August 18, 2023

Kul Mocks (Season 5 Episode 27)

On this episode of Makers of Minnesota, Stephanie interviews Danielle Goss, the founder of Kul Mocks, a woman-owned beverage brand that offers non-alcoholic mocktails. Despite having no prior experience in the industry, Danielle and her husband were determined to provide a fun and social drinking alternative that caters to health and wellness enthusiasts.


In this episode, she shares how they adapted to the pandemic’s limitations by leveraging virtual meetings and social media to promote Kul Mocks, using micro-influencers and authentic content. They also discuss their challenges in building the brand, such as collaborating with distributors, developing beverages, and navigating through supply chain issues. Additionally, listeners will learn how the brand’s success led them to focus more on the retail and distribution market, including grocery and liquor stores. Tune in to hear a unique entrepreneurial story that offers insights into creating a successful business in a crowded industry.



Stephanie [00:00:12]:

Hello everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota Podcast, where we talk to cool people doing cool things. I’m here today with Danielle Goss, and she is the founder of Cool mock craft cocktail Tails. And excuse me, I should say craft mocktails. Cool Mocks. Craft mocktails. Say that all at once. How are you doing, Danielle?

Danielle Goss [00:00:35]:

I’m doing great. How are you, Stephanie?

Stephanie [00:00:37]:

I’m great. It’s so good to talk to you because this category is just exploding and I can’t wait to hear kind of how long you’ve been in it and what made you get started with Cool Mocks. Craft Mocktails.

Danielle Goss [00:00:50]:

Yeah. Well, I appreciate you thinking of us to be on the podcast and share a little bit more about us in the brand and what’s going on. So I guess to really just rewind back in 2019, my husband and I found out we’re expecting our first child and very special time in our lives, right. We’d always been a social couple who enjoys a beverage or two with family and friends. And of course I didn’t want alcohol, but I wanted something that was fun and social, where he could head to the store and grab his six pack of IPAs and something that was ready to drink and great tasting. For me in that journey, we just really struck out, right? Like the minimal options on the shelves at that time were NA beers, primarily, or some wines that still contain trace amounts of alcohol. Being a registered dietitian by trade, I didn’t feel comfortable consuming those beverages, so I spent the following summer months crafting my own mocktails from scratch. Along the way, we did more market research and just talked to a ton of people, consulted and industry experts and learned that from what was happening with the NA movement over in the UK, and then just looking at the data here in the US. That so many more individuals than just pregnant and expecting mothers were looking for great tasting adult NA drinks. So at seven months pregnant, we jumped in and started building the full MOX brand, which would have been the fall of 2019. We had our first baby girl in December of that year and fast forward, we had our first production run and just about three years ago, I guess, and launched the brand into market in July of 2020.

Stephanie [00:02:53]:

And what had you done before this? Had you been in packaged goods or had your husband?

Danielle Goss [00:03:01]:

Great question. Previous to this business, I was running a corporate health and wellness consulting business, working with employer groups primarily in the Twin Cities to help them build and develop employee wellness programs. So I did that for six or seven years and then I’m also a registered dietitian by trade. So from the nutrition better for you perspective, the majority of our consumers are choosing to drink less due to health and wellness reasons. So this is very connected to the decision for people to pick up our drinks and the focus behind the brand and how the drinks are created. My husband, he still has a full time job in packaging. So not directly for another CPG brand or anything, but I’d be remiss to say that his expertise is from a packaging engineering side of things and sourcing, especially when the pandemic hit and going through all of that for production and whatnot has been very helpful. But in general, CPG was very fresh to us. We didn’t know anything about the beverage industry, so we’ve been figuring it out along the way over the last few years.

Stephanie [00:04:25]:

It is funny that you mentioned that because from a packaging standpoint, I thought the package packaging was very well done, the logo is done. It’s really clear to see what kind of beverage it is. When you look at it, the colors are bright. When you look at the mocktail space, I kind of wonder if it’s because you’re evangelists in this category, as it were. It’s a growing category, but is it hard to figure out, like, do you sell in grocery, do you sell in liquor stores? What is the exact target market for these types of products?

