Hello! Who are you and what beverage business did you start?

My name is Melina Lamer and in 2015 I started a health beverage company called Superior Switchel. We botanically brew sparkling, certified organic switchel — a refreshing, ginger and apple cider vinegar beverage from the 17th-century.

Melina Lamer is the founder of Superior Switchel.

This classic elixir is perfect for replacing electrolytes, boosting immunity and supporting digestion, and unlike kombucha, it is absolutely caffeine- and alcohol-free. (Although, it does blend quite nicely with spirits!) Right now, we have three flavors: Lavender Lemon Lift, Orange Maple Splash and Honey Cinnamon Kick.

Superior Switchel is a certified Woman-Owned B-Corp and actively supports U.S. waterway conservation efforts with 1% of our annual sales. You can now find our switchel at over 400 natural retailers nationwide and online via our website or Amazon.

What do your sales look like?

 We’ve sold over 130,000 bottles since 2015.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Switchel is a traditional elixir.

Back in college, I had a terrible diet mostly consisting of pizza, french fries, and anxiety so I suffered from chronic heart-burn. I went home to Wisconsin one weekend and was complaining to my grandma about my mostly self-induced acid-reflux.

She asked if I had tried taking apple cider vinegar shots to remedy the situation. I, of course, had not tried that…nor did I want to, but grandma started pouring me a shot and before I knew it…I was choking down vinegar.

Back at college, it wasn’t long before I realized her vinegar trick was actually helping. But, there was no way I could get down vinegar by itself, so I started blending it with my evening ginger-tea and added a little honey to aide in the consumption. 

This heartburn-soothing drink ritual became my post-hockey practice/game recovery drink. And eventually, I became known for the concoction. After college, I continued to make the drink, but transitioned into brewing my own ginger tea base to spice it up.

Enjoying a Superior Switchel

I began working at Whole Foods Market, with the hopes of working up the ladder into a corporate management position. In working on the floor, I started to realize how small the drinking vinegar set was (and remains today).

You have your classic brands, but they’re mostly sold in bulk…not as a ready-to-drink beverage. I thought this was an obvious and necessary move to make vinegar easier to drink, so I started to do some research on drinking vinegars, which led me to the word “shrub” and eventually the word “switchel”.

As soon as I read the definition, I thought, “holy sh*t, this is what I have been making this whole time…switchel. Cool.”

That sort of lit a fire in me because I felt validated. I started brewing more switchel, bottled it in Mason Jars and handed it to friends, family, and co-workers, who eventually persuaded me to sell it at a local, Minnesota farmers market.

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I was accepted into the market and hit the ground running — I created a company name, applied for an LLC, had a friend design a logo and labels, launched a Kickstarter campaign and brought home a 30 lb box of fresh yellow ginger from the Whole Foods Produce Department.

Thanks to the farmers market, I was approached by two co-ops that first year. One thing led to another, and it was like a snowball effect.

Take us through the process of developing, testing, and producing your first batch of switchel.

In college, it was easy. I just mixed together a little ginger herbal tea, honey, and a shot of apple cider vinegar. But when it was time to create a better product, one that I could sell — I started to brew the switchel in a big soup pot in my apartment’s alleyway kitchen.

In year two, I was selling enough product at the farmers market, that I had outgrown the Pickle Bill (which allowed me to produce out of my home kitchen). Because of this, I had to find a shared community kitchen space where I could rent a certain number of hours for weekly production.

Switchel is a refreshing summer (or winter) drink.

This became rather expensive, so I had to approach more local retailers to bring in our products and scale up our production once-again. We (my girlfriend and I) continued to work full-time jobs during the day and brew at night in this community kitchen for two years. In November of 2017, we started to sell pallets of product and quickly outgrew the rented space. This forced us to either build our own manufacturing facility or find a co-packer. 

I had seen too many episodes of Shark Tank to think that building my own manufacturing facility was a wise choice, and I didn’t have the time nor financial backing to support that endeavor.

Instead, I decided to turn production over to a co-packing facility that I trusted. Moving to a co-packer created a few obstacles, however, such as scaling production, re-formulating, re-packaging, becoming certified organic, etc.

Lavender Lemon Lift flavored Superior Switchel.

It felt like starting over, but that’s what needed to happen to get to our next growth stage. In order to assist with this process, I hired an outsourced beverage production management team called BevSource.

They helped me find a suitable co-packer, new ingredient suppliers and packaging manufacturers. All of this took about ten months to come to fruition, but when we finally nailed down everything, it was such a relief. In just a few years, we had moved from a mug to a pot to a brew kettle and then to a whole bottling line!

Describe the process of launching the Superior Switchel.

Superior Switchel line of flavors.

We started the business with my own personal finances ($111k) and a small Kickstarter ($1,250). Then in our second year of business, I made a home delivery for an online sale, and when I rang the doorbell, the family asked if I’d like to come inside.

They wanted to learn more about the business, and after doing so, they asked if they could invest $20k in the company. Two years later, that same family ended up investing again in our friends and family investment round, which raised a total of $244,500. In 2018, we placed second in the MN Cup competition, which is held annually for start-up businesses in Minnesota.

The second place prize was $5k, and then I was aw