By Deena Douara
Neetu Godara is pretty excited about her team’s product, SoCIAL LITE Vodka.
Sure, they’ve been seeing rapid growth, have landed Arlene Dickinson (Dragon's Den) as a partner/investor and have been approved to sell across Ontario, but more importantly – she finally has a boozy beverage she can drink.
Godara, like her partners Kevin Folk and Dan Beach, are active, “very health-conscious” professionals who noticed that the drinks they and their peers enjoyed were typically high in sugar, calories, preservatives and multisyllabic ingredients, and they sucked away energy – particularly the day after.
“I don’t like to pound back beers, I don’t drink coolers because I don’t consume much sugar in my diet, and I do love wine but it’s not always the right moment for wine,” Godara explains. “There’s really, truly, nothing out there that I felt good about drinking.”
So SoCIAL LITE went the other way; Four ingredients: carbonated water, premium Canadian vodka, lime/lemon juice concentrate and natural flavours. It’s gluten-free, local, and 80 calories – the lowest of any ready-to-drink, says Beach, and likely the lowest of any alcoholic drink on the market.
SoCIAL LITE offers Lime Ginger and Lemon Cucumber Mint flavours, and will shortly include Pineapple Mango, as well.
“We wanted a product that was clean, crisp, refreshing … something very easy-drinking,” explains Folk.
The ingredients may be simple but the road to market was anything but. It involved long waits, 1,400 phone calls and a single tweet.
It started with Folk and Beach, who have been friends since their first year at Guelph University, fooling around in the kitchen mixing drinks for their friends.
Beach was a coastal and dive engineer – “super dangerous” – turned business consultant, and Folk worked in project management. When they reconnected years after those first university days, dissatisfied with their work situation, Folk says, “we just looked at each other and went, ‘Why are we working for other people?’”
They mulled over ideas and Folk remembers thinking, “’How hard can it be to get into alcohol?’” (Spoiler alert: It's a little bit hard.)
Soon after, the pair were introduced to marketing guru Godara, and the three clicked. So much, in fact, that these days they spend a lot of time working, eating and hanging out together, talking on the phone 12 times a day when needed.
Their first win happened in Alberta where the alcohol market is deregulated and there are over 1,400 liquor stores. Beach and Folk called every single one of them – while also balancing full-time jobs – until eventually they cracked Alberta’s largest liquor store, Liquor Depot. Next was B.C. and then finally, after a lot of paperwork and three years of effort, their home province of Ontario this year.
Part of making that happen had to do with a single late-night tweet to Arlene Dickinson of Dragon’s Den fame. Having been turned down on Next Gen Den, Godara tweeted the clip to Dickinson mentioning she’d heard she was a vodka drinker. Next thing they knew they were meeting with her. She was a fan, and soon, a partner. “I still can’t believe that happened,” says Godara.
The team says they also got a lot of support from Guelph’s Food Technology Centre, which helped develop the drink’s commercial formula, as well as the Business Development Centre.
SoCIAL LITE plans to be at most of the city’s big summer events and music fests, offering a refreshing summer drink for health-conscious festival-goers in need of a counterbalance to the poutine they just downed.