For the first three years of operation after launching in 2017, Owen’s only sold to hospitality groups and stadiums. The company sells its mixers to hospitality groups promoting them as shortcuts for bartenders making hundreds of complicated, multi-ingredient drinks throughout the night. Some examples of popular mixes that Owen’s has sold to bars and venues include their Margarita and Cucumber Mint mixes. But during the pandemic, the company had to pivot. It began focusing on bringing its products to outdoor events, added new retail partners like Kroger and Walmart, and tried to capitalize on the period when many Americans started making drinks at home.
Now, the company is returning to its roots by tapping into demand from local operators for faster, easier-to-make drinks. This week, Owen’s Craft Mixers launched a new product, an espresso martini mixer, aimed at busy bars with high demand for the trendy cocktail.
This month, Owen’s received an investment for an undisclosed amount from Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler, who discovered the brand at a local bar. This funding extension will be used to support the brand’s next phase of growth, which will focus on Owen’s local mixer supply business. Overall, Owen’s Craft Mixers local accounts have quadrupled since 2020, with expansion specifically targeting live entertainment and sports stadiums across the country.
Owen co-founder Josh Miller told Modern Retail that the company’s new strategy consists of a two-pronged approach, where hospitality-driven sales also act as a form of promotion for the growing brand retail line.
The brand is currently available in 23,000 doors, with key retailers including Publix, Kroger, CVS, Walmart and Total Wine, where Owen’s is often marketed alongside spirits brands. The company will also begin promoting its line on Instacart and is in the process of partnering with GoPuff later this year.
This combination of channels, Miller said, is intended to help Owen quickly adapt to changing beverage consumption trends. Owen’s has long courted live event venues and arenas: Citi Field, which began using Owen’s mixers in 2018, is one of the company’s biggest accounts. But when outdoor activities became popular at the start of the pandemic, Miller said the company shifted to creating relevant products and offering them as quick fixes to new customers.
In 2020, Owen’s launched a transfusion mix, made with grape juice and ginger. the product co-branded with Barstool Sports and has become popular at golf events. “We leaned heavily on golf, especially during Covid, and the transfusion mix is now used on PGA tours and over 1,500 golf courses across the country,” Miller said.
Now Owen’s is refocusing on bars, restaurants and arena events such as concerts and games. The Espresso Martini Mixer is the first product the company has launched under its return to hospitality strategy.
According to Miller, the idea came about after receiving R&D feedback from bartenders across the country. Making espresso martinis takes time and some equipment that bars don’t always have on hand.
“We’ve heard from bars that say they don’t even have espresso machines to keep up with customer requests,” Miller said. In turn, he said, Owen’s team decided to create a ready-to-mix solution. “We developed the product with flavor experts from the ground up, and the cans have the same volume of caffeine as a Starbucks nitro beer and provide a half-inch of automatic foam,” Miller said.
To launch the new espresso product, the brand gently introduced innovation to select customers of bars and restaurants, resulting in a 24-hour sale of its first production. “We think this will become our best seller in the next six months,” Miller said.
To meet demand, the brand also invested in a new 3PL manufacturer to triple B-to-B’s largest production runs. The production investment will also allow the brand to focus on growing the DTC and Amazon channels in early 2023, after prioritizing in-store and on-premises accounts over the past two years.
Whether the espresso martini craze fades or not, Miller said the company is betting “there’s always going to be demand from bars and restaurants that are under-resourced to make complicated drinks,” he said.
One of the first restaurants to start using the espresso martini blender is Bad Bunny’s Miami steakhouse, Gekko. The Cafecito With Milk cocktail it quickly became the restaurant’s best-selling drink. “We look to these trendy places to help promote us, which drives customers to find Owen’s in stores,” he said. “Another way to get back into the premise world is by partnering with major chains,” Miller said, including an upcoming pigeon collaboration with Chuy’s Tex-Mex.
Kearney CPG sector partner Sean Ryan said these days beverage brands operating in the alcohol space must drive consistent sales both at retail and through hospitality partners.
“While most of the volume is driven through off-premises channels, most of the brand value is generated through on-premises,” Ryan said, referring to to the fact that many drinkers discover new cocktail recipes at their favorite bar or restaurant.
Although the pandemic temporarily halts dining and drinking out, hospitality remains important to suppliers.
“People are social animals: they want to go out, be with others, socialize with social lubricants.” Ryan said. He added that while people might “downsize to lower cost value brands” in light of inflation, “volume consumption will continue.”
Going forward, Owen’s will continue to create CPG products that can be used by both home mixologists and hospitality businesses, and plans to further capitalize on seasonal cocktail trends. At the same time, Miller said the company tries to resist jumping on every beverage trend.
“If we gave in to the pressure we’ve gotten, we’d just make our own RTD,” Miller said. “But we believe our approach taps into several growth habits, such as non-alcoholic and ready-to-mix.”