Natural Flavoring — The Real Deal featuring Maria Littlefield, Owl’s Brew
Unfortunately, when a food label says “natural flavoring,” their origins are still a little hazy. To earn the “natural” label, the FDA only requires that the original base is something from the earth. That means your raspberry flavoring could be made from animal by-products or other unclean ingredients.
Unless you’re talking about Owl’s Brew. When they say your drink is raspberry flavored — it was made from real, red, and ripe raspberries. No chemicals, no sugar substitutes, and no funny business. Just amazingly delicious and totally clean boozy teas.
In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, Diana Fryc is joined by Maria Littlefield, Co-founder and COO of Owl’s Brew, to discuss her journey to revolutionize the brewing business. Maria talks about why she started making boozy teas, how she upheld the standard of real, fresh ingredients, and the importance of empowering young women in the beverage industry.
In this episode we learn:
- Maria Littlefield shares the inspiration behind Owl’s Brew
- Maria describes the development process of their boozy beverages
- How Maria knew she was on the right track
- Maria’s biggest lesson: learning to be a leader
- Owl’s Brew’s efforts to empower women in the beverage industry: Wise Women Collective
- How Owl’s Brew raised money for a new business in the middle of a pandemic
- Why most “natural” ingredients aren’t actually natural
About Maria Littlefield
Maria Littlefield is the Co-founder and COO of Owl’s Brew. Owl’s Brew makes boozy beverages with 100% real ingredients. Their fresh-brewed tea, fruit, and botanicals have no artificial flavors, sugar substitutes, or parabens. Maria has been chosen by Forbes as “30 Under 30” among food and beverage entrepreneurs and has been selected as “35 Under 35 Food Entrepreneurs” by the Specialty Food Association.
Maria is also the Co-author of Wise Cocktails, a book about tea cocktails. She graduated from Skidmore College and lives in New York City. Previously, she was a Partner at Brew Lab Tea and the Director of Integrated Marketing at Talent Resources.
Guests Social Media Links:
LinkedIn Maria Littlefield: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maria-littlefield-47267b16/
- Maria Littlefield on LinkedIn
- Owl’s Brew
- Owl’s Brew on Instagram
- Wise Women Collective
- Christine Perich on LinkedIn
- Diana Fryc on LinkedIn
- Retail Voodoo
- Mary Berry on the Gooder Podcast
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo.
Retail Voodoo has been building beloved and dominant brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness CPG industries for over 30 years. They’ve served multinational companies like PepsiCo. and Starbucks, startups like High Key, and everything in between.
Their proven process guides hundreds of mission-driven consumer brands to attract a broad and passionate fan base, crush their categories through growth and innovation, and magnify their social and environmental impact.
So, if you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, Retail Voodoo is here to help.
Visit retail-voodoo.com or email email@example.com to learn more.
Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:43
Hi, Diana Fryc here, I’m the host of the Gooder Podcast where I get to talk to the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. Thanks again for joining us and welcome to those of you that are new. Really quick. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. Retail Voodoo is a brand development firm our clients our clients, I can say that easily right include Starbucks kind Rei, PepsiCo high key and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food wellness and beverage, and fitness industries. If your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk you can find out more at www.retail-voodoo.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’ll talk some more. Today we get to meet Miss Maria Littlefield who is the Co-founder and CEO of Owl’s Brew. Maria has been chosen by Forbes as 30 under 30 among food and beverage entrepreneurs and has been selected as 35 under 35. food entrepreneurs by the Specialty Food Association. Yes, I love that group. Maria is the co-author of Wise Cocktails, which came out in October of 2015. And is a book cocktail mixer book about tea cocktail. So be on the lookout for that. Well, welcome Maria, how are you today?
Maria Littlefield 2:39
I’m great. Thank you so much. How are you?
Diana Fryc 2:41
I’m doing great. And you are on the East Coast. Is that right?
Maria Littlefield 2:46
Yes. New York.
Diana Fryc 2:47
New York. Proper city. Proper. Right. Right
Maria Littlefield 2:51
in the heart of it. Yes. Yeah. All the good,
Diana Fryc 2:56
all the good and all the mayhem. All the good. And all the mayhem? Well, I’m really glad that I finally was able to meet with you. I think I told you before we started recording that I’ve had a girl crush and been following Owl’s Brew since the very beginning. So a little bit of opportunity to kind of meet somebody that I admire for the work that they do. And flattered. Thank you. Oh, sure. Of course, of course. So let’s just start with the basics. This is what I asked everybody, I want to start with your brand. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Owl’s Brew, and why it exists?
