Interview with CANTEEN Spirits’s CEO Brandon Cason
Canteen Spirits, a Ready-to-Drink Cocktail Company with Staying Power
Canteen Spirits is a brand that has staying power. Maybe it’s because they offer a better-for-you canned cocktail option with all-natural ingredients, premium spirits, and low calorie, carb, and sugar content. Perhaps it’s because they have a cult following with adventurers and athletes. Whatever the reason, they have become a shelf staple across the nation in the three years since the company’s creation. But what makes this (or any) brand successful long-term? We were fortunate enough to interview Brandon Cason, co-founder and CEO of Canteen, to learn about what went into the making of a nationally successful ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktail brand.
Brandon Cason is a born and raised Texan. He started his career in rock-and-roll but pivoted to the beverage industry. He’s been instrumental in the success of Deep Eddy Vodka and co-founded Waterloo Sparkling Water. After seeing this success, he co-founded Canteen Spirits, acting as CEO. In this interview, we’ll learn about Canteen’s Spirits beginning in Austin, Brandon’s backstory, and why he and his partner created Canteen Spirits.
Brandon Cason and Canteen Spirits: A Little Backstory
Seltzer Nation: How did you go from being a rock and roll band member to working in the beverage industry?
Brandon Cason: In a way, rock n roll and the beverage industry are similar. They both incite a sense of adventure, joy, and an overall good time in people. I always knew that that was my purpose. While my obsession with music will remain a constant in my life, this industry presented an opportunity to achieve all those things in a new way.
Seltzer Nation: How did your experience at Deep Eddy and co-founding Waterloo Sparkling Water play into your decision to create Canteen Spirits?
Brandon Cason: I am extremely grateful for my time at Deep Eddy and Waterloo Sparkling Water. The experience and knowledge gained along the way have been life-changing. Although both exist within the beverage category, they are vastly different, and each caters to its own demographic. I brought together what I learned from working at Deep Eddy and Waterloo to create a product I knew there was a need for in the beverage category, Canteen Spirits.
The Formation of Canteen Spirits
Seltzer Nation: How did you and your co-founder have the idea to start Canteen Spirits?
Brandon Cason: Creating an RTD beverage was always on our mind, and, at the time of Canteen Spirits’ conception, we knew that there was a need for a more premium beverage made with high-quality spirits. We saw an opportunity to add to the category with a product that not only incorporated real vodka but also delivered rich, bold flavor that didn’t come at the expense of natural, quality ingredients. We made this beverage with the adventurous spirit in mind.
Seltzer Nation: What was the process of starting an RTD company?
Brandon Cason: My partner and I started work on the brand, packaging, flavor, and overall product profile simultaneously. These factors are so crucial in the early stages that one without the other won’t get you very far. So, we spent about six months bringing each to life. Part of that involved chasing down trademarks and getting entity formation and documents to grow the business. The early days of Canteen were fun, but it takes quite a while to bring a product to life. It was worth the wait.
Starting Strong in Austin, Texas
Seltzer Nation: Why did you choose Austin, Texas, for the site of your company?
Brandon Cason: I’ve lived in Austin for close to 25 years now and so have many of our team. We have all had a great experience working in CPG (consumer packaged goods) here in Austin. The community really supports entrepreneurs here. We’re extremely grateful for that support both from the investor community and the consumers alike.
Seltzer Nation: What setbacks and victories did the company face in its first year?
Brandon Cason: One of the most challenging points in the company’s first year was keeping up with production capacity. At times, our orders and POs far exceeded the number of Canteen Spirits products we could produce in any given month. That challenge required most of our attention, and the final answer was to take matters into our own hands and build a production plant. Now we have a 50,000 sq ft facility that can produce over 3M cases of our brand’s products each year. And we have a plan to double that number if needed. We’re doing it all with even stronger profit margins than before.
The First Flavors
Seltzer Nation: How do you go about selecting your flavors? Where do the ideas for the flavors come from?
Brandon Cason: I always like to start with the basic flavors that Mother Nature created. We don’t jump right into hybrids or mixed fruits as I’ve always thought you would make more progress with classic flavors. From there, we worked on a dozen or so possible iterations and found the best-tasting set to push out of the gate. Beyond that, we always continue to tweak until we’re satisfied.
Seltzer Nation: How does Canteen stand out from other brands on the market?
Brandon Cason: Our current portfolio speaks for itself. Composed of Canteen, a vodka-based canned cocktail, CANTINA, a tequila-based canned cocktail, and Canteen Gin Spritz, a gin-based canned cocktail, our line-up is one of the most diverse, naturally-flavored RTD portfolios in the category. Each line contains a variety of delicious flavors, including Watermelon and Cucumber Mint Vodka Soda, Ranch Water and Grapefruit Paloma Tequila Soda, and Blossom and Citrus Gin Spritz – among many others. Our expressions are made with an impressive list of healthy alternatives in their ingredients and approach, making Canteen the better-for-you choice when reaching for an RTD canned cocktail.
A Better-for-You Option
Seltzer Nation: What is the process of designing recipes with the perfect flavor while keeping zero carbs and sugar?
Brandon Cason: Consumers constantly crave cleaner alcoholic beverages with a natural taste. We’ve seen that they will no longer settle for chemicals or artificial additives. Canteen began to offer ready-to-drink beverages to act as an alternative to those beverages with artificial additives and chemical ingredients. In fact, when designing recipes, we keep that at the forefront of our minds.
Expanding into Gin and Tequila
Seltzer Nation: What was the process of introducing your new lines, Gin Spritz and CANTINA Tequila sodas?
Brandon Cason: Whenever you’re at the forefront of a moment in any industry, it’s an exciting time. We were fortunate enough to do that with all of our expressions, but more specifically, the Gin Spritz and Tequila Soda. In 2019, when we launched Canteen Vodka Sodas nationwide, we were responding to a need within the category. 2021 presented us with a unique opportunity at a time when consumers were experimenting with new beverages. That said, there wasn’t a strong presence of gin- or tequila-based RTDs within the space.
For the Gin Spritz, specifically, we were seeing a ‘Ginaissance’ – an opportunity to introduce our three light and refreshing flavors that emphasize the botanical nature of gin while maintaining the better-for-you ingredients.
With CANTINA, we delivered an artisanal spirit in three delicious flavors for those who enjoy quality tequila. With both, we were confident that they would make just as big of a splash in their individual rights. They proved to be leaders in their respective spirit categories out of the gate.
The Future of Canteen Spirits
Seltzer Nation: Do you have any upcoming news or releases you can tell us (or at least hint at)?
Brandon Cason: We recently revealed an all-new packaging design across Canteen’s three mouthwatering lines, alongside larger 8-can variety packs for the vodka soda line. The new Tropical Variety Pack includes the ultra-refreshing Strawberry, Pineapple, and Lime flavors, while the 8-pack edition of the Classic Variety Pack includes Watermelon, Black Cherry, and Lime. Moving forward, we want to continue providing customers with new ways to enjoy all of our expressions. As a beverage known for fun and functionality, we also plan on continuing to insert ourselves into verticals such as the health and wellness, fitness, sports, music, and hospitality spaces – consistently building relationships with the tastemakers and patrons that occupy them. **Good time to hint at upcoming news**
Read reviews of Canteen Spirits on Seltzer Nation.