We all know about White Claw, Truly and other hard seltzer brands that have flooded liquor store shelves these past few years. But if you’re looking for a real liquor-based seltzer, CANTEEN is what you need. This vodka-based ready-to-drink beverage is 99 calories, sodium free, non-gmo, and gluten free since it uses a corn-based vodka that is distilled and filtered. Moreover, it doesn’t have a weird after taste that is common with seltzers that are “sweetened” with sugar alcohol.
“The main difference you’ll find in CANTEEN is that we use a real vodka base alcohol vs. a malt or fermented white sugar alcohol which has a noticeable after-taste and bitterness,” says Brandon Cason, CEO of CANTEEN.
“One of the most important features of the brand is that we have zero sugar and no carbs. There are plenty of brands in the category that are full of sugar and carbs which make them hard to enjoy and much less sessionable. CANTEEN is not filling and is light and refreshing and can be enjoyed on the go or at home.”
In 2010, Cason joined Deep Eddy Vodka as one of the brands’ first employees and in just six years as VP of Marketing, he helped to increase sales to 2.5 million cases annually and successfully led Deep Eddy to become one of the fastest growing spirits brands in the US.
Seven years later in 2017, Cason co-founded Waterloo Sparkling Water, a zero-calorie sparkling water brand available in numerous innovative flavor varietals, and sold 100 million cans during first year in market.
Fast forward to today, and this brand is on a mission to offer a breakthrough, better-for-you alternative to other malt liquor seltzers; blending real vodka and all-natural ingredients to create an adventure-ready canned cocktail.
Let’s see what’s in store for CANTEEN.
We chatted with Brandon Cason, CEO of CANTEEN, on how CANTEEN came about, competition, his previous experience with major brands Deep Eddy and Waterloo and more. Here’s what he had to say.
How did the idea of CANTEEN come about?
My partner and I had been mixing up vodka soda drinks at home for years. I was head of marketing at Deep Eddy Vodka for seven years and so vodka was the go-to libation around my house. I left my post there to cofound Waterloo Sparkling Water back in early 2017 and from that point on, it was a no-brainer to mix Waterloo with Deep Eddy Vodka.
About that same time, the seltzer craze was taking hold of America and we started watching the alcohol trends completely shift. Daniel Barnes and I recognized that there wasn’t a real option for consumers who wanted a ‘spirit-based’ seltzer that also delivered a refreshing experience and contained no sugar or carbs.
We also knew that the wine and spirits wholesaler network was being threatened by the new popularity of hard seltzers and that they’d be looking to fight with something that fit their portfolio and also made sense for consumers who wanted a premium trade-up to malt-based seltzers. That’s when CANTEEN was born.
What separates CANTEEN from other ready-to-drink seltzers and alcoholic canned drinks?
The main difference you’ll find in CANTEEN is that we use a real VODKA base alcohol vs. a malt or fermented white sugar alcohol which has a noticeable after-taste and
bitterness. One of the most important features of the brand is that we have ZERO sugar and NO carbs. There are plenty of brands in the category that are full of sugar and carbs which make them hard to enjoy and much less sessionable. CANTEEN is not filling and is light and refreshing and can be enjoyed on the go or at home.
How has your background and experience with Deep Eddy and Waterloo set you up for success with this venture?
My previous brands were really the catalyst for where I have ended up in my career without a doubt. Essentially it’s the union of two liquids into one. No matter what brand I’ve been a part of, it’s always been mission critical that we have a huge focus on quality ingredients and product.
At Deep Eddy we were the first to use real fruit juice in our flavored vodkas. At the time that was unique and set us apart from the rest of the flavored vodka madness. At Waterloo Sparkling we had an emphasis on total transparency in everything we put inside the can. We made a big push to secure the Non-GMO Project Verified status and made sure that every can we sold was BPA Free well before some states started to mandate.
Has Covid affected sales at all? Or maybe even helped to boost them?
We certainly saw a big impact as did many brands in our space. During the height of the early lockdowns, we did have a good pop because consumers weren’t just buying some things… they were buying everything. We had a decent spring as a result but once the peak of summer kicked in, we were flying off the shelf and had a real challenge getting access to more production capacity to keep up with demand.
As a result of that flex in demand, and the challenges with being able to react adequately to it, we decided we had to make an investment in our own production facility so that in the event we had more spikes in the future, we would not be at the mercy of others’ line time. We also leaned into our team and doubled our sales force over the summer hiring many very capable individuals who had been caught up in layoffs and furloughs. That’s something we are very proud of.
What do you think the ready-to-drink market is looking like in 2021 and beyond?
Consumers will continue to demand portability in their drinks. As seltzers continue to be a driver in consumption, so will the appetite for new brands and new offerings that continue to deliver ‘better-for-you’ attributes but are a step up from what most brands are offering. We believe there will be more and more popular brands launching new innovation across all spirit types.
There will also be NEW brands that will emerge including our two new brands Cantina Especial which is a low-proof, low calorie Tequila Soda which will launch in 3 unique flavors this Spring as well as our Waterloo Botanicals Gin Spritz brand which is a unique twist on a refreshing gin soda.
Why does the market need CANTEEN?
Consumers need a better for you cocktail that offers premium taste with zero sugar and no carbs, for healthier enjoyment.
What are the most popular flavors and is there anything in the works?
Watermelon and Black Cherry are our top sellers but we just launched Strawberry this fall and it’s already pacing to be our #1 flavor soon. In the spring we will be launching our fresh take on Pineapple and look forward to several more flavor innovations by the end of the year. Cheers!