Startup To Scale

161. Bear Maple: Launching a New Beverage Brand

April 08, 2024 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 161
161. Bear Maple: Launching a New Beverage Brand
Startup To Scale
More Info
Startup To Scale
161. Bear Maple: Launching a New Beverage Brand
Apr 08, 2024 Season 1 Episode 161

Launching a new CPG business is tough at any time, but launching one in 2024? Let’s find out. I invited on Brian Bethke, founder of Bear Maple, a new Ginseng Maple Water. Brian first came up with the idea in 2020 when looking at Maple Trees outside of his window. Fast forward a few years, he officially launched the brand at Expo West 2024 to much fanfare, winning the KeHE Trendfinder “Golden Ticket”, designed to help fast track young, leading edge brands.

Listen in to Brian’s exciting story to hear what it took to bring his new brand to market and where it’s going from here.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

Launching a new CPG business is tough at any time, but launching one in 2024? Let’s find out. I invited on Brian Bethke, founder of Bear Maple, a new Ginseng Maple Water. Brian first came up with the idea in 2020 when looking at Maple Trees outside of his window. Fast forward a few years, he officially launched the brand at Expo West 2024 to much fanfare, winning the KeHE Trendfinder “Golden Ticket”, designed to help fast track young, leading edge brands.

Listen in to Brian’s exciting story to hear what it took to bring his new brand to market and where it’s going from here.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Bear Maple: Launching a New Beverage Brand

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] Launching a new CPG business is tough at any time, but launch a one in 2024? Well, let's find out. I've invited on today, Brian Bethke, who is the founder of Bear M which is a new beverage, which I'm excited to have them tell you about. So Brian, welcome to the show. 

Brian Bethke: Thanks, jordan. I'm excited to be here with you.

Jordan Buckner: So this has been a pretty exciting year for you. I know we first met like just a couple months pre launch. You're like getting the product all together, getting the ingredients sorted out. Getting me factoring put together and there's kind of like a lot to building a brand. But I'll give you a little bit of a preview.

We had an awesome launch at Expo West and lots of opportunities that are coming up next. So what I thought we'd do is right. Like, I love to introduce you and your story to our audience, but really just talk through what the experience has been like in starting Bear Maple and starting the CPG brand this [00:01:00] year.

Brian Bethke: The experience has been amazing. The CPG industry in general is such a loving community and so accepting. I originally came from the music industry, and I spent 15 years building up two brands, Pigtronix and Supro into highly respected brands, and then I sold that business in 2020. And that was a seminal experience.

I got to manufacture amplifiers and guitars and effects pedals for my childhood hero. So people like Paul Simon, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, on and on. And so it was a kind of difficult, life changing experience to move on from selling that business. And then trying to figure out where to go next.

And this was 2020. So COVID happened at the same time and New York city just completely emptied out. That's where we live. , I'm here with my wife, Megan, and I have a nine year old daughter, Anna, and we moved up to the Catskills and. At the time, I thought I was going into AI. I got a business [00:02:00] coach and was enamored by coding.

And I started learning Python and building machine learning modules on Google TensorFlow. And at the same time, I'm sitting indoors in front of a computer screen. Outside my window is all maple trees and it's absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining through the maple trees. It's majestic. And. Amazing. And so I grabbed my daughter, we went out and we tapped the maple trees and we made maple syrup.

We made maple candy. and we discovered that maple water is delicious. And we're like, this should be a beverage. Why does this not really exist so much yet? because maple water is delicious. Water that's been filtered through the cells of a tree. So it takes out everything bad and instills it with nutrients and minerals and everything your body needs to be healthy.

And plus ginseng grows naturally in the undergrowth of all the maple forks throughout the Northeast. And so those two, I was like ginseng, maple water, let's put those together. And that was the [00:03:00] inspiration for Bear maple. Why bear maple because bears are awesome. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah, 

Brian Bethke: and because bear was my nickname when I was a child That was what my mom called me.

