Maybe it’s no shock given the name, but Spa Girl Cocktails CEO Alisa Marie Beyer has a refreshing, clear attitude about the 100 percent plant-based, ready-to-drink vodka cocktail’s target audience: “The women who buy Spa Girl Cocktails — they’re done with being told how to drink their beverages.”
What Beyer is referring to are the frivolous drinks often marketed to women: sugar-bombs masquerading behind fruit flavors, insipid low-ABV “hard” seltzers that take all the punch (and all the fun) out of imbibing. “I was so surprised that the drinks marketed to women tend to be low-ABV, high in calories, high-carb, and overly flavored and frankly taste either bland or just plain terrible,” says Beyer. While Spa Girl Cocktails delivers on the growing consumer demand for mindful drinking, the difference is, for all that light-bodied clean flavor, Spa Girl Cocktails doesn’t sacrifice the fun, frisky stronger spirit women sometimes (really, really) want.
Beyer knows a thing or two about what women want. The CEO led the acquisition of Spa Girl Cocktails and the signing of an exclusive national distribution agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits in October 2019. After a successful career in the beauty industry, Beyer is known as a “turnaround CEO,” meaning she’s a highly savvy, intuitive brand builder who can read markets like a champion golfer reads the green. Before joining San Diego-based Spa Girl Cocktails, Beyer built and sold five successful companies, all targeted toward female consumer brands.
Over an intense year-plus (that included a $2.5 million funding seed round and pivoting their entire marketing strategy during a global pandemic), Beyer and her team (many of whom are on their third of fourth company with Beyer) have taken the company from several hundred cases to 20,000 in a single year, and are now on track to sell over 65,000 cases in 2021. “Alisa created a framework and a dream for the company with a strong turnaround plan, dedicated team, and laser-like focus on the goals,” says Ray Lane, lead investor in Spa Girl Cocktails, “She is the type of CEO who gets out in front and stays there.”
Despite the obstacles brought on by the last year, Spa Girl launched in 13 national chain retailers, including CVS, Whole Foods, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Safeway, Ralphs, and more. The company’s clean cocktails are now sold in over 1,000 retailer locations across its key markets. “Our strategy has always been to go deep within our markets, not wide,” says Robin McGee, chief revenue officer at Spa Girl Cocktails. “We are focused on driving sales in the high-value states that matter most: California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Georgia. We’ll be opening up Florida as our key expansion state in 2021 in addition to opening military commissaries.”
But it isn’t just the team’s resolute focus that makes it work. Beyer runs the company with Haines’s original vision for the Spa Girl brand. After all, just because a beverage is plant-based with all-natural ingredients doesn’t mean it has to drink like the third day of a juice cleanse.
Far from it. Haines’s inspiration for Spa Girl came from none other than the classic heavy hitter, the Vodka Martini. A consummate entertainer with a love of Palm Springs (the cans are designed with the pattern of Palm Springs breeze blocks) Haines found herself mixing up drinks for her friends, including variations on summery, poolside Vodka Martinis. Her friends adored her concoctions and Haines realized she was stirring up something more than a good time: She had a marketable product. In 2018, she began turning out higher-ABV beverages that still appealed to cleaner, health-conscious SoCal crews — giving them a gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, good time on a lean vodka backbone.
Vodka, FYI, is the keyword for Spa Girl Cocktails. Next to that easy, breezy California vibe, vodka is the spiritual (so to speak) basis of the brand and its cornerstone ingredient. Because of its column distillation, vodka is one of the purest and cleanest flavors you’ll find in the entire world of distilling. That’s a lot of room for a brand to play, and a lot of consumer demand.
“Consumers, especially female consumers, want vodka,” says Beyer. “Vodka has a clean taste, fewer toxins, and less hangover risk, making it the most versatile spirit for a better-for-you drink.” Haines’s idea for a vodka-based RTD cocktail arrived at the perfect time. “We chose to source our premium, corn-based vodka from a family-owned farm in the Midwest,” Beyer explained. “It produces the best sweet corn in the U.S. This naturally sweetens our cocktails without having to add as much sugar.”
Today, Spa Girl has its distillery in Mira Loma, just west of Los Angeles, where the corn-based vodka gets a Spa Girl makeover. “Once the vodka arrives in our SoCal distillery, [it] is distilled and purified six times, giving our cocktails a clean taste that everyone loves,” Beyer says. With this ultra-light, purified base ingredient, “we add pure cane sugar and natural flavors derived from essential fruit oils to give our cocktails their award-winning flavor.”
And that’s really what differentiates Spa Girl Cocktails. Where other brands sneak modest ABV into bland, watery hard seltzers to hide two-dimensionality behind bubbles, Spa Girl (both still and seltzers) is all about its flavors. “Spa Girl Cocktails is a flavor brand,” says Beyer. “We take pride in our award-winning, all-natural flavors. The No. 1 thing our consumers talk about when they try our cocktails is taste.”