Danielle Goss [00:05:08]:

Well, it’s been a journey of learning, right. As one of the first to market brands in this space, we’ve changed things. We’ve learned with our distributor partners, we’ve learned with our retail partners and that continues to evolve based off of their core shopping audience. Right. For us as a brand, we’re growing into more of a national presence. But we have our Midwest presence, like the heaviest, right? Because we have our product in liquor stores, grocery stores, I mean, on premise, you name it, we’ve gotten into all of it and have tried a lot of things. What I will say is that grocery and grocery that also has liquor connected to it has been a really sweet spot for us because as you can imagine, there are different types of consumers who pick up adult non alcoholic drinks, right? So we’re on the border, right? Minnesota and Wisconsin have different regulations as far as what’s carried in grocery stores versus not. So that always plays a role. But in some grocery stores they’ve got like a full NA section within the soda area right there. NA beers, cool mocks NA wines, you name it. While others we’re more restricted to the liquor stores. And then best case scenario is where we can have a play or a chance to play in all of those spaces, right? Because you have different shoppers, different people coming to the table there. But in general, grocery stores kind of those larger format stores have become a really great place for not only colmox but just brands like ours. In general. Liquor stores of guests, of course, are where we tend to play next to our brothers or sisters, however you want to put it. NA beers in the coolers and such.

Stephanie [00:07:21]:

You guys are fashioning these literally after cocktail flavors that we’re familiar with. So can you go through your brand line and was that intentional versus like a berry, lemonade or some other type of different profile?

Danielle Goss [00:07:38]:

It was very intentional. We wanted to create a line of Mocktails that gave you all the experience, just without the alcohol. So flavors you are familiar with, but of course, without any of the effects of alcohol. So, our full lineup, we started off with three craft Mocktails, which is now grown into six. We have a couple margaritas, which are our macaritas, our classic Macarita and strawberry Macarita. Both have agave tequila flavor infusions to give you that experience of what you would expect from a margarita. But then we use like fresh lime juice and fresh strawberry flavorings to really round out that flavor profile with the classic Macarita really just focusing on flavors like your freshly expressed lime. We also do add a touch of lemon juice to that beverage as well, which just gives it that refreshing flavor. So we have two margaritas. We have a Moscow Mule flavor, which is our Mock Mule. It has a vodka type infusion with fresh lime and ginger, which all of our drinks in general we say just ice cold out of the can. It’s meant for enjoyment, but you can fancy them up in your favorite cocktail glass. So of course, a Mule is perfect to pair with a copper mug. And then getting on to the other three beverages. We have a peach. Hibiscus, Cider. This is one of our most unique and artisanal drinks that we’ve come out with yet, but it’s quickly become very popular. It has peach, honey, crisp apple and a touch of floral hibiscus with a vodka type infusion. Very fun. The last two that I’ll share are mock g and tea or gin and tonic. It’s our lowest calorie beverage yet. It has the juniper flavor notes, just really bright, crisp, refreshing, only 35 calories. And then lastly, as you can see, most of them are hanging out in the back here. But we have all the single flavors and then a couple of variety packs. So our Party box is one variety pack and then the Adventure Collection is the other pack. The last drink I’ll talk about is our BlackBerry mojito. So a mojito. You envision like garden fresh mint. It’s very much flavored and was put together with that in mind. So we use Garden Fresh Mint, BlackBerry and a rum flavor infusion which, again, straight out of the can. Or you can fancy it up in a high ball glass and pop in some mint leaves and lime and have fun with it that way. So that pretty much rounds up the flavor profile. With that said, most of the people who do choose to have our beverages are trying to stay somewhat health conscious. So our drinks aren’t health and wellness beverages. Let’s be clear, they’re non alcoholic cocktails or Mocktails, but they’re all formulated to be 35 to 50 calories per can. We don’t use anything artificial, and just everything from the liquid in the can to the packaging and design is meant to give you that experience of having just a great tasting adult beverage, but doing it on your terms.

Stephanie [00:11:27]:

What is interesting when you talk about your flavor profiles is you mentioned a vodka, a gin, a tequila, and a rum infusion flavoring. So when you drink them, you really can taste that. So it makes them unique to me because it isn’t like a blended juice drink that is imitating a mocktail. It literally does have some of those notes of the alcohol that’s not in there. So that really feels different.