Maria Littlefield 3:32
Sure. Um, so Owl’s Brew, well, to take you kind of back to the beginning, the whole idea with Owl’s Brew was always this idea that you can drink better, and that when you were having a cocktail, you didn’t, you don’t need to have like all these weird additives and everything that we kind of peeled away as we started looking deeper and deeper into this category. But it really all started. Jenny had a family member who was ill and she started researching ingredients that added benefits. And she stumbled upon the whole world of teen botanicals and was just like, amazed that you could drop something in water and have antioxidant properties and immune boosting properties and vitamin C and all this incredible stuff, not to mention also like make these incredibly delicious blends and so she started blending teas in our office we worked together at the time in marketing and first year making me non LTS and you know, at that time, we were also pretty social having a lot of cocktails and both were really just like sick of like how terrible you felt the next day I miss the cocktail. You need to have a bucket of sugar every time you have like a tequila cocktail. Thank you. Yeah. And so we started making cocktails using Team botanicals as a base. And first of all, they were like freaking awesome. And we’re like oh my god was Noah doing this. You had all these incredible flavors, but you also had this like really clean, delicious beverage And so that was really the the initial insight. We started brewing tea for friends and hosting tea cocktail parties and doing all sorts of stuff like that. And realize that, you know, people, we weren’t the only ones who felt that way. And like people still like to drink but also drink know what they’re drinking when they’re, they’re drinking and yeah, so yeah, so Owl’s Brew boozy tea company and we make all clean, clean ingredients. Everything we do is as Yeah, made from whole real, real stuff. None of that. None of that funny stuff.
Diana Fryc 5:32
Funny stuff. I love it. I love it. So you, you and Jenny, work together before Owl’s Brew. Is that right? Did I hear you? Okay? Yep.
Maria Littlefield 5:41
We were coworkers at a marketing firm. Okay, so
Diana Fryc 5:44
you guys knew each other for a while?
Maria Littlefield 5:47
Yes. Kind of a fun fact. Jenny actually hired me to for sandwich in New York as an intern. No. So I have been working with Jenny my entire time in New York. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 5:57
Oh, my goodness. Oh, I bet there are some. I bet there is some really interesting stories back there to talk with that’s a opportunity to do a boozy tea over that I will lie. We have all the stories. We have all the stories. That’s like 14 episodes, we’re going to have to record this. But I was I’ll tell you, I was working on getting my MBA. And this was joining me last night as I was excellent working on my paper. I was like, wondering, I’m like, how more? How busy. Is this going to go? How creative? Is my paper going to be on? Business? Yeah.
Maria Littlefield 6:40
Get the creative juices flowing a little,
Diana Fryc 6:42
a little bit? A little bit. We’ll see what that grape comes back at Hey, yeah, let me know. Oh, my gosh. Well, so tell us a little bit about the early days. Now. You said you tested that concept out with some friends and families. But in the development process, was this literally just you guys in the kitchen? Or was this? Were you working with r&d? Like why? So beverage? Were you working with beverage companies? Tell us a little bit more about that?
Maria Littlefield 7:10
Yeah. So um, yeah, to be honest, it really started in a kitchen. We used to literally brew in buckets, and make different concoctions and we actually kind of parallel paths. At the same time, Jenny, also. So Jenny kept brewing and blending all different teas. And she started doing tea blends for restaurants and coffee shops and hotels in the city. All like sweet greens, teas and public hotel and some of the group and a lot of really awesome partners with our Tea Company, which was our first kind of foray into this space, brew lab. And brew lab we actually exited we no longer own that company. But that’s how we that so we started that and then we started making tea cocktails and buckets. And literally, like we were just blend up different things. And at events, we always were like, Hey, do you have water? And like some of these are some of the funny stories we’re talking about? Because you know, people would be like, Yeah, we have plenty of water and you get there and you’re brewing for like 1000 people and there’s like an automatic sink and you’re like, Are you kidding? Like, are like brewing in our hotel room? Like, oh, no, about Art Basel. We were like doing some events. And we were supposed to be allowed in the kitchen. But it was like too busy. And they’re like, you have to figure it out. So we like brewed for 500 people, oh my gosh, for some rum company in our hotel room. So low. So. So we literally started brewing in buckets, like no exaggeration. And as so that was really how we tested the market and understood like what flavors were people were really drawn to. And long story story short, we launched the mixers first, which I’m sure you know about. And then read most recently launched our boozy teas. But for both it’s been kind of like a really eye opening experience. And this is when we really started to understand some of the kind of hidden things if you will in the industry, because