Owl’s Brew Rebrands, Hires Ex-New Belgium CEO

The founders of Owl’s Brew are gearing up for 2019 as they plan to relaunch the brand with a new identity, and raise as much as $10 million as part of a Series B round of funding. The company also recently hired former New Belgium CEO Christine Perich.

Jennie Ripps, the co-founder of Owl’s Brew, which received an investment from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s ZX Ventures unit in May 2017, told Brewbound that the 5-year-old company is dropping the term “radler” from its ready-to-drink line beginning in January 2019 and becoming “Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea & Botanicals.”

According to Ripps, consumer confusion led to the change, and the new name better reflects “what we do best, which is tea and botanicals.”

Ripps said she and co-founder Maria Littlefield had grown “frustrated” with the tea line’s lack of off-premise retail velocity when their reps weren’t conducting in-store samplings and telling the brand’s story.

“The packaging wasn’t telling the story,” she added. “So people didn’t know to pick it off the shelves.”

After simplifying the names of the Owl’s Brew tea-based cocktail mixer line last year and seeing triple-digit year-over-year growth, Ripps said she and Littlefield began reevaluating the presentation of their line of 60/40 beer-and-tea blends.

“We were confusing,” she admitted, adding that consumers didn’t identify with the term “radler.” “It was just super convoluted and our buyer isn’t looking for beer. Our buyer is looking for something for the beer occasion, but not beer.”

Owl’s Brew determined that its consumers wanted a boozier tea product that spells out the ingredients inside of each can after conducting research with several focus groups. In response, the company’s core four tea products will be named after their blends starting next year:

  • White tea, watermelon and pomegranate
  • Darjeeling tea, hibiscus and strawberry
  • English breakfast tea, lemon and lime
  • Green tea, orange juice and La Colombe cold brew coffee

Owl’s Brew will also increase the alcohol by volume (ABV) of those offerings from 3.8 percent to 5 percent. The liquid will also transition from traditional 12 oz. cans to 12 oz. slim cans at a price point of between $9.99 and $11.99 per 6-pack.

The packaging adjustments coincide with a move to add experienced beer industry professionals to the Owl’s Brew team.

Perich, who worked for 16 years with New Belgium before departing the company to become the CEO of non-alcoholic beverage company WTRMLN WTR, joined Owl’s Brew in a senior leadership role via her consulting firm, Perich Advisors, earlier this month after her 2-year non-compete with the Fort Collins-headquartered craft brewery expired. She had stepped down as CEO from WTRMLN WTR due to personal health reasons in October 2017.

Ripps told Brewbound that Perich brings much needed industry experience to the company’s daily operations. She will serve in a leadership position as the rebrand rolls out over the next six-to-nine months, and then transition into an advisory role and obtain a seat on the company’s five-member board of directors. That board is made up of two representatives from ZX Ventures and three from Owl’s Brew.

Perich joins former Heineken USA director of business development Andy Gresho, who came on board with Owl’s Brew in May as VP of sales. Industry consultant Bump Williams has also served in an unpaid advisory role with the company for several years, Ripps added.

Ripps said Gresho has helped Owl’s Brew build its sales team, while also helping rationalize its footprint from 69 wholesalers in 17 states to 24 wholesalers in 12 states. She added that those moves were made to ensure Owl’s Brew is growing “the right way within a footprint that we are able to support.”

“We’d gone too big and kind of spread out too thin,” she said.

So Owl’s Brew pulled out of several faraway markets that it was unable to support with territory managers. The company is now focused on an East Coast footprint that extends from Boston to South Carolina, with a primary focus on the New York market. However, one additional market expansion is in the works for 2019 as Owl’s Brew plans to begin shipments of its boozy teas to Southern California, where Ripps believes a target demographic for Owl’s Brew exists.

Meanwhile, Owl’s Brew is on the verge of launching a Series B funding round later this month with a goal of raising between $5 million and $10 million by the end of the year, Ripps said.

The latest funding round follows a $4 million Series A raise that closed in early 2017. That round included large investments from ZX Ventures, as well as investment firm Cambridge Companies SPG.

Ripps said capital from the latest round would be used to support its new hires, brand relaunch and marketing programs with its wholesalers. Additionally, the company plans to hire six additional sales reps in the first quarter of next year.

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