened to be Vide around, and our mutual friend was actually there and Olivia was drinking the product. And obviously you could talk about this, Olivia, a little bit more. But she, I think, really liked the fact that we were more on the health-conscious side; she was thinking about getting into the canned cocktail space. And I know it's not the most resourceful area. There's a ton of crap that goes into actually figuring out how to start an alcoholic beverage company. So our friend actually pieced us together and we got on the phone, and we just hit it off very quickly and it just developed from there. Olivia, you can give your two cents as well, but that's how it all went down.

Olivia Culpo: That is pretty much how it all went down. I had not seen a canned beverage that was so few ingredients, so few calories, so few amount of sugar, and also that listed it. The transparency was the first thing that I thought was really compelling. And then of course, I love the way that it tasted. I also think the branding, still think the branding is very sleek and modern, and just, it's elevated to me and I felt like there was a hole in the market.

But I feel like at the end of the day when you love the people, when you feel a connection with the people behind a product and believe in them and then also absolutely love the product, it's just a recipe for having to involve yourself in some capacity. So that was the groundwork, for sure.

Nora Ali: And Olivia, how do you decide what you want your involvement and role to be? Because obviously, there's enough people who are well-known who agree to work with the brand and all they do is take a bunch of photos, drinking or consuming the thing, which is not what you're doing. You're the creative director; you're pretty involved. So how did you decide at what level that you wanted to be involved with the guys?

Olivia Culpo: I think timing is everything. At that time, I was really excited about the canned cocktail space. It was really intriguing to me, and it all kind of fell into alignment. A lot of things don't. There are more nos than yeses in everything. So the fact that it all kind of fell into place perfectly was also a sign to me that, okay, this is ticking all of the boxes. I'm excited about it. This will be fun. Let's do it.

Ryan Laverty: From my side, we didn't know anything about connecting with consumers. We didn't know anything about brand aesthetics. We didn't know anything about social media. And Olivia has built a wonderful career in that area. And for us, having that gap in the company and having someone like her with such a tremendous amount of experience connecting with her followers and stuff, that was a huge asset for us. Like piecing all these parts of the company together to actually make the brand marketable.

Nora Ali: It's important to realize when you don't know how to do everything and you don't know the answer, so you bring on the right partners to do it, and Google. All right. We're going to take a very quick break. More with Ryan and Olivia when we come back.

Olivia, from your perspective, if you're walking through the aisles of a Whole Foods, let's say, and you're looking at canned cocktails, you're looking at beverages, what stands out to you? What is the consumer looking for, from your perspective, these days?

Olivia Culpo: I feel like you want to be proud of what you're drinking, just like you're proud of the shirt you decided to wear in the morning, or it's definitely a personal...a personal aesthetic goes along with your beverage choice, I think, or a certain vibe you're trying to go after.

I feel like the Vide vibe is just sexy, sleek, modern, minimal. A lot of the other beverages out there at that time, and at this time, not to knock them, but they didn't feel as elevated. They were not as sleek to me. "Less" is a statement that I wanted and was excited to make with the brand, just being minimal ingredients. Also, there's no weird tacky logo sort of thing. It's just like, see is what you get. So that appeals to me.

Another thing about walking through a Whole Foods or an Erewhon, you know that there's been some sort of a background check. They're not just going to put anything on their shelves. The fact that Vide has a great relationship with something like a Whole Foods says a lot, because it's like that is exactly the target. It's that elevated, transparent branding that not only sets us apart, but makes everybody more excited to try it, in my opinion. It's hard to say those things without sounding really conceited, but we just love the product.

Nora Ali: Yeah, I guess on that note, because the Whole Foods vibe is quite different from, say, the Costco vibe, where Vide is also available.

So Ryan, when you do think about distribution, how does each individual distribution channel impact the sort of vibe that you are going for with the company, and how do you make those decisions?

Ryan Laverty: Initially when you create a product, for example, your dream is to have this thing in every store, in every state, everywhere. You want to see it everywhere. And that was definitely something that Sal and I thought was the game plan. We have thus taken a lot of time recently to figure out, how do we get our products in the right accounts—not every single account; the right accounts.

So our thought process behind distribution is, let's identify geographically the right areas for us to be in, because if we get the geographic perspective right, we can be in a cluster of stores. Whether it be Costco, whether it be Whole Foods, whether it be Target, as long as it's in the right area, the distribution can be focused. That's where we win.

It's pretty amazing to think, five years ago we were just tinkering around with making prototypes in our mom's kitchen here, and now we're selling in Costco and Whole Foods. It's pretty amazing.

Nora Ali: Olivia, as consumers become more and more discerning about what is an ad, what is something that this influencer is consuming just because they want to, and not because they're getting paid for it? So how do you decide how you want to convey Vide on your social media? You have 5.2 million followers on Instagram. How do you ensure that you're not diluting your own brand by promoting something like a canned cocktail company?

Olivia Culpo: It starts on the back end. You have to make sure that there's a brand alignment and that it makes sense for you. Otherwise, you are faking it and people can see that. I don't know if it's something in my DNA or a personality thing, but I have always just been...I think I was born for QVC. If I'm passionate about something, I need everybody to know about it. I'm always pushing products and it's most of the time not an ad, really, because I just want to share what I think is great. And also I love to support businesses, to be completely honest with you. I think it's an amazing opportunity that I have.

So as far as Vide goes, I'd like to think that it fits under that umbrella of me just being authentic and sharing what I love. And yes, it's something that I personally have a stake in, but it's something that I wouldn't have been involved in if I wasn't super proud of it and excited to show people so that they can also try it and also be really excited about it themselves. When you have that foundation, which I hope I do, I think that it shouldn't read as hashtag #ad. It should read as like, hashtag #thisistheshit, hashtag #youneedtotrythis, hashtag #I'msoexcited.