when we went to produce what we were doing, everyone directed us to a flavor house and they’re like, oh noes. You have to go to a flavor house and they’ll remake your flavors. And yeah, like why we just brew it like this, we want this and we do it in our kitchen and it tastes great and right plus you’re getting all the benefits because you’re drinking fresh brewed tea. And everyone directed us to a flavor house and then we started looking into like, what the heck wants a flavor house unless why? You know, and then of course, like the whole world with natural flavors is right another thing we can talk about Yeah, but right not not so natural, made from chemicals. And so that was the kind of the craziest moment for us and then took us a really long time both with both the mixer and boozy teas to find partners that would actually fresh brew the tea and that has been one of our like non negotiables from the beginning, is actually using whole reel ingredients, nothing added. And that’s why we say we’re a clean, boozy beverage because we don’t use natural flavors, no artificial flavors like no sugar substitute some of that weird stuff or funny stuff, as I said before. And it you know, it was it was really hard for us to find a partner who was willing to actually fresh brew the tea because that process is not something that people are doing a beverage right now,
Diana Fryc 10:19
right. Now, you have a common thread of common story here when we rebranded dry soda. Not this last time, but the time before, it’s been six or seven years when we rebranded and Shirelles, who’s the founder of dry soda had a very similar story where she had been directed to take all of her flavor innovation to a flavor house. And as part of our brand development with her, we said, you need to bring that back in. Because at your size, and what you’re trying to do in the market, it doesn’t, it doesn’t make sense, I think flavor houses have their place. But when they’re when you’re working, like when you’re a brand like Owl’s Brew, and you’re pretty confident that you know what you want. Sometimes those flavor houses can talk you out of things that are right for you in the brand. And that sounds probably really hard and some fierce conversations that you guys had to had with yourself. And with with your team, right?
Maria Littlefield 11:19
Absolutely. And I mean, it’s all you know, it’s, it’s hard to stick by your your core all the time, right. And like, of course, there’s easier, there’s easier paths and the one we’ve taken, right? Certainly, and you know, a lot of people use them too, because they’re, you know, more cost efficient and all that kind of stuff. But that, you know, that’s that’s not why we started this. We started this to have like, a cleaner way to drink and better, better for you products while you’re drinking. And so that, for us has always meant using like, good clean ingredients, and absolutely figuring out how to make it work.
Diana Fryc 11:54
Yes, yes. Now, when you think back on your time, was there? I always ask us that. Was there a singular? There’s usually more than singular, but what is there something that pops in your mind as being like this main Aha, that took you to in the right direction? Or at least gave you that moment of like, you we’ve got something here? This is this is headed in the right direction?
Maria Littlefield 12:20
Um, I don’t know. Yeah, I saw your question about one singular moment. And as you just said, there’s like one singular moment, but a lot of building of moments. And this general, when we first first started doing this, and serving our friends, you know, there was very little kind of, I don’t know, understanding about better for your drinking, it was like, when you were drinking it all, nothing mattered. And there was a big non ALC movement on better for you beverages, right, like the computers and all the benefits and all this stuff that started happening and non ALC and really started trickling into ALC. And so So I think, you know, we’ve we’ve been saying that cleveleys beverage for a long time, but I feel like there’s just more general consumer understanding about what that means. And like that, that is a possibility. And I so we’ve kind of, I think we’ve really built along with that. It’s much less of like, oh, you can have like a good clean beverage noun people like, oh, great, like tea botanicals, boozy, clean, good ingredients. Like I get it, you know? So So I think that for us, you know, I think we were really early into this kind of, I don’t know, trend, I guess you would say about, you know, just cleaner. Hopefully it’s on trend, hopefully. And you know, it’s just here to say because I always say like, once you have something that’s better using clean ingredients, why would you ever go back? But anyway, so So I don’t think it was one single moment. But I think a lot of building and I think a lot of education around beverage category in general. Both now because Yeah. That’s really you helped us build?
Diana Fryc 13:56
Okay, that makes a lot of sense. And then would you say that there was like, when did you start to see traction? When you became this legit, legit CPG brand? I don’t know. At what point does somebody consider them? Yes, legit,
Maria Littlefield 14:12
but I’m what does that mean? Yeah. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 14:15
Like, when did you guys kind of go okay, you know, we got in here, or, you know, so and so invested in us was, you know, what, where was? Where was the attraction for you guys?
