When Diane Aemisegeo and Trish Pepe Lauden met they became quick friends, and soon best drinking buddies. But with both women having young children and difficulty finding babysitters, that meant a lot of Friday nights in.
They began challenging each other by creating unique cocktails, always using organic and natural ingredients because of their mutual desire to eat – and drink – healthy. All of that mixology was hard work, though, so they decided to go to the store and see what kind of organic mixers they could find to make the process easier.
There were none.
They saw a business opportunity in that absence and decided to start crafting and selling their own organic cocktail mixers. ROOT Crafted Cocktail Mixers was born.
It wasn’t an easy task said Lauden.
“Neither of us have a background in the beverage industry,” she said. Lauden has a degree in psychology and Aemisegeo worked in pharmaceuticals. Couple that with the fact that they were perceived as “mompreneurs” they had difficulty getting any bottlers to take their calls. “Sometimes we’d have to have one of our husbands call so we’d get a call back,” she said.
But even the ones they got to speak to were hardly encouraging.
“I talked to one big bottler and he tried to talk me out of it because he said the beverage industry is very difficult. Shelf space is very limited,” she said.
Finally, the partners were able to find a small New Jersey bottler that would take their business and they began making their organic mixers commercially. Their mixers include The Lemongrass, which is a mix of lemongrass and elderflower; The Granada, which is a mix of pomegranate, lemongrass and lemon; The Hound, a mix of grapefruit and tart cherry; and The Cuke, cucumber, lime and elderflower.
“It was all things we liked to drink,” said Aemisegeo.
One of their first customers was Leslie Britt, beverage guru at the Lodge at Woodloch in the Poconos. She knew the two women as guests of the specialty spa and hotel and agreed to try out some of their early batches.
“I was so impressed I changed two of my cocktails on the spot,” Britt said.
She said that the organic, all-natural cocktails fit in perfectly with their wellness theme and they have now replaced any other mixers she was using.
“People are eating cleaner. People also want to drink cleaner,” she said. “Lemongrass is now our signature.”
Initially, the duo was looking for similar clients like the Lodge at Woodloch, seeking out spas, country clubs, wedding venues and higher-end restaurants and bars to carry their product as a solution for offering high-end cocktails without a lot of work.
“It’s easy to make,” said Aemisegeo. “A lot of places don’t have a mixologist on staff. They have part timers, college students.”
They sold the ROOT mixers in 32 ounce bottles, priced on the volume the customers bought. But, when the pandemic hit earlier this year, that market dried up. Now they’re focusing on retail and online sales with their $16.99, 16-ounce bottles, which make between eight and 16 cocktails for the Friday nights in they used to enjoy.
Online sales have been strong, they said. They built up business with social media specials such as “Have a quarantine cocktail with your buddy,” where if someone buys a mixer they can have a second sent to a friend for free and enjoy a cocktail on ZOOM. Now they’re working with a marketing agency that has helped them get into 45 Pennsylvania Fine Wine and Good Spirit stores, and some 60 small boutique shops around the country. They are also sold at the Lehigh Valley Whole Foods.
They have even come up with gift sets for the upcoming holiday shopping season to encourage people to gift the mixers. “We’re working to get into national grocery stores. That is our next step,” said Lauden.
“We are growing but it’s slow,” said Aemisegeo.” We don’t want to grow too big too fast, but we’re ready to take it to the next level.”