Danielle Goss [00:11:57]:

Yeah. Well, I’m glad you notice it because it is a very important part in the formulations and development of these beverages. Right. Of course, back in 2019, when we started formulations of our first three, at the time, it was navigating whole new waters for us. Right. I mean, it started with crafting mocktails in my kitchen to then working with flavorists and food scientists to try to identify well, how do we get those alcohol related flavors to come through? But in a smooth way that felt refreshing and that you could grab like one or two in an occasion and not have it be too overpowering or have off notes come out. That when you’re trying to emulate a certain kind of experience flavor profile. There’s been a lot of that. I think that initially, when this category started, way back when with the NA beers, people were like, oh, that tastes terrible. Well, we tried really hard to make sure they taste really good, but not be like the traditional mocktail, which is loaded with sugar. I mean, the traditional mocktail and even cocktail counterparts are 50 to 60 grams of sugar, and we just know that our sweet spot, our core customer, isn’t looking for that.

Stephanie [00:13:24]:

When you mentioned that your husband still works full time, you obviously have a small child at this point. Is it hard to get enough time to focus on the business? And do you and your husband have clear roles or how does that work with a couple?

Danielle Goss [00:13:39]:

Yeah, so we had our first daughter, Macy, in December of 2019. Since then, we have had another daughter in July of 2021. So now we have two little girls. And yes, he still has this full time job. He helps as he’s able to. I am very thankful for the child care that we have because I will be honest, there is no way in the world I would be able to do it without the girls, their friends, and learning and being at daycare, during the day. Of course, there are challenges, right? If I have to travel for work or just like, balancing motherhood and building a business presents its challenges. I mean, when I was postpartum with both of the girls, I had to make sacrifices that I understood. When we made that decision at seven months pregnant, it wasn’t a decision we made lightly, knowing that I chose the path less traveled. And I mean, we did in general, but as young family, there are sacrifices you have to make. When we first launched the business, I would be up at like 02:00 a.m. Nursing and building my social media strategy, right? Yeah, it’s just different. But that’s our story and I think with the pandemic mixed in, there’s been a lot of fun and wild moments, but we just choose to embrace the chaos.

Stephanie [00:15:22]:

Yeah, and just keep going. So you mentioned embracing your social media strategy. Is that primarily the way that you have gotten the word out? Have you used influencers at all?

Danielle Goss [00:15:33]:

Well, when we launched the brand in July of 2020, we didn’t have experience in beverage prior to doing this. But everything we had learned up to that point was like here’s how distribution works, this is how beverage works. And then everything shut down. Right. And even when things weren’t shut down anymore, retailers and distributors weren’t taking meetings like they historically had. Right. Some of them were just in no not happening mode while others were open to meeting virtually. So we found ourselves in, I guess what you would say is some people would say, oh well, that sucks. But for us we didn’t know anything differently. Right. So we tried to stay fluid, being unique to the beverage space. From a product perspective, we were able to get the meetings we wanted to get. They were just different. Right. Most of them were virtual and then from the direct to consumer side of it, we really had to lean into social media because we weren’t able to go into grocery and do samplings and spread the word that way. So we really leaned in on word of mouth using social media channels. And at the time I would say we used micro influencers. So people that were really into posting during the pandemic I am kind of a pick up the phone kind of gal. So I would reach out to people on social media, set up a phone call, ended up hooking them up with product. And then we had a couple of key rules if we were going to collaborate, if you will. And one is that you just genuinely had to love what we were doing as a brand in our products because we don’t want anyone representing our brand if they don’t truly love what it’s all about. And then two is just that they were authentic in their content because people can tell if you’re not being true to yourself pretty quickly online. So yes, we definitely leaned into those channels. Right now we are kind of in a different space three years later, evaluating as things change over time, you have to think about your retail partnerships and where your beverages are sold and be more strategic with who you work with. But I would say for helping us get launched and get the word out, it was incredibly helpful. And from those efforts and launching in unique or not unique but different markets, we were able to get coverage from local news channels to national coverage and getting into Forbes and some great other media outlets which anything you could do as a small and emerging brand to get your story out there. Not to mention the fact that our story isn’t unique. It’s very relatable. Right. So many people can relate and I think that’s why we were able to drum up that buzz and continue to work on that today as we grow the brand.