Maria Littlefield 14:28
Um, things. So we launched boozy tea at the top of 2020. Okay. And I think that’s really when when things, you know, really shifted for us. The kind of conscious consumption from non ALC had just started really to translate into ALC. And I mean, I think the seltzer category is a great example of that. Yeah, right. At least in terms of like people, sorry, your good thinking, thinking about what is in their beverage And you know, I wouldn’t, I don’t agree with all their ingredients, but they’re definitely like lower carb, lower calorie, lower sugar, just, you know, a much like, kind of stripped down nutrition panel, which especially if you look at any of like the other FM B’s and right, heavy beers is way different from how they’re doing. Yeah, you know, 510 years ago so that that movement really kind of set the stage for us to build with what we have with ZTE now,
Diana Fryc 15:31
okay. Okay. Good. So, now at the same time, as your brand is doing all of this, is there anything that is, you know, I always like to say that, when people are building brands, there’s two kinds of learning, there’s really probably more there’s the business of learning. And then there’s the you of learning, like, as you are growing with a brand and building the brand. Were you find any, any things? Were you finding yourself developing in certain ways that you found interesting or frustrating? That was helping you or hindering you along the way in, in this in the brand’s development? Yeah.
Maria Littlefield 16:10
I mean, start off by saying, everydays learning. There’s no like manual for building, building a brand. And certainly not when you’re trying to do something that’s different. But you know, personally, it’s like a one thing to have. And I think Jenny would probably say something similar, it’s, you know, one thing to have this insight, and it’s like, you know, true belief in what, what we’re doing, but it’s also everything that you’re building around that to make it succeed. Like, you know, we’ve had to learn a lot of leadership skills, and like, you know, we need an awesome team to help us build this. And so we had to learn how to manage and grow a team. And then, you know, from the inner workings of the business, it’s like, everything from production, to right sourcing, to sales, to marketing, you know, you you have to learn a lot of that. And it’s all very, like industry specific in terms of like, what works and what doesn’t, and what strategies work and so, so all of that, but I would say that the biggest thing for us or for me, has really been, you know, learning to be a leader.
Diana Fryc 17:15
What am I a leader has such a squishy definition, what do you mean by that?
Maria Littlefield 17:20
Within a team, you know, growing and building a team and, and all the all the things that go around with that, you know, helping to motivate them. And, you know, everyone, I think for one thing that’s been interesting for me is that, you know, there’s no like, at least my my leadership style. It’s not, you, I don’t, you can just manage everybody the same. That’s for sure. People need different things to grow and succeed. And our team is, is how we’ve been able to get where we are. I mean, they’re like, the most important thing to the brand. And so making sure that we’re, we’re nurturing them and, and giving opportunities and challenging them, then all, you know, sharing in our, our successes and our challenges together has been something that has been, you know, a big growth for me, I think.
Diana Fryc 18:10
Now, when you kind of think back at this, again, there’s no like, singular moment, right? But when you think back, what are a couple of those moments of pride that you have, either for yourself as a leader or for the brand? You might have an example of both?
Maria Littlefield 18:29
Yeah, yeah. And I would say for the brand, it’s always somebody tries it for the first time. Like, that’s always what has driven me from the very beginning. It’s just the reaction of people when they drive for the first time. And there’s like, you know, at one point, we did like some funny videos about people’s first reaction. Oh, really? Really? It really isn’t like, anything you’ve tried before? No. And yeah, you’re drinking wine.
Diana Fryc 18:59
Yeah, I mean, you’ve got the especially especially the boozy teas, which the boozy tea was new for me. Because I was familiar with the previous like, the original the OG Owl’s Brew. And so the it’s a it’s a sophisticated flavor profile. And yet it has a simpleness to it. And I can imagine, even for those that have tried everything in the market, this is something that you’ll have a you’ll there’ll be a response like could because it is a new it is new.
Maria Littlefield 19:32
Yeah, no, I mean, I love I love hearing people’s responses for the first time and like usually the excitement and the kind of surprise for so for me that that’s really that’s, that’s the best. That’s the best moment.
Diana Fryc 19:45
Awesome, awesome. Now, want to talk a little bit here about just kind of zag for a moment. You know, you guys have been working and developing a product and A pretty male dominated kind of category. Beverage is just its legacy. We’re trying to build our way out of this. We’re trying to, but not just women in general, but just diversity across the board and beverage. And, of course, that’s part of what this podcast is trying to normalize is diversity. When you think back of when you first started versus now, are you seeing the kind of progress? Are we moving in the right direction in beverage? And if so, like, what are you like going? Yeah, back then blank. I couldn’t get a banker or an investor to open a door. Now it looks like this. Do you have any of those like, where’s our progress then?
Maria Littlefield 20:43
Look, I like I always like to think there’s progress, right? Yeah. And I think I think we’re seeing it more. I don’t know the specific stats, but I would say we’re obviously in wine right now.
