By Gregory Daurer | Dec 07, 2020
Non-alcoholic beer and wine
"Grüvi is redefining the perception of non-alcoholic beer and wine," says Sawni. "We take a craft approach to create flavors and styles that never existed in this category before."
In terms of its non-alcoholic beers, Grüvi offers a tangy Sour Weisse (brewed with lemon peels), a roasty dark Stout, and a hoppy IPA -- which incorporates Citra, Galaxy, and Equinox hops, in addition to hop oil in order to pump up the beer's aroma and flavor. These three brews respectively contain 26, 45, and 60 calories per can.
The beers are made using a couple different techniques. There's arrested fermentation: "We are stopping the fermentation by crashing the temperature, where alcohol is no longer being produced, right at that brink of when it's going to start occurring." And the company will soon release de-alcoholized beers -- including a lager and a hazy IPA -- which are made "using a new technology that slowly filters out the alcohol over an extended period of time" from fully fermented beers.
On the NA wine front, Grüvi produces a Bubbly Rosé and a sparkling Dry Secco. Sawni says they're made "from the ground up, so they don't need to get through fermentation." The company employs California grapes with a reduced starting sweetness, since the sugars aren't going to be converted into alcohol. It also adds tannic and citric acids, which are naturally found within fermented wines, in order to help to "dry out the flavor."
"There was no real focus on craft options for consumers," Sawni says about the NA availability from larger brands. He adds, "Those big breweries rarely produce craft [non-alcoholic] products -- whether they're IPAs or sours." Or a "Bubbly Rosé," within the vinous NA product category.
But it was a totally different industry -- only recently legalized and regulated -- that got Sawni interested in starting Grüvi, in the first place: cannabis in Colorado. He recalls thinking, "You know, all these people are going to be consuming cannabis with their friends socially -- and they're going to want beers and wines" to drink while smoking. However, health officials recommend never mixing cannabis together with alcohol.
From where he was sitting in his native Toronto, Sawni saw an opportunity to provide consumers with a healthier -- i.e., non-alcoholic -- option for pairing with their cannabis. He's even discussed which strains of cannabis would pair well with a particular Grüvi beer or wine, as revealed in a Westword interview, such as pairing the company's IPA "with any dank indica strain, like Death Star."
Sawni has a flair for recognizing a need to fill: Prior to starting Grüvi, he created Puck App -- which he calls "probably the most Canadian app you'll ever read about." The app assists non-professional hockey league teams in Canada to locate a goalie to rent, rather than forfeit the money they've deposited for a game, whenever their team's regular goalie isn't available. Sawni likens Puck App to "an Uber for goalies."
Prior to any of his products hitting the market, Sawni spent close to a year working with Canadian contract brewers to develop the initial beers. On 4/20 of 2019, he released Grüvi in Colorado, with help from both of his parents, as well as his sister and her boyfriend. But Sawni quickly realized that he needed to refocus and expand his target market. "This opportunity is much bigger than we thought," he says. "There are so many different reasons people are choosing to reduce their alcohol intake -- and nine out of 10 of them have nothing to do with cannabis."
Today, Grüvi's products can be found in about 400 stores in Colorado, in addition to another 400 spread out between Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Vermont. "The company has doubled in sales in the last six months," says Sawni. "That's when we started to add new states outside of Colorado." Sawni also delivered the winning presentation at the 2020 Pitch Slam run by Naturally Boulder -- resulting in an award of thousands of dollars worth of free services, added press, and interest from investors.
Grüvi's beers are also available online through Amazon, as well as via Grüvi's own website. There's an advantage for the company in selling directly to consumers: It's able to solicit feedback directly from them on its new releases, which sometimes leads Grüvi to "tweak" its recipes, before ever rolling out the product into brick-and-mortar stores. "It's been an awesome channel for product development," says Sawni.
In terms of another development, Sawni has recently switched to a domestic contract brewer: Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in Denver. "It's not cost-effective or [environmentally sound] to be shipping them down to Colorado" from Ontario, he says.
As far as the company's name goes, Sawni, 29, decided to adopt an updated spelling of "groovy" -- a word with a '60s vibe, previously used by cannabis lovers to indicate "cool" and "peace and love," he says. "We wanted to bring that word back [and into] the non-alcoholic space -- which had been previously viewed as uncool and not fun. We're bringing that word back to symbolize the new energy we're trying to bring to [the non-alcoholic] category."
Challenges: Sawni says it's expansion and growth: "We've been fortunate to be quite early and innovative to the non-alcoholic space, but the beverage category can be quite competitive -- as it is in craft beer. How fast should we expand and produce and grow while that opportunity is still young, but in a way that we can support financially?"
Opportunities: Finding a way to introduce non-alcoholic beer and wine into people's lives, so they're consuming them regularly in place of alcohol, either at home or in social settings. "That's where the opportunity becomes massive," says Sawni.
He adds, "People are being a little more mindful of how much alcohol they consume and their health in general, so we found COVID to be a little bit of a catalyst for us, actually."
Needs: Sawni points to talent: "Building the right team that can help us scale the business."