I said that was that was the Trajectory and then entering for into the CPG industry from the music industry. I Knew nothing about CPG And when I reached out to you, you, I barely knew what the acronym CPG even meant. I was like, CP what? And I remember reaching out to you it was Sarah Delaney from Sarilla had a long conversation with her and she became a good friend and advisor.

And she said, you should really talk to Jordan. He has a whole platform and a podcast. and so I feel very lucky to Have connected with you and other people like you who are very open with their journey and experiences and resources. So thank you. 

Jordan Buckner: Oh my goodness Brian, so much there and I absolutely love your story, which is why I was excited to share it on the podcast as well.

And that's [00:04:00] so cool that you kind of found Maple and Ginger coexisting together because I feel like nature does a lot of the work of finding what works really well next to each other. Right? If we just like follow what nature does. And I had never had maple water before, so what a really cool product idea and and concept.

So take me back to like, you had , the maple water plus ginseng idea, how did you kind of formulate that in terms of like creating this into a sellable product? 

Brian Bethke: It took a long time. It took over three years. When I first started out I thought this was going to be more of a maple water product, and I discovered that Maple water had been done and tried.

It was about eight years ago or so that there was a lot of excitement around maple water and that thinking that maybe this will overtake coconut water and that it has a lot of health benefits to it, and. For whatever reason, it just never really panned out. And I very [00:05:00] quickly realized that ginseng is really the true hero ingredient of this beverage.

And I got very curious about ginseng and I started doing all this research and lo and behold, there are studies going back to the 1970s about all the health benefits of ginseng and how it boosts immunity and stress resilience and supports mental clarity and focus. And the mechanism that does that is something called ginsenicides.

And I kept reading in these studies about rare ginsenicides with names like RG3 and RG5 and RK1. And there's about 60 of them. And I became enamored with RG3. I really wanted that one particular ginsenicide. I just focused on it for whatever reason. , there's studies about anti cancer and all the immunity stuff.

And I decided Bear Maple has to have RG3. And so I went to every single supplier for ginseng in the entire world and asked them, can you supply me with RG3? And I got no, after no, after no, and then a [00:06:00] maybe. And then they said, actually no. And then another no. And that went on for a long, long time. And I became very frustrated.

And there was a moment there when I thought, okay, this is not going to work out if I can't get in front of consumers. I can't go to stores and talk about a product if I don't truly believe in it. It's not Gotta pass that test. And if it doesn't have the ginsenicides, which are the actual functional compounds and functional ingredient that I'm looking for, then maybe this is, maybe I just go back to the music industry.

So what'd you do? about that time, I went to a supply side trade show in Secaucus, New Jersey, and I had set up a meeting with a supplier from China. I went and had this big meeting with them. I thought that they were gonna be the one, and I go there and she says, jj Sure. which is, there's no way that we can do this

That's absolutely impossible. [00:07:00] And I was crushed. my dream was crushed in Mandarin Chinese, and I'm walking down the trade show aisle, and all of a sudden I stumble upon a big sign that has a ginseng root on it. And all the. An art G3 right there in the middle. And so I had stumbled upon a startup from Belgium that grows ginseng hydroponically, regulates the nutrients to the root and speeds up the growth process in order.

And this is very important because it takes 10 years for those rare ginsengicides. To build up in a ginseng root and by the way, Belgium is the world leader in agricultural technology and smart farming. So they have developed this process to speed up the growth. And grow the equivalent of 12 year old ginseng in the course of three months.

And that is the ginseng that we use in Bear maple. And it's the highest quality on the market. And it's amazing, amazing stuff. And ginseng at first, I started experimenting with extract, ginseng extract. And I realized that [00:08:00] extract there's a very bitter taste profile to it. And so I pivoted and started grinding up the ginseng root and brewing it in the maple water.