Diana Fryc 20:56
Maria Littlefield 20:57
I think there’s, I’ve seen, there’s a lot of like, awesome female founded brands that are coming up a lot of chatter, I think in particular, in our category, we still have some work to do. And in the beer category in general, I mean, the statistic is about 4% are really, in leadership through master sales people are women, which is a pretty a pretty small statistic when you think about the who’s buying that category, which is about 60% women, so it’s right. It’s crazy. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s actually, that insight is actually what drove Jenny Nye to start we have a community based program called the Wise Women Collective. Oh. Book Club. It’s book club is part of it. Yep. Okay. Yes. Book Club.
Diana Fryc 21:43
Maria Littlefield 21:44
Yes. And anyway, it’s it’s just a it’s a platform that’s meant to drive conversation and community building. Locally, we support like, local women’s events and local women’s charities. And then we also do some more national programming. And we also have our booty book club. Right now we’re doing a program with keep abreast for breast cancer awareness month. We’re working on for women’s history month in March, and we partnership with Jim McLaughlin, right now and so so just a bunch of community building programs that that we work on through that platform, with the hopes to just you know, kind of bring more people both into the conversation but also into the community.
Diana Fryc 22:27
Hmm, here’s a fun fact for you for your October, October, women’s October thing, the Yeah, the founder of Girl Scouts. I don’t know if your girl scout, but that was, but I’m very familiar. Okay, so the founder of Girl Scouts, and for the life of me, her name escapes me. Her birthday is on October 30, or 31st. I can’t remember. And so the Girl Scouts internally do a big celebration about that. But Girl Scouts, of course, is all about developing girls into business leaders. Like that’s kind of what the foundation that’s what the whole selling cookies is about is planning and finance and forecasting and all of those things that you would never think a third grader could do. But they do. Yeah, yeah. Well, just kind of a different way. But along that line, I’m just kind of, I was talking with somebody. I don’t know. It was it was a couple of few podcasts ago that I that I had, where I was like, how do we break the cycle? like by the time Oh, was it was with phumi. at PepsiCo, how do we break the cycle of diversity? We can’t do it once people are already adults. We’ve already kind of ingrained some, this is the way things are, this is the way things aren’t. And as you guys have been talking in your group, have you guys addressed the whole? Like, how do we get into high schools? How do you know like, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it type of thing. You may not have discussed this at all, but I’m just saying like, how, by the time they’re in college, they’ve already they’re already headed in a direction how do we get this interest sooner? How do we get that this thing is a Brewmaster. into high schools, like what do we do? Do you do you have an idea?
Maria Littlefield 24:21
You know, I think it’s a lot of just about changing the conversation like everyone’s doing now, like normalizing what these roles are for women, right? I think it’s just like a societal conversation is at least my opinion. Like you, you can be a brewmaster you can have a boozy Tea Company. Yeah, why not? Like it doesn’t, you know, these gender roles. I think we still have some work as a society to kind of break down. Yeah, and so and
Diana Fryc 24:49
definitely having those conversations sooner. I think I just don’t know where where to insert it. Where to put it in.
Maria Littlefield 24:57
I yeah, I mean, I think But it’s interesting what in terms of like the alcohol conversation but
Diana Fryc 25:06
beverage in general, right? Yeah,
Maria Littlefield 25:08
Yeah. It’s It’s just I would say like, I mean, maybe Girl Scouts? That sounds like I mean, it’s just normalizing the conversation earlier. Yeah. And like, I think it’s talking about these opportunities and talking about the different paths. Yeah. I still think we have, you know, like, oh, you can we have certain roles that still play into a lot of gender stereotypes with younger generation. So I think for
Diana Fryc 25:36
sure, yeah. And I mean, I even want to say the same thing with alcohol, right? There’s nothing wrong with talking about alcohol at a young age, it’s when we don’t talk about it, that it becomes abused when it’s older, because it becomes taboo or whatever. So, you know, when my kids see that we drink alcohol, and we talk about it. And, and so I would say go for it, you know, talk with I mean, for those that are comfortable, I’ll talk about anything with my kids. But
Maria Littlefield 26:04
no, it’s I mean, our society is very different than a lot of others in terms of that Congress, for sure. Starting it, and people talk about it much earlier. And it’s much more normalized. And it’s not like this. You know,
Diana Fryc 26:17
that? Yes. Yeah, we still bless the United States, we still have our puritanical roots kind of embedded in the weirdest of places, if you ask me. Yeah, yeah. Well, to, you know, kind of moving down the line and where women are, and aren’t in CPG. I want to talk a little bit about fundraising and investment capital, like I think I know, there are not a lot of women that are driving investment funds. But that’s changing. I’ve interviewed a few really amazing people. But yes, I think I heard that you guys have been you guys worked on a fundraise through COVID? Is that true?
