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As Hard Tea Gains Speed, Owl’s Brew Secures $9 Million In Funding

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 24, 2021

Owl’s Brew, a producer of health-adjacent, tea-based spiked seltzers, has closed a $9 million Series A round. The funding follows a year of impressive growth from the RTD brand: after launching a line of tea-based hard seltzers in early 2020, the brand experienced 918% growth over the year and expanded to 18 markets.

Series A backers include Formidable Asset Management, Cambridge SPG, Connecticut Innovations, and Tidal River, alongside notable names like Sam Taylor-Johnson and Jeannie Mai. 

The brand launched in 2015 after co-founders Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield, industry vets and tea nerds, had noticed a huge gap in the market when it came to consciously produced alcoholic drinks. So Owl’s Brew was initially born as a line of inspired, tea-based mixers; just add your spirit of choice and shake, for low-effort, high-reward cocktails.

“We want to be what clean beauty is in the alcohol space,” says Ripps, a tea sommelier who has worked with Momofuku, Sweetgreen, Soho House and The Edition hotels. “In that industry, there’s such a major lack of transparency in packaged goods—particularly with alcohol, there are so many cryptic descriptions or varieties. What are you even drinking? Real raspberries aren’t clear. Why is your raspberry seltzer?”

Now, their flagship products are spiked teas; sparkling, effervescent, and sneakily boozy slim cans flavored with real ingredients seemingly pulled from an apothecary or farmer’s market; think white tea with raspberry and watermelon and English breakfast dosed with bright lemon and lime. All cans clock in at 4.8% and are sweetened with a dash of cane sugar. 

The seed round will fund product distribution and marketing initiatives to continue the momentum. “We’re growing at 167% year-over-year, and we’re available in 32 states,” says Ripps. “Over 2020, we began to see 20 or 30 cases sell out in one small store. Our rate of sales just over-indexing against the industry by one and a half times.

“We bootstrapped all through 2020, we saw the velocity and we understood that there was this big opportunity,” she continues. “We want to raise money to grow and keep up with that pace.”

The numbers are particularly astounding after a year where the duo could not market anything in situ. No visiting accounts, no on-premise education; with bars closed and travel vetoed, they had to rely on the product’s shelf presence. “It’s great to see that consumers are actually like seeing your brand on the shelf and thinking our brand looks cool. And it’s resonating with them. They don’t need that push.” says Ripps.

The funds raised from Series A will go towards expansion, putting a team in place, and amplifying Owl’s Brew’s ‘clean drinking’ mantra. “It’s about feeding people into the field to support our distributors,” says Ripps. “We’re building a sales team and building the marketing and standing market in a way that drives authentic partnerships with drinkers.”

A main pillar of the funding? Implementing stronger systems will help keep Owl’s Brew accessible. “What’s really important to us, in terms of distribution, is maintaining an accessible price point. We feel like so many better-for-you drink options in this category are really, really expensive,” says Littlefield. “We’re really working to maintain that $9.99 price point so that you can enjoy good ingredients— products like these shouldn’t be a treat.”

In comparison to the more saccharine spiked seltzers, Owl’s Brew aims to be health adjacent; leaning on teas and natural ingredients to flavor the options. Since launching the brand in 2015, the duo has seen a huge category shift, with more and more brands embracing transparency and health-conscious ingredients, while adopting buzzwords like ‘clean,’ ‘naturally-sweetened’ and ‘organic.’

While ‘no sugar’ and ‘calorie-free’ are frequently dropped in the RTD world, Ripps points out how difficult it is to truly achieve this.

“We went to 20 different contract breweries to find if they would brew our teas,” says Ripps. “No one would. They refused. Every other producer has little flavor packets they drop in their seltzer base. We wanted to brew our flavors from scratch and no contract brewer would do that—it was too much labor for them.”

“There are no health benefits to those flavor packets! Think about raspberry flavorings—you won’t get vitamin C or antioxidants from those. We wanted to brew our teas from scratch and keep all those draws. So we had to find a producer and manufacturer that wanted to partner with us and share this vision. We wanted to make our products the right way.”

Funding is also earmarked to help Ripps and Littlefield continue pushing forward female voices in the alcohol industry. “64% of women in the US drink alcohol,” says Ripps. “But in this category of beverage alcohol, 96% of CEOS, people who develop flavors and the people taking these products to market are men.” They are happy to send free product to female-led events; book clubs, seminars, and the likes.

As Ripps and Littlefield continue pushing their narrative of conscious drinking, part of the funds will be focused on innovation. The first new product? A bright, warming cranberry and spiced chai seltzer for the colder months. “One of my big initiatives on my plate is the drink wise initiative,” says Ripps. “We’re going to be publishing a lot more of what we do put in our drinks to force that dialogue in our industry. We have the spiced chai seltzer, and we want to continue to push innovation like this.”

“We’ve seen such a huge shift,” says Littlefield. “Consumers are starting to read ingredients and labels and dive deeper into what they’re drinking. The demand and the velocity of our products, it’s crazy.”


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