And so it pairs the beautiful tea like earthiness of ginseng with the delicate sweetness of maple water. And it's just delicious stuff. And we are done. Use yuzu in each of the flavors. And why yuzu? Because yuzu is like lemon's better half. It has nuance and. Floral brightness to it that is absolutely beautiful and adds depth of flavor.

And that has been the approach to ingredients here. It's really ingredients with integrity. 

Jordan Buckner: Brian, I keep learning so many new things about you. I didn't know that you spoke Mandarin and, and, but you had this wild journey to find something that's actually functional. Because And I'm sure you've maybe started noticing this already, but a lot of people enter into the CPG industry, just like anything else, and they realize what they want to create is really, really difficult.

And [00:09:00] end up settling for something less than ideal just to kind of get something into the market, which I understand and I've experienced that myself as well as like, Oh, it's not what I wanted, but like, let's just get something out. And so I love your dedication to. like finding the product that actually was something that you could believe in to put in the world.

And I love that combination of , the ginseng and the maple water. You know, one thing, especially for our listeners, right? Like even for ginseng, it's used in a lot of Eastern medicine and also used as a energy drink, almost an ingredient in a lot of Asian countries as well. It's starting to come to the U S too.

So I absolutely love that. So here's my question, maple and ginseng water. ginseng maple water. How are you positioning it to consumers in terms of something that's easy for them to understand to want to pick it up off the shelf? Because I've tried it, it tastes delicious, but it's something that's new and new requires education.

So how are you starting to think about telling that story of like [00:10:00] why ginseng maple water? 

Brian Bethke: There needs to be some focus around education around ginseng. That's, that's really the key. But it's also not too hard. There are a lot of people who are a built in market who are already very familiar with ginseng and use it as they have ginseng sticks that is like concentrated liquid ginseng.

There's ginseng tablets. And as I progressed in this, I kept meeting people who say, Oh, ginseng, this is great. I use this. On a daily basis. And I was, I was very surprised by that. There's a lot of people out there who already have an association with it. And what is very interesting is that a lot of times their expectation is that when they take that it's going to have a bitter taste profile to it.

But it's the process that we've created that, that makes it really beautiful and harmonizes it with the maple water and the other ingredients. And everyone was just so pleasantly surprised. And the other reaction that I often get is [00:11:00] people take a sip and then they turn it around and look at the label and say, wait a minute, one gram of sugar.

There's no way. There's no way this is, and what is going on here. And this speaks to your your comment about formulation and young brands going into a formulator. With a lot of specs that they want to hit it. , and I'm guilty of this too. I went to the formulator way earlier than I should have and said, okay, this is my vision.

I don't know what the ingredients are, but just throw it together. And the problem there is that , it's not the formulators job to source ingredients. They have a laundry list of stuff that they know and they've used in the past. But if you want a natural beverage. That highlights high quality ingredients.

Then you've really got to find it yourself and do the homework. And if you want to put something out, that's truly unique and truly different from what's already on the market and a formulator will also want to add additional [00:12:00] ingredients because that's what makes it easy for them. They easier.

It's, it's a hard job and. I'm certainly not an expert, but the more variables you have, the more things you can tweak. And so it's very easy to go in and, and end up, well, I want it a little sweeter, so let's add some stevia. I want this vitamin in it, so let's add this thing, and let's, I want that function, so let's add that ingredient.

And soon enough, you have a huge list of ingredients, and there's no particular focus. It does a lot of stuff, but people are very confused about , who's it for? What is it supposed to do? And yeah, and so , that was a real challenge. So what we focused on, what I focused on was keeping it very, very simple and letting the ingredients shine and speak for themselves.

Jordan Buckner: I love that. So you're able to find The perfect product and ingredients have a great brand that you've developed found manufacturing and I'm excited because you just kind of publicly launched at Expo West this year, [00:13:00] which was really cool to see and I'm excited because I wrote about you and our trend roundup was actually scouted by Kate Fawson, who is another The CPG entrepreneur supporter and she and I actually, she didn't know that I knew you and she like found the product and really liked it and I actually saw Bear maple show up in like three or four, at least other kind of trend reports.

