Editor’s note: This story on Annika Sörenstam and Fizzy Beez, which originally ran on February 25, 2022, is the final installment in a series of special GGP/Biz pieces during the week of the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida.
She’s not the first. For decades players have aligned themselves with beverages of one variety or another. The list of tour players who have become vintners is long and distinguished with people such as David Frost and Cristie Kerr knowing at least as much about wine as they do about spin ratios and driver lofts.
In most of those cases, the players put their names on the product – Kerr Cellars being a prime example – and use their attachment to the game as a key marketing strategy. On that front, Annika Sörenstam’s newest venture is different.
The LPGA Hall of Famer – along with her husband, Mike McGee, and a family friend and pickleball partner named Kathy Johanson – will launch a new brand of canned ready-to-drink cocktails called Fizzy Beez on March 1. The launch includes four spirit-based drinks – a margarita, cosmo, mojito and Moscow mule – that are being canned in Cincinnati and test-marketed in Ohio.
The name is a play on the fact that Mike and Annika constantly refer to each other as “busy bees.” It also relates to the products’ key differentiator: all the drinks are sweetened with organic honey from what Sorenstam and McGee call an “ethical farm” in Washington State.
What is absent is Sörenstam’s name or likeness anywhere on the cans or packaging, a departure from most golfer-owned beverage ventures.
“My name isn’t on the product, but our time is all on it,” Sörenstam said. “Mike and I work on this almost 24 hours a day it seems. We’re canning now, and the website is being launched. It started as an idea. We explored it. The feedback was positive, and then we explored it some more. And then we made the decision, let’s do it. But I want the drink to speak for itself. Of course, we’re using golf as an entry point. If you want to have a cosmo on the course, you can’t find a bartender there. With this, you just open a can and go. But it’s also really for anyone to drink, not just golfers. It’s not specific to a certain group.”
They came up with the idea during the pandemic, when, stuck at home, Mike and Annika found it difficult to find mixers that weren’t sweetened with fructose or cane sugar. So, in their kitchen, the couple began creating their own mixers with honey. One thing led to another, and Fizzy Beez was born.
“We just finished the canning launch,” Sörenstam said. “There was an ice storm (in Cincinnati), so it was a little delayed. We were up there for the first three days (of canning). And to see the first cans roll off after 20 months of work was really surreal. We went through the testing and all the different recipes, and then to design the can, and then to find a co-packer and design the package, and all of a sudden it’s ‘Here we go.’”
There was a good bit more to it than that. One of McGee’s childhood friends in northeast Ohio was a man named Curt McCamon. The two grew up a block away from each other and remained close throughout their lives. McCamon went to work in the beverage industry while in college at Kent State and is now the CEO of Superior Beverage Group, a distribution company in northeast and north central Ohio, a territory that includes Cleveland, Youngstown and Columbus.
Not only will McCamon distribute Fizzy Beez in the initial test market, but he was also a key sounding board throughout the process.
“Curt has been adamant that we go with beer distributors rather than wine and spirits because of the relationships and the frequency,” McGee said. “A beer distributor might go to Publix three times a week, where the (spirit distributor) calls on them once a week. But we’re trying to do things the right way with a methodical rollout.”
They aren’t big. As Sörenstam put it, “We’re soft launching. You go to Kroger and they have so much inventory that we can’t really compete at that level. I know that 6,000 cases (of Fizzy Beez product) sound like a lot to me – and it is, it’s like 150,000 cans – but to go to a big retailer, you need a lot more supply.
“(Superior Beverage) has 12,000 accounts and we are starting with 800. They’ll go to stores in Cleveland and Columbus, and we have (another) distributor lined up in Cincinnati. So it’s going to be out there, but we’re waiting with Kroger. We’ve had conversations with them, and hopefully we can get in the next set for the fall, which for them starts at the end of July. So it’s coming quick. We hope to get it in a few stores so they can test it.
“But now is when the work starts. We have to get it to the distributors, get it to the retailers and then get it to the consumers. We have a lot to do.”
The alcohol business requires navigating a byzantine maze of laws and regulations. For starters, a large grocery chain can’t place one order for all of its stores. As McCamon explained, “Every state is different. The 21st Amendment, repealing prohibition, turned liquor laws back to the states, and every state sets their own regulations. I can’t think of a single state that does not have geographic territories for distributors. They’re usually set up along county lines.
“So it’s a pretty intense process of interviewing distributors and seeing who the best fit is for the product. There are a few distributors who have larger footprints, but for the most part, the beer, wine and liquor distributors around the country are small, family-owned businesses.
“The only common denominator is that all alcohol goes through the three-tier system – manufacturer, distributor, retailer – no matter what size the retailer or how big the brand. So if Kroger decides, corporately, that it wants to carry a product, they will likely test it in a handful of stores where they can use one distributor. But no matter how many stores or what the size, it goes through the distributors, not (Kroger’s) warehouses. That’s a national regulation. And it’s the case for every retailer, from Kroger to the local liquor store to a golf course to a restaurant or bar.”
“Mike and I are interviewing different distributors in different states to find partners. I will probably approach clubs about putting it in the beverage carts and 19th holes, just like I did with my clothing line. I would walk into pro shops and say, ‘I don’t see the Annika line.’ We need to do the same thing here.” – Annika Sörenstam
So even though the ready-to-drink market is about $783 million nationally, with spirit-based cocktails taking the largest share of the market at about 43 percent, if a national golf outlet such as ClubCorp or Topgolf wanted to put Fizzy Beez on the menu, they would still need to go through as many as 150 different distributors to do it.
“Mike and I are interviewing different distributors in different states to find partners,” Sörenstam said. “I will probably approach clubs about putting it in the beverage carts and 19th holes, just like I did with my clothing line. I would walk into pro shops and say, ‘I don’t see the Annika line.’ We need to do the same thing here. There is a strategy as to who we are beelining. But there is no doubt that golf clubs will be a super target. (The drinks are) easy to keep and store and have in the golf cart.”
What’s not easy at the moment is getting ingredients and product from one point to the next. For example, McGee learned that the cost of shipping organic honey from Washington to Ohio was more than the price of the honey itself. And once the cans roll off the co-packer’s line, trucks have to get them to market. That logistical challenge is worse than it has ever been.
“In 24 years in the beverage industry, I’ve never seen supply-chain issues this bad,” McCamon said.
Still, Fizzy Beez keeps buzzing.
“We’ve been using organic honey for a lot of things at home for quite some time,” Sörenstam said. “It has a lot of health benefits. So, we thought, why put in sugars when you can sweeten with organic honey? It also makes the drinks a little creamier and thicker, which makes them different. They’re also gluten free and kosher and made with natural ingredients that we feel good about.
“Then we have the Fizzy Beez promise, which is to give back to bee conservation and support organic honey farms. So put all that together, and we are pretty happy with what we have here.”
Photos Courtesy Fizzy Beez
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