An Interview with Mighty Swell’s Andrew Pieri
The Innovation Process at Mighty Swell
Seltzer Nation: We’re on the line with Andrew Pieri, VP of Operations at Mighty Swell Spiked Seltzer. Andrew Pieri has worked in the beverage industry for over eight years. Before working as VP of Operations at Mighty Swell, he worked as the Supply Chain Director at the biggest alcohol company in the world, Anheuser Busch InBev. Today we’re going to talk to Andrew Pieri about Mighty Swell’s “Keep it Weird” pack and the innovation process at Mighty Swell. So, my first question for you is what is your process for forming the ideas behind the innovations at Mighty Swell?
Andrew Pieri: Typically, when it comes to ideation around our new innovations we start the process pretty early, about a year in advance. So, right now, as we’re getting to springtime, we’re planning next year’s innovation. And, for our variety packs, that timeline is dictated by the following year’s spring shelf reset with our retail chains and retailers, so we know which products to keep and which ones they want to swap out. Those decisions are made months in advance so we can prepare to pitch our innovations at the end of the summer. This means having the liquid, artwork, and graphics available promptly, so we have something unique to offer.
Seltzer Nation: When do you begin to form the ideas for these innovations and how long does it take to come up with these new product ideas?
Andrew Pieri: It’s a continuous cycle. We’re constantly discussing flavor ideas, looking at the industry trends, and taking inspiration from the environment. Even though we may not use something right now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t use it in the future. This is especially true with how quickly consumer tastes are changing and evolving. We’re constantly on our toes. Eventually, however, we do have to narrow down that scope by picking out what that specific pack’s central theme will be.
From there, we build the flavors. I think once we have that idea and that scope narrowed in, I would say it takes us about three or four months to develop and refine the recipes. This gives us the necessary time to do a couple of iterations and get feedback. We focus on dialing in these flavors perfectly, but at the same time, we’re also working on the graphics and the artwork. Once we have that going through, there’s all the registration and ordering of the materials – especially given how hectic the global supply chain environment has become recently. It’s really important to plan and give ourselves as much time as possible so that we can hit those deadlines.
The Keep it Weird Pack
Seltzer Nation: You guys have such unique and innovative flavors and designs. Speaking to that, we see a lot of repeat flavors in the industry, especially with hard seltzers/spiked seltzers. What made Mighty Swell decide to take a chance and create such a unique flavor list for your Keep it Weird Pack?
Andrew Pieri: We were initially discussing it around last year, right around this time. We looked at what some of the other hard seltzer brands were coming up with at the time. A year ago, we were seeing the teas, the lemonades, the punches, and later last year, the margaritas and ranch water variations. We saw what was happening and, Jeana Harrington, our CEO, told the team that we can do whatever we wanted so long as no one else was doing it. That was the caveat. We decided that we wanted to bend the boundaries when it came to spiked seltzers and create some differentiation among our existing lineup while still maintaining our brand standards for flavors. And that was the foundation: we need to come up with something unique and different while still very true to who we are as a company.
We’re small but mighty.
Seltzer Nation: What did the idea forming process look like? And how did the Mighty Swell team come up with the concept for the flavors?
Andrew Pieri: One of the ideas that stuck when we were throwing out flavors was this concept of “America in a can”. When I think of “America”, I remember growing up as a kid and celebrating the 4th of July in the summer. For most people there’s fireworks, American flags, and cookouts. Are you familiar with the popular red, white, and blue popsicle?
Seltzer Nation: Oh, yes (we definitely are).
Andrew Pieri: That’s where we drew our inspiration for Rocket Pop. As soon as we thought of that, we knew we were going to put it in the pack, and we knew that we were going to have something quite unique. That was our anchor flavor. From there, we were picking and choosing which other flavors to compliment that one. However, it’s one thing to have an idea for a flavor, but it’s a whole different story when it comes to trying to execute that into something that consumers will enjoy and identify with. We have an amazing team. We’re small but mighty. We have a great Director of Brewing and Innovation, Andrea Clodfelter, and that’s where she comes in. She has the difficult task of taking all of these crazy ideas and figuring out which flavor notes are needed to transform them into reality.
It starts with an anchor flavor, and then we’ll pick and choose the others that go along with that. That’s where we started to develop and come up with Tigers Blood, Purple Magic, and Pink Colada. We started to put these together and we thought, man, these are all unique and different. They each bring something amazing to the pack.
Seltzer Nation: Speaking of those flavors, can you describe the inspiration behind each of those Keep it Weird flavors?
We want to make sure our flavors could stand on their own while also complementing one another.
Andrew Pieri: We wanted something that would invoke feelings of nostalgia and familiarity that would resonate with consumers. So, I talked about the inspiration for Rocket Pop. Something else that was unique about this time last year was this whole “billionaires in space race” going on. So, between Elon and Bezos trying to go to space, we thought, man, you know, we can have a lot of fun with this flavor, not only the popsicle aspect but also what’s going on in pop culture.