So I'm excited to see the success from that. You also, were awarded the 2024 Kehi trend finder golden ticket, which kind of gives you a fast track to working with Kehi. Tell me else about like what happened at Expo. What was that experience like? 

Brian Bethke: Expo West was amazing. It was a great experience. And I go by the Adage that 90 percent of the success of trade shows happens before the show even starts.

It's all about the preparation and getting the team dialed in, doing all the training, reaching [00:14:00] out, doing the PR. So we went in very prepared. And then our first meeting was with Kehi. And Kehi is the biggest distributor in the natural channel. I had never had a meeting with Kehi. It was, I was nervous and I went in.

We had a great meeting. It was about 20 minutes. And then at the end, she says, this is a great fit. You, this is going to be perfect. And by the way, here's the golden ticket. And that, that was such a great feeling. And my head of sales to Rosabelle and I walked out of that meeting. And we were like, wow, what just happened?

And we'd walked up to the booth , and then they opened the book, the doors and the show started. 

Jordan Buckner: What a great way to start. 


Brian Bethke: We had great conversations with stores and brokers and distributors and industry people at it was a really fun time and we made a lot of progress and. It was excellent.

Jordan Buckner: Oh my goodness. I'm so excited and so happy to hear about that success. Because right, like I think I love that adage of, you know, most of the work Naeverson comes from before the trade show, because I think you're totally [00:15:00] right. A lot of people will go to any size trade show and not really know what to expect, not do any pre outreach.

And they're just like, okay, if I build it, people will come, you know, if I'm just have a booth, but it doesn't always work that way. And so I love that you went in there with specific goals. So tell me about kind of post expo now, what does the actual launch look like? When can people get their hands on the product and what's your launch strategy from here?

Brian Bethke: So as we speak, we're launching in stores across New York city, metro area with Gotham brands, and we will be opening up two to four DDCs with Kehi in the next few months. And the news that I'm very excited about is that. We are just signing on with Greenspoon for their Take Root Accelerator program and Greenspoon is a fantastic broker.

They are very selective about who they work with and particularly about finding healthy, high quality, sustainable brands. And like Bear Maple, they are a 1 percent for the planet business. So [00:16:00] excited about that. And yeah, moving forward, , we have a lot of events planned to help the sell through and support the sell through in the New York City metro area.

We'll be at the Earth Day Festival at Union Square on April 14th and giving out samples. We'll be out on, at the Montauk Music Festival on May 17th. And what inspired that was, The band that I play guitar in for many years, Aquachipari, will be performing. So shout out to those guys, Chad and Stu. , and yeah, for the latest news you can follow us on Trent Bear Maple.

And for anyone who wants to follow my personal entrepreneurial journey in real time, I have an email newsletter called Innovate. Integrate and elevate. And you can find that the link for that on our meet the founders section of our website, drinkbearmaple. com. 

Jordan Buckner: Perfect. I love that. And it's been so fun being able to work with you and continue as part of your journey.

So I'm excited to follow what's next with Bear Maple. And you will also be able to [00:17:00] see any news through our Monday Foodbevy This Week at CPG News, as I'll be sharing all the updates there. 

Brian Bethke: And finally, the Amazon! We're just launching on Amazon, I almost forgot this. Please go on Amazon, pick up a mixed sample pack of Bear Maple, and enjoy it, and I promise you won't regret it.

Jordan Buckner: And they're delicious, so make sure to leave a great review once you do so. I love it. Brian, thanks so much for being on today and so excited for everything that you've accomplished so far and that you are going to accomplish this year. So looking forward , to continuing seeing your journey grow. 

Brian Bethke: Yeah.

Thank you, Jordan. , that was awesome. and I appreciate all your support and encouragement and yeah, just being part of it. Yeah.