Stephanie [00:18:50]:

So can you elaborate on, from a social standpoint, the influencer market? You’re not working that as much now, you’re working retail location and distribution, I’m assuming. So here’s where you can find us and working with the retail partners and maybe, I don’t know, I guess do you buy the opportunity to have cross promotional posts with them? How does that work in retail? Because I know, obviously you’re in a certain channel and you can buy end caps and there’s all different things you can buy from retail. But I would imagine social is part of that too.

Danielle Goss [00:19:24]:

Yeah, I mean, I think it really is variable based off of who you’re working with. Right. With your distributors, for example, some of them, they have social media managers and you just work with them directly to make sure they have your content, make sure they understand your brand guidelines, things like that. But from a retailer perspective, yes, it’s very much baked into whatever strategy you’re working with them on. So, for example, if you have displays going into a certain chain for August as an example, that likely is a part of your strategy, whether it’s something that’s collaborative with them directly or indirectly, where the brand you’re going in, and geotargeting certain locations to make sure the shoppers are aware of that being available or whatever specials happening.

Stephanie [00:20:20]:

Do you have marketing help at this point, or PR help? Or do you do it all yourself just by picking up the phone?

Danielle Goss [00:20:28]:

We’re still at a phase where I am doing all the things. So yes, I’m very thankful for the amazing partners we’ve worked with over time. It’s definitely not all just me, right? I worked with so many great resources and continue to today to get the brand to where it is. But we are actively working on growing the team within the next six to twelve months. So with each new growth period in the business comes new opportunities and growing excitement, opportunity moments, but also growing pains, if you will.

Stephanie [00:21:06]:

Yeah. What has been a pain?

Danielle Goss [00:21:12]:

I mean, navigating the business in general during the Pandemic would be the first thing, right. I think that as one of the first brands in this space, you’re having to do more education, which, luckily, the category kind of speaks for itself. But at the very beginning, there was more education, depending on the markets you’re trying to get into. Right. More innovative markets. They probably already understand it, but, like, at the retail side of things, they maybe know about the category, but they don’t know where to place it. Right. Or maybe they’re trying to get guidance on, well, where should we put it, and what should we all have a part of this set, and how much space is there? Right. Because there’s limited space. That and then just the production side of things. The supply chain with inflation. I think we’ve gone through challenges that most CPG brands have, but I would like to say that our business is very solutions focused and oriented. So it’s kind of just a part of the business is now navigating all.

Stephanie [00:22:30]:

These challenges, and now we’re seeing retail only NA stores. So that’s probably a unique opportunity, too.

Danielle Goss [00:22:39]:

It is. I think they’re amazing. I actually think they all, for the most part, the ones that I’ve been in or seen online. They are so curated and fun and just well put together. But I will say that our brand, we really have focused to try and spend time in the places where people are already shopping, and that’s where we found our sweet spot.

Stephanie [00:23:08]:

That makes sense because you don’t have to evangelize, not only for the concept of what you’re selling, but the store as a whole, of being a full non alcoholic store, because it is a new concept. I am really excited for you. It’s been fun talking to you. I love trying the products. It’s cool. Mocks craft. Mocktails. And are there any retailers that you want to promote right now that people can find it at?

Danielle Goss [00:23:35]:

Yeah, I mean, at the top of the list in the Midwest Twin Cities area, everything from Total Wine walmart is our newest spot. MGM Liquors Haskells.

Stephanie [00:23:50]:

All right.

Danielle Goss [00:23:51]:

Oh, my goodness. So many great spots to go. All you have to do is make sure to find the NA section. If you’re not sure, ask someone and try it out. See what you think. Have an open mind.

Stephanie [00:24:06]:

I love it. Thank you, Danielle, for joining us today. I appreciate it. Here more.

Danielle Goss [00:24:11]:

Thank you. Appreciate your time.

Stephanie [00:24:12]:

We’ll talk soon. Bye.