1,700 Targets: Nashville batched beverage business hits a bullseye
The pre-made mixes can be found in the gift aisle and will retail for $15
Josh Ellis took a shot on himself in 2019. He left his full-time real estate job and traded in his luxury vehicle for a box van to concentrate on his batched beverage business.
Now, he and his co-founder Bradley Ryan, are raising a glass, and toasting to Target. The grocery giant picked up their all-natural line of pre-made cocktail mixers. Beginning today, Withco bottles will line the shelves of 1,700 of the stores — including all 33 in Tennessee.
“Breaking into a big store like Target is huge,” exclaims Ellis, “But getting in is only half the battle. If your product doesn’t fly off the shelves and just sits and collects dust, your run is over. Target won’t carry you again.”
Ellis is asking Tennesseans to support their local startup, by snapping up a bottle of the beverage mix. Three of Withco’s eight flavors — Agave Margarita, Bouquet and the Ellis Old Fashioned — will be available for purchase in the gift aisle. Each bottle will retail for $15 in stores, $5 less than the price online.
Formulated with fresh juices and immune-boosting botanicals, WithCo — short for “with company” — was the first ready-made craft cocktail mix free of preservatives, additives, concentrates or “natural flavorings.”
Ellis’s endeavor began, six years ago, at a backyard birthday party where he and Ryan served the batched cocktails.
“We got an overwhelming response,” Ellis explains. “I realized that this was how hosting should be, spending less time making drinks and more time with company,” says Ellis proudly.
Ellis and Ryan began slinging the bottled solution on the side. They achieved some success, selling their cocktail starters to 35+ liquor stores in Tennessee. But it wasn’t until in 2020, when Ellis made “the big leap” — calling real estate quits and going “all in on Withco” — that he saw sales skyrocket.
“Our story really started with the pandemic,” proclaims Ellis. “No one could have predicted what was ahead.”
It was prime time for Ellis’s assorted line of elixirs. Covid closed down local watering holes, and people began frantically searching for at-home hacks to create their own concoctions.
WithCo was their saving grace and soon, Amazon’s top selling craft cocktail mixer. Advertising on Instagram and Facebook, Ellis saw business surge an impressive 1,100 percent between March and December 2021. They outgrew four warehouses in the nine months before setting up shop in WithCo’s current 6,000-square foot East Nashville facility.
Packed with preservatives and cloyingly sweet, he considered most of the mixes on the market to be subpar. Ellis and Ryan said sayonara to all things unnatural and began synthesizing a slew of ready-made recipes absent of additives, preservatives, concentrates or “natural flavoring”.
The result: Eight carefully contrived flavors that can create 35, fuss-free aperitifs and have a stable shelf life of up to a year and are refrigerable for up to a month after opening.
1 Hotel, the Titan’s stadium and restaurants like Anzie Blue and Epice employ WithCo products, offering a complete cocktail menu without investing in the effort or the inventory involved in stocking a traditional bar.
He says to think of the batched bottle as the base ingredient. You can mix anything from Blanton’s to bottom shelf bourbon with the prepared potions. Sober curious? Make it a mocktail and swap the spirits for soda.
“WithCo was designed to be enjoyed with company, with spirits and with soda,” says Ellis.
WithCo has signed distribution deals with two of the largest beverage distributors in the U.S. and enjoyed the title of Top Seller on Amazon, but the first-time founder says Target is by far the biggest bullseye for his business.
Thanks for reading tennbeat! Subscribe for free to stay up to date on the latest Tennessee business news.