After Rocket Pop we have Tiger’s Blood which is one of our fan favorites. It was developed after the very popular shaved ice flavor. For those not familiar, Tiger’s blood is a delicious combination of strawberry, watermelon, and coconut. It’s that very red, vibrant shaved ice that you’ve probably seen during summertime. It’s a cool, refreshing treat on a hot day. We had a lot of fun with the packaging on this one, especially with that fierce tiger we put on there. People really seem to resonate with it. We’re doing tasting and events with inflatable tigers. And we’re currently taking suggestions for naming our tigers.
Moving on to Pink Colada, this is our juicy riff on the piña colada. The piña colada is a complicated cocktail not only because it has multiple ingredients, but it’s also served in a very unique frozen way. Adapting it into a seltzer was kind of a difficult feat, but we were thrilled at how we were able to capture the flavor and the aroma while still making this a sessionable seltzer, one that you can enjoy several of. As far as packaging goes, the bright pink can gives the impression that you’re on a vacation.
Last but not least, we have the purple can, Purple Magic. We want to make sure our flavors could stand on their own while also complementing one another. That’s where Purple Magic comes into play. It’s the flavor that puts the weird in our Keep it Weird pack. When you ask yourself: what does the color purple taste like in a seltzer? You have to scratch your head a little bit. Maybe it tastes like grape soda? That’s initially where we started. We wanted a nostalgic throwback. I drank grape soda a lot as a kid. Purple Magic gives you those strong grape notes, but once you dive in, you start to pick up on some of the other dark berry notes such as boysenberry and blueberry layered in there. What you end up with is this very mysterious, magical flavor. You just have to taste it.
Seltzer Nation: It’s quintessentially purple (we’ve tasted it).
Andrew Pieri: Yeah, exactly. We call it Purple for short. It was one of the fun flavors that we had a great time developing.
Mighty Swell Spiked Seltzer as a Brand
Seltzer Nation: How do you think the Keep it Weird pack represents Mighty Swell as a brand?
Andrew Pieri: Keep it Weird is something that our loyal fans will see and get excited about. They know what we can do in terms of flavor, and now they see these very unique, very different offerings. For those that don’t know us yet, Keep it Weird stands out on the shelves in a sea of seltzers. It brings you in and catches your eye and attention. It shows that as a company, we’re not afraid to break from the herd. We’re not afraid to take risks and innovate with our flavors. This stays true to who we are when developing unique and, most importantly, delicious, all-natural flavors.
Seltzer Nation: You say that Keep it Weird pays tribute to Mighty Swell’s home city of Austin, Texas. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Andrew Pieri: The obvious tie is to the famous Keep Austin Weird slogan, which is associated with the city. Austin, Texas is an amazing city. It’s one that’s known for its weird culture and delicious food. They have the taco and the barbecue scene. More recently they’ve become a home for tech and other companies. We wanted to be innovative with this pack in terms of the flavors, and what better way to do that than pay homage to our awesome roots? That is why we named it the Keep it Weird pack. It was a perfect fit in terms of what we were doing.
We also partnered with a local artist to collaborate on the very unique and weird packaging design. We held a launch party, back in March at the Native Bar & Café, where we invited the public to come out and get dressed in their weirdest attire to celebrate the launch. It was a really fun event. We sold out of tickets. There were some fantastic costumes. All in all, it was a great experience.
Looking to the Future
Seltzer Nation: So now that we’ve talked about Keep it Weird and Mighty Swell, do you guys have any upcoming releases or news that you can share or hint at for us?
Andrew Pieri: This year, we’re focused on continuing to build a brand and expand our distribution across more states. We have a lot of folks out west that are saying, hey, how can I get my hands on Mighty Swell right now? We’re just telling them to be patient. We are coming to you as quickly as possible. Along with that goal, we’ve made some key hires to help support that expansion. We are amping up our marketing and sales initiatives accordingly.
In terms of packs, we’re reading the landscape of what our consumers are asking for. And now that on-premise drinking establishments are starting to open back up, we’re seeing a real opportunity for draft. We actually released our first draft last year with Blood Orange Spiked Seltzer. We’re looking to do the same this upcoming summer with none other than our Rocket Pop. Perfect timing, right? Coinciding with the 4th of July. So, we’re excited to bring some different offerings along with expanding our 19.2-ounce single serves for C stores. We’re expanding the packages to meet our consumers’ needs as well. We are working on next year’s innovations right now. I can’t reveal too much in terms of what the flavors are, but I promise you that we’ll continue to push the boundaries while staying true to our history.
Seltzer Nation: Thank you so much for spending this time with us today and talking about Mighty Swell and Keep it Weird.
Andrew Pieri: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure.