Xander Shepherd was smoking outside a joint with his cousins Jack and Max Spohler at the family’s Vermont Thanksgiving gathering in 2016 when three of them looked out the window and the rest of the family were drinking and laughing together in the dining room. Shepherd said they thought about “bringing marijuana to the dinner table” so that the whole family could enjoy the event together. More than a fleeting notion that sounds good because they were high, Cousin’s Reverse started a cannabis beverage business.
“A drink in your hand is universal socializing,” Shepherd said. He said there is a traditional container of alcohol, but “we wanted to make marijuana for the cocktail moment.” The company first entered the market in 2019 with the creation of a Botanical Apparatus art. “Some low doses, wash away the day,” Shepherd said.
Artet’s aperitif, also called Artet, comes in a full 750ml bottle with shot glass so consumers can measure their use of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. (10 mg THC is considered a “service” but many newcomers to marijuana-infected products may experience the effects of low THC.) $ 40 bottles contain 15 servings, each containing 2.5mg THC. A double energy bottle costs $ 48 and each contains 15 THC servings of 5mg.
Entrepreneurs had plenty of mentors to tap into founders from an extended family. Combining marketing, finance and beverage knowledge, their own work experience combined to create a cannabis beverage company. Shepherd worked on a brand strategy for a creative company. Cousin Zach worked at Venture Capital. Cousin Max works for a coconut water company.
Most recently, the California-based company launched pre-made cocktails in packages of four eight-ounce cans that use art as a base. Tet & Tonic combines Artet aperitif with chamomile tonic and lemon. Rosemary combines Jane Artet with grapefruit, rosemary and sparkling water. Coming soon, Mango Ginger Spritz. Each may contain 5mg of THC.
Shepherd said the company started “for the run” in late 2019, but then the epidemic hit. The founders re-grouped by researching digital sales and the best retailers for their products. When they started selling in stores, they partnered with three locations, one for each founder to spend time with.
The drinks are now in stock in 100 stores.
Shepherd said the company’s biggest challenge is staying on the shelves. Only licensed dispensaries (not liquor or grocery stores) can sell marijuana drinks and most were set up before the category existed, so beverages will have to replace items currently sold. Shepherds said drinks usually take up more space in dispensaries than traditional high-value products such as flowers and edibles, so they need to sell more for the same income as more expensive items. In addition, although art drinks are shelf-stable, they will be more ready to eat when cold, which means investing in display refrigerators for retailers.
Growing customer demand will be one of the keys to the company’s long-term success, “said Shepherd.” We want to move from innovation to everyday space.