Taste is also where Beyer brought in her “turnaround CEO” savvy — she wasn’t just looking to pluck ideas from a cupboard or (least of all) presumed “competition.” No, the brand did its homework. “We conducted tons of market research,” another name for asking consumers what they want. The results? They identified “flavors women prefer” and created their core lineup “based on that research: Pear, Cucumber, Peach, Strawberry, Pineapple, and Mango.” These flavors are available in Spa Girls’ two formats — still vodka cocktails and vodka seltzers, but certain fan favorites prevail. “By consumer demand, we’ll be adding a Mango Vodka Seltzer this summer,” Beyer says.
In addition to the company’s extensive consumer research, it is also all about product innovation. Spa Girl Cocktails will be releasing its new product line, Spa Girl Boozy Pops ™. “Inspired by our premium line of vodka seltzers, our adult-only boozy pops are stirring up a new wave of summer drinking. The same great low-cal, better-for-you flavors will soon be available in frozen pops and are sure to be consumers’ new favorite way to catch a buzz poolside” says Beyer.
Because it’s Spa Girl, and staying true to Karen Haines’s original vision, all the flavors are “derived from natural aromatic compounds (through distillation) and essential oils (through extraction)” instead of artificial additives — which is likely why Spa Girl drinks have such fresh, fruity, delicate aromatics — and why the young brand is already award-winning. And let’s not forget the ABV. Consider this: A can of White Claw has 100 calories at just 5 percent ABV (think: watery Bud Light). A serving of any of Spa Girl’s Vodka Seltzers is 66 calories with 11.5 percent ABV, which is closer to a nice Pinot Grigio. The math, which we won’t do here, is pretty clear. And when Spa Girl does get close to 100 calories per serving, the ABV goes right up with it: The Pear, Peach, and Cucumber Vodka Cocktails are all 96 calories per serving with 16.5 percent ABV — that’s higher ABV than even the most power-packed Napa Valley Cabernet.
The idea isn’t high booze, it’s proportion. “The reality is women want a better-for-you, healthier buzz, without having to consume all the calories and sugar,” says Beyer. “That is why Spa Girl Cocktails is starting to get a cult-like following.”
She’s not kidding. Even in a ridiculously crowded, competitive market (off-premise dollar sales of RTD cocktails grew 86.8 percent by August 2020), Spa Girl is getting noticed. This comes as no surprise seeing that the brands’s premium vodka cocktails and premium vodka seltzer are perfectly positioned to dominate two of the fastest-growing alcohol categories in the market. In fact, Haines, Beyer, and chief revenue officer Robin McGee became the first women on the cover of California-based BIN Magazine in years. The team went from a party idea to a powerhouse brand, with a ready-made, free-spirited social media platform. And they have no plans of stopping.
Not even Covid and the unprecedented lockdown could stop the brand. Instead of shuttering, going dormant, or wildly repurposing itself, Spa Girl did a power pivot, leaning more heavily on cans than its 750-milliliter bottles. It also launched its online platform and began establishing itself as a brand with fun, easily accessible luxury. (In a slightly shut-down world, becoming a Spa Girl is the next best thing to vacation.) Really, Beyer saw Covid restrictions as something to manage, not panic over. “Without a doubt, Covid advances the need to get Spa Girl Cocktails to our consumer, no matter where she lives in the U.S.,” she says. Nor is Spa Girl just for women — the beverage was created to deliver clean, strong, low-cal vodka to underserved female palates, but the product is for everyone. And now it’s available to plenty of thirsty consumers.
“It’s been really exciting to see how the brand connects with our consumers,” says Beyer, “Spa Girl Cocktails was founded as a true lifestyle brand, and when looking at our consumer purchase data, this is just reaffirmed. Whether she’s 25 or 65, our woman is all about a mindset, not an age-set. She is social and loves to celebrate with her girlfriends, she is wellness-focused and tries to be as healthy as she can (while still enjoying a drink, or two), and she loves a good cocktail that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about indulging in.”
In October 2020, Spa Girl Cocktails successfully launched its online business, allowing the brand to ship to 28 states. Not only is that an incredible amount of growth in an incredibly difficult year, it means more people across the country get to experience that easy, breezy California vibe with a vodka kick. In April 2021, Spa Girl Cocktails will launch its subscription program, so consumers will always be stocked up on their favorite vodka beverages. This will be the first vodka cocktail subscription business in the country. Another cheers-worthy move for Spa Girl Cocktails? The company is in conversation with several A-list celebrities to come in as a co-owner in its $5 million Series A round. Beyer says, “We see male celebrities coming in and helping to build and then profiting from billion-dollar booze brands,. It’s time to give a kick-ass female celebrity the same opportunity.
“We’re excited for what 2021 will bring for us and our Spa Girl community and we’re ready to celebrate with a cocktail that is the life of the whole damn party,” Beyer says. So, why not you, too? Seriously, when we can’t travel or get together as much as we’d like, grabbing a Rainbow Pack of Spa Girl cocktail varieties is an easy way to bring those fun, refreshing California vibes home. And once it is time to party again, well, you’ll be ready, SoCal-style.
Published: March 12, 2021