Nora Ali: Yeah, exactly. All right, let's take another very quick break. More with Ryan and Olivia when we come back.

So Olivia, you were talking about how you like to tell people, "This is something that I enjoy. You should check this out," you were born to be on QVC, so you and your sisters actually launched a fashion line with Macy's earlier this year. You also started a nonprofit mask brand called More Than a Mask. So with this appetite to really sell products, how do you see yourself continuing to develop as an entrepreneur? More into fashion, more into food and hospitality?

Olivia Culpo: That's a good question. I love hospitality. I've always been really passionate about hospitality. I have a couple restaurants with my family in Rhode Island, so I think expanding on that would be awesome.

For brand-building, I think at this point I'm kind of in a studying mode. I'm studying my peers, which is something that I also absolutely love to do as more of a nerd and entrepreneurial brain. Because everybody has a brand; everybody has something that their name is attached to, and it's a lot. These celebrity-driven models are becoming tiresome, because you don't always drink the Kool-Aid; you don't always believe it. You sometimes think that they're picking up a paycheck.

So I've been really careful about that, and that's why I haven't really done too much on my own. I do a ton of collaborations, like the Macy's collaboration that I did, and the restaurants are my family. I was born into that. That's just like, I'm naturally very passionate about that.

But as far as putting my hands in too much, I'm very careful about that. I don't want to have too much going on. I personally am like, "Huh, how could they have so many different things that they're super passionate about?"

So for me, Vide is my major focus, and my restaurants are a huge focus. As for the future, I'm always exploring and testing and thinking about what I would want to do next, but right now I really am just kind of setting. And I would be so curious even to hear what you think about that. Don't you think that with celebrity-driven products, it's just like, "Okay." Like another eye roll, like another makeup brand, like, "Really? Like I can't."

Nora Ali: And you don't know how involved they are, right? They could have an entire machine around them that curates and makes the product and the celebrity's just like, "Thumbs up, this is my brand." And I think consumers realize that.

So you've also talked, Olivia about how much you love working with your sisters. Do you feel like your future entrepreneurial endeavors will be with family and continue to be in that realm? Or do you want to go on your own more and do more things individually as Olivia?

Olivia Culpo: I love doing things with my family. It's a treat. I have more fun with my sisters. It's challenging at times, but I really love it and I feel like I get a better opinion. I get more opinion. Their opinions are different from mine. So I feel like we're almost able to harness a greater audience because they have a point of view that I wouldn't have and just it's more opportunity for people to find something that they connect with. I'm just grateful for whatever opportunity that I get and I'm just happy to be here.

Nora Ali: Yes, me too, Olivia. Me too.

So Ryan, you said you have a background in finance and then you switched over to create Vide. What are some of the most difficult things that you had to do in the early days? Maybe the scrappiest things you had to do? Because I know it's a very long journey from the day you decide to make this thing to where you are now.

Ryan Laverty: There's no blueprint or roadmap for starting a company. You would think it's a lot easier, and there's so many resources online. Things like it's so easy as setting up a company, to doing a bank account, to raising money. None of this stuff is just out and easily consumable. Maybe there is stuff now that makes it easier. But when we were starting this, everything was just us piecing out these little things, like how to start a brand or start a company. It was very hard, to be honest. We had met and spent probably a year just networking and meeting with people to help us, for free. Just give us advice on how to do things, get brands off the ground, and everything. When we first had started this business, everything went wrong. Just everything went wrong.

Nora Ali: What went wrong? Can you give us examples?

Ryan Laverty: There's just so many hurdles to get over. For example, our first production run, the cans aren't the right size. The packaging doesn't fit. All things because we didn't know and we didn't have this blueprint to, oh, make sure the measurements match the machines or make sure the cans are the right spec for this. None of that stuff is explained to you. So you just have to figure everything out as you go.

But you know what? That makes the story a lot better. It serves for a lot more grit, I would say, for the founders themselves. Just because this whole game is just making mistakes and learning from them and doing it better next time. And I think that's what really makes a successful brand, is if the founders can figure that out, I think the brands are ultimately going to be in a much better position.

Nora Ali: It just takes a lot of grit to keep doing the boring stuff too. There's a lot of paperwork, a lot of administrative stuff. It's not just fun and creative games.

Ryan Laverty: No, it's not all just rainbows and unicorns. People look at us and are like, "Yo, these guys are selling alcohol. It's so easy. It's so fun." But it's not. This is a really hard business and it's so intellectually challenging, but it's so unbelievably rewarding at the same time. But anyone that says it's easy is just flat-out lying. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. This has been the most rewarding experience that I've ever lived through and experienced. So I'm just excited for what's next, and I really mean that.

Nora Ali: Amazing. All right, well, thank you both so much for being on the podcast. We did say hi to Olivia's little puppy, which I didn't mention during the recording, but hello, little puppy. But thank you both so much for being on the podcast.

Ryan Laverty: Thank you guys.

Olivia Culpo: Thank you.

Ryan Laverty: Appreciate it.

Nora Ali: This is Business Casual and I'm Nora Ali. You can follow me on Twitter @NoraKAli, and I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for episodes, comments, thoughts on episodes you loved, fun segment ideas, feel free to shoot me at DM and I will do my very best to respond. You can also reach the BC team by emailing businesscasual@morningbrew.com, or call us. That number is (862) 295-1135. And if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And if you like this show, please leave us a rating and a review. It really helps.

Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Raymond Luu. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus, Rosemary Minkler, and Nick Torres. Kate Brandt is our fact checker, and AB Silver is our senior booking producer. Sebastian Vega and Evan Frolov edit our videos. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business, and keep it casual.