In my previous post on the Wharton Blog Network, I explored the intricacies of the sharing economy in New York and came away with the idea to go undercover as a mixologist on Kitchensurfing.com. Since then, I have been seeking inspiration for my next wave of cocktail creations, especially as the summer comes into full swing.
As I tested new recipes over the last few weeks, I became inspired by news of a new product and related Kickstarter campaign from my friend and fellow alumnus, Jomaree Pinkard, WG ’10, co-founder of Hella Bitter (HB). HB is a company that is taking one of the oldest ingredients in the history of cocktail making and infusing this otherwise stagnant niche product with all kinds of innovative growth strategies.
Watch the pitch for the Hella Bitter “Craft Your Own Bitters Kit” Kickstarter campaign. (At time of publication, there are just nine days to go.)
When Jomaree first told me about his involvement with HB back in 2011, my reaction was one of curious intrigue.
“How will you sell enough bitters to make a big company out of it?” I asked.
This is a product that craft bartenders use a few drops of in niche cocktails like the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan. My mom has had the same bottle of Angostura bitters in her fridge since I was a child.
I knew something was different about HB when I was invited to the launch party in 2011 at a warehouse-like venue in Williamsburg, a hipster-inhabited part of Brooklyn. The party felt like an art installation within a massive underground speakeasy. Guests left with samples in little potion tubes that looked as if they came from the neighborhood apothecary in the 1920s. Needless to say, Hella Bitter immediately became the hot brand amidst the incredible rise of the craft cocktail movement that has transpired over the last few years.
When I ran into Pinkard and his team at the Fancy Food Show last year, one of the largest food and beverage tradeshows in the world, their booth was overflowing with foot traffic. While their neighbors sat idly on stools allowing visitors to grab a sample with hardly an interaction, the HB team was corralling large groups with delicious cocktail samples paired with bitters-cured bacon slivers. I was astonished when Pinkard explained the latest growth strategy—a few drops go into every cocktail, but now they’re encouraging customers to use a few tablespoons to marinate meats; give a unique flavor to whipped cream; or as a mix-in with seltzer water for a delicious, low-calorie beverage.
My mom’s going to need another bottle of HB every month or so.
That was last year.
Now HB is riding the latest wave in the consumer goods startup industry by attaching the product to engaging customer experiences: Don’t just buy the product but, rather, get a kit and make your own batch at home. Add your own ingredients to make yours unique and personalized to your preferences. The kit comes with those little apothecary tubes they had at the launch event and other tools that are going to make me feel like a 1920s pharmacist, preparing the finest elixirs for my friends or for my Kitchensurfing clients. It comes in an iconic box, which to me looks like the foreshadowing of a jump-onto-the-subscription-box trend.
Looking for innovation in a bottle? I think we’ve found it.