5 Questions with Katie and John Burns of Slalom Fox Cocktails

Longmont‘s Katie and John Burns made syrup from various fruits and used it as a flavoring for sparkling water for their kids. It soon led them to mix the syrup with alcoholic drinks. Their tasty concoctions won them praise from family and friends, which triggered a business idea: cocktails in a can.

Most ready-to-drink cocktails on the market lacked real fruit juices, said Katie Burns, who is into organic foods and has sales experience in natural products. They saw a gap in the canned cocktail market and decided to make a go of it.

They tinkered with their recipes for months and in June shared their cocktails at the “Cocktails on the Rocks” event at Red Rocks before officially launching their company in October with two cocktails: Bourbon Revival, made with bourbon whiskey, lemon juice and black currant extract; and Vodka Collins, combining vodka,lemon juice and thyme.

A Mintel report from December highlights the convenience of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages as a big draw for consumers. Flavor and taste also affect consumer choice, according to the report. The key to marketing ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages is “promoting value,” particularly to engage younger drinkers, the report states.

Recently we talked with the Burnses, who are originally from Ohio, to learn about Slalom Fox Cocktails and their ideas about expanding it.

1. How did you think of your company‘s name and logo?

John: The fox is Katie‘s favorite animal. We thought Slalom, a ski race down a zigzag column, reflects Colorado, the state we love. Our design says “Colorado” to us.

Katie: We wanted our logo and design to reflect Colorado and Coloradans. Our cocktail cans depict a fox, trees, mountains, sky and icons referring to a variety of outdoor activities Coloradans like to pursue. There‘s even the Colorado flag at the bottom.

I designed the cans with the help of Longmont graphic designer Zane Wilson. We talked about the elements John and I wanted. We wanted the little icons to remind people of the places they could take it. The bright colors make the cans very eye-catching.

2. What was the biggest fear you had before launching your business?

John: Our cocktails garnered a lot of praise as we developed them. It took us about 18 months to bring our idea to fruition. At social events where we shared the drinks, every one had positive comments. They liked the taste and wanted to know where they could buy it.

Then, we began to think, “what if people didn‘t like it?” People are going to judge you. Being judged is different.

Katie: Our financial investment in the venture gave us the strength to stand up. Failure didn‘t seem like an option.

In the end, we were convinced the timing was right.

3. What was the most challenging part of starting your business?

Katie: Initially, we needed to figure out how to source ingredients to scale, and how to make our recipes to scale while keeping the integrity of the ingredients. Scaling was the tough part.

We had to get help from food scientists to check the shelf stability of our product.

Canned cocktails are still relatively new. We are trying to create a shelf category. We want them to be in coolers, so people can pick them up cold for hiking, camping, biking or any other kind of outdoor activity.

John: Going to liquor stores to showcase canned cocktails has been a great experience. We generally go together, and both of us have a background in business sales. Store owners have been curious.

Katie: Our pitch is real ingredients. When you pour our cocktails into glasses you can see the juice. John and I go into stores to introduce our brand. The stores then order our cocktails through our distributor .

John: We are in the process of getting a wholesale liquor license that will allow us to sell our products at certain events. We are still trying to figure out the nuances of the liquor laws. It‘s also part of the fun. It‘s a learning process.

4. Are you worried about the new cocktail pods being introduced by Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. and Anheuser-Busch InBev?

John: It‘s seems like an interesting concept. I just heard about it. The machine costs about $299 on preorder and the pods in a pack of four costs about $15.99.

Katie: I‘m curious about the ingredients. Our product is focused on Colorado primarily. A four-pack typically sells for $15.99 to $19.99.

5. What‘s next for Slalom Fox Cocktails?

Katie: This is our first business venture. We want to keep our Colorado focus together with maintaining the quality of our products. We don‘t want to grow too quickly. We make our cocktail cans as the inventory starts to get lower.

John: We are introducing two more cocktails — Gin Fizz and Whiskey Mule — in May.