Maria Littlefield 26:56
We did we worked on a fundraise through COVID, which, you know, like, all things during COVID launching a brand. I was all, you know, different than anything we’d ever done before. Yes. Jenny really, really took the lead on the fundraising. And she, I don’t think she met anybody in person, she raised our entire series i on Zoom, which is, you know, definitely not something we would have said before. 2020.
Diana Fryc 27:21
Yeah, well, and I think that it’s so interesting that you say that because, of course, when I think of alcohol and spirits and and related, there is a communal component to it just in general. And from a business standpoint, we’re of course accustomed to meeting face to face and all of the trade shows shut down. And, you know, lack of travel. And so I wonder if you felt like you were really able to fully express yourself in those kinds of conversations, or did you guys have to use new new tricks? Like, did you wear fancy hats? I know, I’m being really silly about it. But do you know what I mean? Like, did you find yourself aside from the technology, using different ways to communicate and outreach to these prospective investors? Yeah,
Maria Littlefield 28:08
I mean, I, I think it kind of across the board, it’s just like, we, it was a learning for us in terms of sales, fundraising, everything, it was just really learning how to connect virtually like, we’re doing right now. Right? It’s like, every, like, so I don’t, I don’t know that there was like, one specific thing that we did differently, okay, for the fundraise, but I mean, across the board, it was just like, how, how to connect virtually, it’s like, so different. And, you know, in some ways, it’s, it became a little more personal, which is kind of silly thing to say, but I also but I feel like you’re, you know, zooming and like someone’s kids running around screaming, or your dog is barking or, like, you know, after, you know, we started off being really professional, and then everyone was like, wearing sweatshirts after a while, you know, so, um, so in some ways, like that, I, it was kind of interesting to kind of see everyone in their, like, home environment. And then other ways, it’s completely impersonal. Right? Because you’re just staring at a screen. Yeah. So, you know, we tried, we tried to make it as you know, everything we do, we try to make as engaging as possible. And always, you know, have people have product before and make sure we’re trying it or, you know, all that kind of stuff so that you can like have still had that interaction and do the samplings and all the stuff that we used to do in person. But it’s different, you know, but it’s, we’ve all had to kind of just learn to adjust.
Diana Fryc 29:32
Yeah, did you feel like you and your team like when you say you got more personal was that more with your team? Then maybe with vendors or was it across the board that kind of like yeah, I got to hit know humans better or deeper or differently. Was it across the board?
Maria Littlefield 29:50
I would say it’s across the board. Yeah. Um, I think you know, some people that you wouldn’t necessarily have had a video call with now I like no, you know, I know what they look like. Yeah, it’s like a zoom, whatever it’s like using with everybody now, right? Yeah, it’s like, just we’re gonna pick up the phone and I don’t know who their kids are. But now I do.
Diana Fryc 30:09
Yeah, I hadn’t even thought of that. Yeah. How much is my, how much of my calls were on phones? Right?
Maria Littlefield 30:15
Like, I don’t I honestly don’t think I like maybe had like two zoom meetings. I don’t even think I had zoom on my ear before to be honest. Like everything was either in person or a dialect.
Diana Fryc 30:25
Maria Littlefield 30:26
Yeah. It was. I don’t know. You know, there’s, like I said, there’s also like, a huge value in and, you know, connecting face to face. And yeah, it was obviously different. But
Diana Fryc 30:38
I know, did you just a piece of it? Did you guys end up doing Expo East? You didn’t? Yeah, I was going and then I backed out. Two weeks beforehand. The numbers just started feeling funny to me, but I’m feeling pretty calm, confident about first of all, especially food in Las Vegas. I’m so glad that I mean, I love San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong. But that location was just turning into a shit show. Excuse my Italian as I’m going to say like a little bit wild last era. Yeah. Yeah. So I so I’m, I’m actually pretty excited about where to see what happens. I don’t know if you guys will be going to that. And then. So I’m so excited for Expo West because I’m feeling really confident like that’s gonna go down. That’s that’s happening. For real real.
Maria Littlefield 31:25
I’m hoping we’re at a good place by then. Yeah. Feels like we’re heading in that direction. Finally, finally, fingers crossed.
Diana Fryc 31:32
Fingers crossed this probably. Yeah. Knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, all of it.
Maria Littlefield 31:37
Delete. Delete that forget we said.
