This is part of a series of posts sharing conversations with our local farmers and producers. Our suppliers are working harder than ever as they navigate their way through the Covid-19 crisis. Each of their stories is as unique as the products they offer. And more than ever, we are grateful for their hard work, resilience, and ingenuity.
Q-and-A with Wood Stove Kitchen
This small, family-owned company makes delicious, all-natural mixers that aren’t too sweet and are excellent in summer beverages—both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. And the owners are super nice people. They’ve done a couple of tastings with us (back in pre Covid-19 days), and we just love working with them.
Not surprisingly, they promptly responded to our request for an update on how business is going. Here’s what they had to say:
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your business?
A. Our founder, Steve, started the business in late 2017 after a career working with the United Nations in war zones and disaster-affected areas around the world. That year we had only one product—our holiday-spiced Mulling Syrup— for making mulled wine and cider. In 2018, we added our honey-lemon-ginger Hot Toddy Mix, which drew a strong following. We decided to expand into cocktail and mocktail mixers in 2019 and have seen our sales grow incredibly well. Our products were in around 85 stores in mid-2019 and will soon be in more than 500 later in 2020. Customers love the fact that we only use truly whole and natural ingredients—and that almost every one of our products has six or fewer ingredients. Plus, they taste amazing.
Q. What makes your product unique or special?
A. We try to only offer flavors that others aren’t doing. Blueberry & Lavender and Grapefruit & Rosemary have proven incredibly popular, along with Strawberry & Basil. Customers love that they can use our drink mixers with or without alcohol—with liquor, wine, prosecco, iced tea, lemonade, or seltzer—and that we avoid sugar or corn syrup and only rely on local clover honey.
Q. Who do you rely on as your customer base?
A. Our customers have impeccable taste 😉 They come from all walks. We find our Hot Toddy Mix and Mulling Syrup at high school football games, as well as at high-end weddings and events in places like Newburyport and Nantucket.
Q. How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your business?
A. Our products often rely on people seeing our products on the shelf, checking out the natural ingredients, and dropping a bottle or two in their carts. Those single sales have tended to lead to repeat customers and even some online sales for us. That hasn’t happened so much due to COVID-19, and it’s hard to get new customers during a crisis. We found ourselves with a decision—spend big on online marketing in hopes of getting more direct-to-consumer sales or, alternatively, reaching out to shop managers and buyers who (for once!) had the time to actually read the mail. We chose the latter strategy and reached out to hundreds of new stores and were lucky enough to have really grown our relationships as a result.
Q. What changes have you made to adapt to the current situation?
A. We honestly haven’t made that many changes. We added some new products before the crisis began, and we found that those have really worked well for us.
Q. What is your experience as a business owner now compared to before the crisis?
A. I think that this situation really made us stop and look at some things that we thought were stable and predictable. For instance, we found that prices for bottles went up around 60% very quickly and that a lot of suppliers were tapped out. We found that juice concentrates we rely on were suddenly being hoarded by big companies and suppliers due to concerns about agricultural supply chains. This made us work to develop back-up plans and to identify additional suppliers to help us maintain operations. The result is a business that is far more resilient.
Q. Has there been a “silver lining” in this crisis for you and/or your business? . A. Definitely. We took the time to look at what we were doing and to really develop a consistent strategy to reach out to new retail partners. This has yielded some tremendous opportunities.