A decade ago, Erin Edds didn’t even drink Bloody Marys, and she certainly wasn’t pursuing a life-time career in the food industry. (She says she was too busy going to Phish concerts.) She did, however, mix a few of the spicy drinks at the Tacoma, Wash., restaurant where she tended bar back then but didn’t give them much thought beyond that.
Then, about two years ago, Edds received a call from a New York-based event planner looking for Indiana-themed products for gift baskets tied to Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Indianapolis Colts were playing.
At the time, Edds had a commercial kitchen in Indianapolis and was putting together products for local farmer’s markets. So she decided to make a batch of Bloody Mary mix — “off the cuff,” she says. Edds canned it, sent most of the result to New York, and then sold the surplus to her usual farmer’s market customers. Still, she didn’t think much of it. The Bloody Mary mix didn’t even have a name yet.
But then a funny thing happened: “People started coming back and telling their friends, and telling their friends that owned restaurants,” she says. Suddenly, she realized she might have tapped into something. Maybe it was time to think more about her cocktail mix.
So in early 2010, Edds, now 37, asked her parents for a $1,000 loan to make her first commercially canned batch of Bloody Mary mix – 99 gallons of it. Through word-of-mouth, she had 20 places selling the mix by July. The company started without a formal business strategy, but it did start using social media and special events to gain exposure for the mix, even taking feedback from customers at liquor store tastings and golf outings. Today, Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary mix is being served or sold in more than 600 restaurants, stores and hotels in six states, including the largest J.W. Marriott hotel in the world (in Indianapolis) and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
According to Edds’ business partner, Casey “Cat” Hill, sales grew 700% in 2011, and sales in January and February of this year have already surpassed those from the last six months of 2011. Hill expects sales to top $1 million this year.
This success seem partly driven by growing ranks of health-conscious consumers and their interest in local, organic products. Although Edds says she can’t get all her ingredients locally, the mix relies partially on locally sourced Indiana tomatoes. Plus, the mix is gluten-free, with low sodium, and is made without high-fructose corn syrup.
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Savvy marketing — featuring the pretty face of Hoosier Momma herself – also seems to be playing a role. “The packaging is different and our branding is a kind of edgy pinup girl – without being racy,” Edds says. “People want to hold our jar in their hands. They want to pick it up off the shelf.”
While the company has grown quickly, it’s still essentially a four-person company, with Edds and Cranfill at the heart of it. Still, getting to 600 locations around the U.S. has required a couple-hundred sales reps as well as marketing professionals, graphic artists and web designers. “Even though we say, kind of tongue-in-cheek, that it’s a four-person base, it’s a lot more than that,” says Cranfill.
With more and more people classifying themselves as foodies, and the growing popularity of celebrity chefs and television shows about cooking, Edds and Cranfill feel demand for high-quality drink mixes is likely to grow. “People don’t think twice about buying a $35 bottle of vodka to make Bloody Marys because they think that’s the way to do it,” Edds says. “But then they’ll buy a $2.99 bottle of mix off the shelf and wonder why their Bloody Marys don’t taste very good.”
And they’re placing bets that this hunch is right. An expanded product line is in the works. In addition to a spicy Bloody Mary mix, which is already outselling the original, Hoosier Momma will soon release a new line of fruity mixes, including Strawberry Rhubarbarita and Beekeeper Margarita. “Our distributors are lined up to take them just because of our reputation with the other mixes,” says Cranfill.
Edds is especially gratified to see how broad a range of customer seems to appreciate her products.
“If you look at our reviews,” she says, “we have support from everybody from celebrity chefs to a bar owner in our neighborhood who basically said, ‘Thank you for making a Bloody Mary mix that doesn’t taste like a–.’ And he’s, like, punk rock. He’s a hard-core dude.”