Diana Fryc 31:41
Oh, my goodness. Well, Maria, I have really enjoyed speaking with you. And I’m enjoying our conversation is about getting towards the end here. And there’s a few questions that I like to add to ask everybody across the board. They’re just really kind of fun, quick questions. The first one that is always interesting to me is kind of like, do you have like a call at a happy hour? Fact something that people could go? Did you know this about allzu? Or about tea or about the beverage industry? Do you have anything fun to share?
Maria Littlefield 32:15
Lots of fun stuff. Okay, so this is maybe not so fun. I know, I mentioned this before, but I have to say this was like, the most like mind blowing thing for me. Was the deal with natural flavors. And maybe I’ll explain that a little bit more. Yes. Um, almost every beverage and this is not just an alcohol thing, right? Like, no, now it’s everywhere. food you like look, and it says natural flavors. And you’re like, okay, that must be natural and good. And therefore I’m like paying a premium for this natural product. Yes. So when we started getting sent to flavor houses, we started being like, Well, why, you know, they were like, what we’ll use, like, a raspberry flavor. And we’re like, why not just raspberry and like, oh, well, it’s like, you know, we’re like, Well, what’s actually in that? No, like, no, no raspberry. And you’re like, what? Why? And so, the more layers you started pulling back, you just realized that. That’s like, honestly, like a loophole and like FDA labeling and, and the only difference in a natural flavor and an artificial flavor, which we like all know, is bad, right? So artificial, right? Is the the original base of it is from something from the earth. So organic. Uh huh. Not even organic, just like from the earth. Oh, could be like, it could be like a fish or like raspberry, for example, can be made from beaver’s anal glands. Right now. Hey, yeah. Okay, so anyway, all that stuff was like, and that’s why they can’t say that like they’re vegan, because some of them have like, no like products.
Diana Fryc 33:45
Maria Littlefield 33:48
Yep. So that’s my like, fun fact I didn’t I mean, they’re so they’re synthesized in a lab. There they can be made with up to 100 chemicals and there’s like literally no nutritional benefit to having a natural flavor versus an artificial flavor. They’re essentially chemically the same by the time they make it into your product. So that was my like, eye opening factoid.
Diana Fryc 34:11
Oh my goodness. Well, I and of course that’s true across all food products across all categories. And and then also with skincare and supplements. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. I think you have to understand what natural means. Yeah,
Maria Littlefield 34:29
I mean, I think the clean beauty movement is something that we look at a lot. I think that beauty had a similar kind of like hidden ingredient platform that this is prevalent in food and you know our what we say actually like one of our goals is really to be like the clean beauty brand and alcohol like we want to be Suzie tea brand. Yeah. And they had the same thing with like fragrance and what could be hidden in the word fragrance. Exactly like back you’re like wait, what tar like That’s crazy. Yeah,
Diana Fryc 35:01
yeah. Oh, yeah. Sent blockers to make things. Yeah, unscented. Yeah, but you know, it’s a little bit challenging, right. Like, let’s be honest, there’s, you’ve got shelf stable shelf stability, some natural ingredients don’t have a shelf life like there are, there are things sometimes we require some of those artificial things. But I think honesty about that in the labeling,
Maria Littlefield 35:28
I think the transparency is really what it was like, Yeah, you should just know what it is that your is our belief, like, you should know what it is you’re putting Absolutely.
Diana Fryc 35:36
But I think when you’re a brand platform, or not a brand platform, but when you’re a brand like ours brew, and you guys can talk the talk and walk the walk, which you know, your website does, it’ll really kind of add some validity to what you’re trying to deliver. At the end of the day. It’s the ones that go, we are natural, and then you find out that they’re not. And that’s that’s what starts to confuse the consumer, and it upsets people and blah, blah, blah, but I think very, very, very interesting reminder of where artificial comes from. So thanks. Thanks for that. That will be I don’t know how well that’s gonna go over during a happy hour.
Maria Littlefield 36:24
Happy Hour topic. It could be an interesting one.
Diana Fryc 36:28
It could be for some people. It absolutely is.
Maria Littlefield 36:31
Yeah. I was gonna say I can tell you, if you would like a happier,
Diana Fryc 36:36
happier, happy hour. No, no. I mean, if there’s something else you want to share, that’s totally fine. But this one was like, really, really great. I love it memorable, at least? For sure. That is for sure. Are there any other women leaders or rising stars in our industry? Or not that you would like to elevate for the work that they’re doing? Or just simply admire?
Maria Littlefield 37:00
Although women? Oh, go, go ladies. Oh, ladies, but I mean, if I was gonna say one, it would definitely be Christine Perich. She is, was formerly the CEO, COO and CFO of New Belgium, which is actually happens to be one of the very few women owned breweries. Also plug to them. But no, she’s she’s awesome. She’s been an advisor, mentor, for years for us, and is just, she’s a rock star. And she was, you know, definitely one of the first female leaders. So I love that scene.
