Salt Lake City, Utah
When Weed met fellow Simplicity Cocktails co-founder Chad Linville in business school, they decided to explore the opportunity of starting their own brewery. Quickly determining that the Western craft beer market was already too saturated, they pivoted towards the idea of opening a distillery. However, the duo still needed to answer some questions.
"Whiskey is labor-intensive, and it takes a lot of time before it produces revenue," Weed explains. "Vodka is something you can sell quickly, but we saw that roughly a third of the market was already vodka. We asked, 'What can we do to differentiate ourselves?' That's when we dove into the world of gin. We did tours in Scotland, Thailand, Spain, and the UK. We really got into it."
While testing out recipes, the pair had the opportunity to package some gin and tonics to take to a local concert venue that allowed consumers to bring in their own liquor. "Cans had already been normalized for the public by craft breweries," Weed says. "We recognized the opportunity and jumped on canned cocktails."
Moving from business license to launch took a full year, and Simplicity Cocktails' startup costs were entirely bootstrapped by Weed and Linville. To this day, they're still working other jobs as Simplicity remains 100 percent self-funded. "We don't have any loans," Weed says. "That allows us to be a lot more flexible with what we're doing."
While the pair had been using co-packers to manufacture Simplicity Cocktails' Moscow Mule, Gin and Tonic, Margarita, and Vodka Soda with Lime, they were able to bring production in-house with the opening of a 1,900-square-foot facility in early 2021.
"Having our own tanks and canning line will really give us the opportunity to expand our product offerings," says Weed. "Our new facility also has a storefront license that allows us to sell from there. We can do smaller production runs and distribute from our warehouse to other states as well as have a storefront for local consumers."
The company's target market, which Weed describes as "people who like to be outdoors and socialize," is a growing one -- especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing more consumers to enjoy cocktails outside of bars and restaurants. Weed says Simplicity Cocktails had a 40 percent increase in production in 2020.
"We come at the concept of canned cocktails from the angle of solving a problem," says Weed. "Our products are all 6 percent ABV [alcohol by volume] and designed for someone who wants to have a drink in the park after skiing or while they are camping. Some of these other cocktails people are putting on the market are 10 percent ABV and so strong most people wouldn't be able to function afterwards."
Challenges: Utah is a control state, which means the state government has control over the wholesale and retail sale of distilled spirits. Weed says this makes it extremely difficult to get new products into the liquor stores. "It's challenging to get our portfolio of cocktails out for people to try," he continues. "It hinders our ability to grow large enough to be able to focus on moving outside of Utah as well."
The company has also dealt with supply-chain issues during the pandemic. "We've had upwards of six-week delays at some points for getting cans," Weed says. "We've been barely able to eke by at times in production just because of can supplies."
Opportunities: Weed says that Simplicity's new production facility is going to allow for more research and development as well as product testing. "It will also enable us to have more flexibility and control over our own ability to supply the public," he adds.
Needs: Weed says that a consistent supply of cans would be nice. He also expects Simplicity Cocktails to invest in additional equipment and materials as they expand their product portfolio by early spring.