Monday, March 22, 2010

Crispin Cider founder Joe Heron talks about entrepreneurship and niche markets

by andysantamaria on March 22, 2010
Crispin Cider founder and CEO Joe Heron. (Photo Credit: Paul Wichser)
Crispin Cider founder and CEO Joe Heron is a master of niche markets. In an over-saturated market of energy drinks, he created Nutrisoda which was sold to PepsiAmericas in 2006. He then founded Crispin which now elegantly stands out in the cider market. Crispin has 25 employees and is distributed in 11 states with no signs of slowing down. “By 2014, we want to be the No. 1 cider company in America” Heron said.
Before Crispin, you founded Nutrisoda and ended up selling it to PespiAmericas. Was that a goal from the start?
I think people that start businesses to sell them never sell them. They’re designed in a different way. Our businesses is designed to be a good business. Our concepts tend revolve around what we call “market space.” I’m much more interested in vacant spaces within a market space. When we started Nutrisoda, everyone was doing energy drinks. So we did a healthy soda that was good for you. We created space by being a soda and not a Vitamin Water or Fuze. Then we raised the bar in terms of nutrient profiling and made it work with levels of nutrients that were effective as opposed to monkey dust.
So what’s the concept for Crispin?
Cider has been a pretty dormant category in the U.S., in terms of innovation. We’re innovating the way Cider is made and enjoyed. We’re probably the first cider company to start using real novel beer yeasts and natural sugars. If you’re going to go into a space where you have no money, you better make sure that you have less competition. Less competition combined with a better idea — the more opportunity you have to own that space.
Who did your design and packaging?
The design is done by a company called White Works in England. It’s always helpful to have a slightly different sensibility when you’re trying to create space. It helps to think about things differently. If you look at our packaging, we don’t do the beer-case style packaging. It’s much closer to a wine.
Crispin stands out in terms of packaging and design.
Absolutely. [Before Crispin,] the last time I had cider was probably when I was 16 years old growing up in South Africa. It’s a British colony so cider is more familiar. When you look at British ciders, there’s Magners and Strongbow — we didn’t really like any of those ciders and we didn’t like sweet beer, so we tried to make a cider that was more sophisticated on the flavor profile. One of the lessons of Nutrisoda was that we trademarked the category for nutrient-enhanced sodas. With Crispin, we’ve trademarked the flavor profile which is crisp apple. We went for something more sophisticated and used the tree to symbolize the orchard. It all starts in the orchard. I think we attract more new drinkers to cider.
When I tried Crispin I thought about pairing it with dinner foods because the palate was so full.
We do a lot of work on the culinary aspects of Crispin. Honestly, I think sushi and cider is the best combination ever. The cider is just soft and gentle enough without being too sweet to take on the sushi.
What are your company’s core values?
We exceed expectations. That’s everything we do. We’re not one of those companies where it’s ‘all hat and no horse.’ We deliver on our promises. I think, in our category, we’re the most creative company. What we’re doing to cider right now is more creative that what has been done with it since the invention of cider. We often say we’re ‘Imagineers.’
What are our future goals for Crispin?
By 2014 we want to be the No. 1 cider company in America.
What is your favorite drink when you can’t drink Crispin?
If it came to beer, I like Victory Prima Pils. For Vodka, I like Prairie Vodka.
Let’s talk about your social web strategy.
We run it all internally and work it very hard. We use Facebook to interact with our fans and have conversations. We use Twitter to drive people to events. Social media is the great leveler of entrepreneurial activity. Everyone can do it and if you’re doing cool stuff, you can talk to a lot more people. In the old days if you were competing with Bud, they just walked all over you. Now smaller companies can cover a lot more ground and the conversations we’re having are a lot more personal. Every salesperson at Crispin is on Twitter. We even have our own internal blog where we train people on cider and Crispin. It’s all done by [my wife] Lesley.

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