Diana Fryc 37:42
I’ll have to go and look her up. Yeah, she’s, she’s great. Awesome. What brands or trends in category or not, do you have your eye on and why?
Maria Littlefield 37:54
I’m so I mean, I would definitely say this is in category, but just like the general better for you category, I’m like, super excited about this, like, just like shift at the categories making with like, hard Kombucha is and other, you know, alternative brands and stuff that, you know, is clean and transparent. And all the stuff that we’ve been talking about, I think it really is the future of how we’re all going to drink. And other than that, you know, I guess I just mentioned those two, but clean beauty is I, I’ve looked a lot at that category and the trends there. And you know, they’re a little they’re more established in terms of their clean movement. But I, as we just said they had kind of a similar problem. So I think it’s kind of amazing to see where they are now. And you know, you’re shopping before and you just shop clean. Like yes, that’d be a cool like future in a grocery store. So I’ve, I’ve watched a lot what’s happened in that in that category.
Diana Fryc 38:48
I agree. Her name is escaping me. I interviewed this amazing woman who started a supplement brand clean supplement brand. But before that, she ran a business working with the burgeoning clean ingredient on beauty on the beauty side, because she had science back I wish I could remember her name. Now she has amazing blonde hair. In any case, she talked about the fact that these beauty brands were having a hard time finding manufacturers because of the volume that they needed to do. So she was helping these brands by basically starting a manufacturing or CO man that allowed to package a minimum of 100 100 units so that they could get these products out in the morning market and get trial because the big beauty brands were blocking accessibility and availability. Just brilliant. But she she was the one that talked about a lot of the ingredients used in beauty that were used to mask and so she’s like, not only do you have, you know, products that are non clean that are saying we’re better for you. But this they would do that by using even more ingredients to block all the things that they were saying they would, if that makes any sense what I’m saying
Maria Littlefield 40:11
totally Yeah, you didn’t it’s that’s a whole nother thing. It’s
Diana Fryc 40:14
a whole heap on
Maria Littlefield 40:15
peeling the layers. I can’t even pretend to be an expert on it. But I have also talked to a bunch of people that I like wild, you’re like, Oh, my God.
Diana Fryc 40:23
It’s crazy. Well, we have been talking with Maria Littlefield, the Co-founder and COO of Owl’s Brew, Maria, if people want to learn more about you and Owl’s Brew, where, where would you send them?
Maria Littlefield 40:36
Absolutely. So you can check out our website. It’s theowlsbrew.com. Or follow us on Instagram. It’s @theowlsbrew.
Diana Fryc 40:44
What’s the current Owl’s Brew Fave for you right now?
Maria Littlefield 40:49
So it’s like, it’s very hard to pick a favorite child if you will.
Diana Fryc 40:53
No, no, I just say for today,
Maria Littlefield 40:56
we just launched Hold on. You’re good. We just launched our spice chai and cranberry, which is our seasonal I know. And it’s like cinnamon, cloves, Ginger cardamom with a little bit of cranberry and apple. No. And it is freaking delicious. I am obsessed. So keep your eye out for that. It’s it’s heading markets like right now. It’s our it’s our first season also nationwide about it. Yep. And all of our markets are available at markets and we shipped to 32. Okay, no,
Diana Fryc 41:34
I love it. And I love that it’s not pumpkin spice. I like that. You’re not Pumpkin Spice Girl. Nice. You could
Maria Littlefield 41:43
shake it up all at all. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 41:45
Well, let’s be fair. I don’t want it. You know, if you love pumpkin spice. Bless you. Right? No, no problem. But for those of us that aren’t fans, we’d like to have some some little different Owl’s Brew. Thank you for checking that box. All right. Well, Maria, I want to thank you so much for your time today and for the work that you’re doing, especially kind of raising that next generation of leaders in beverage and alcohol. CPG love it. Excited to see what you tackle next. And I want to thank you for sending some of the samples I know I had to block and tackle to make sure my team didn’t take all of them before because they they came into the office a day that I wasn’t there and I came in and I’m like, What the heck is going on here? There’s it’s all gone. You know, I’m like, had to go and snag them off people’s desks and, and put my name on them in the fridge.
Maria Littlefield 42:39
Well, it sounds like we had to get you some space try so
Diana Fryc 42:41
well. We might. We might we might we might. Well thank you so much for your time today. Have a great rest of the day. And to the rest of you. We’ll catch you next time.
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