Two and a half years after introducing hemp to vodka drinkers, Liquid Chicks has found the spirits business a rough road.
But with an upcoming appearance on CBC’s entrepreneur show “Dragons’ Den,” the company’s founders — Stephanie Cooney and Brenda Magnusson, both originally from Newfoundland and now based in Alberta — hope the national exposure will give their young business a boost.
Liquid Chicks, which Cooney says will change its name to Stoked Spirits, sells its vodka in British Columbia and Alberta, but is working with the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. to get it on store shelves in this province this year, and hopes to start selling it in the United States soon, too. Since July 2010, when Stoked debuted for sale in Alberta, the women have had to overcome skepticism and problems with their labelling. Most recently, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency required them to change their labelling to say the vodka contains a hemp extract instead of being “infused” with hemp.
But a bigger problem may be the sheer number of vodkas already available, which makes some government listing agencies reluctant to add another one, she said.
“The vodka market is pretty heavily flooded, and it’s hard to get listings with government,” said Cooney.
The past couple of years in business haven’t been easy, she said, but she’s optimistic about the future. A reformulation of the vodka and some repackaging have boosted sales, she said, adding they’ve sold close to 40,000 bottles since going into business.
“We’ve had a lot of roadblocks. We’ve had a lot of challenges. We could have given up every other day, but we kept pursuing it. It’s like anything. It’s like a roller-coaster: you have your good days and your bad, but hopefully in the end you have more good days than bad, and you just don’t give up.”
Stoked will make its appearance on “Dragons’ Den” — a CBC show on which entrepreneurs pitch investors their products or businesses — Jan. 20.
Cooney says they offered 30 per cent of the company to the “dragons” for $150,000, which she said they’d use for marketing and to help launch in the United States. The pitch was filmed in May, but because the episode hasn’t aired yet, Cooney’s not allowed to say if they were successful or not — but regardless of the outcome, she said she thinks the national exposure will be good for Stoked.
“That was our main purpose of going on the “Dragons’ Den,” was the publicity and getting it out there. We had a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “We want to do a whisky and a rum and keep expanding,” she said.