“A drink in your hand is the universal socializer,” said Shepherd. Alcohol has had a traditional hold on that, he said, but “We wanted to create cannabis for cocktail moments.” The company’s first foray into the market came in 2019 with the creation of Artet, a botanical aperitif. “Something low dose, to wash away the day,” Shepherd said.
Artet’s aperitif, also called Artet, comes in a 750ml bottle complete with shot glass so consumers can measure consumption of their THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. (10mg of THC is considered a “serving” but many consumers new to cannabis-infused products may feel the effects with less THC.) The $40 bottle includes 15 servings, each containing 2.5mg of THC. A double strength bottle costs 48$ and contains 15 THC servings of 5mg each.
Coming from an extended family of entrepreneurs the founders had plenty of advisors to tap. Serendipitously, their own work experiences were suited to create a cannabis drink company together, combining marketing, finance and beverage knowledge. Shepherd worked in brand strategy for a creative agency. Cousin Zach worked in venture capital. Cousin Max worked for a coconut water company.
More recently the California-based company introduced pre-made cocktails that use Artet as the base, in packs of four eight-ounce cans. Tet & Tonic combines the Artet aperitif with chamomile tonic and lemon. Rosemary Jane combines Artet with grapefruit, rosemary, and sparkling water. Coming soon, Mango Ginger Spritz. Each can contains 5mg of THC.
The company was “off to the races” starting at the end of 2019 said Shepherd, but then the pandemic hit. The founders regrouped, researching digital sales and the best retailers for their products. When they did start selling in stores, they partnered with three locations, one for each founder to spend time in. “We wanted to learn as much as possible about what people want and how to pitch the product,” Shepherd said.
The drinks are now stocked in 100 stores.
The biggest challenge the company faces is just getting on the shelves said Shepherd. Only licensed dispensaries (not liquor or grocery stores) can sell cannabis beverages and most were set up before the category existed, so drinks would have to replace currently-sold items. Beverages usually take up more space in dispensaries than traditional higher-priced products like flower and edibles, Shepherd said, so they have to sell more to generate the same income as a more expensive item. In addition, while Artet drinks are shelf-stable, they’d be more ready-to-consume if chilled, which means investing in display refrigerators for retailers he said.
Increasing customer demand will be one of the keys to the company’s long-term success said Shepherd, “We want to move out of the novelty space into the everyday space.”