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Sep 28, 2021

If you’re trying to catch flies, try honey. But if you’re attempting to land distribution at every Whole Foods store in North America, vinegar might be your best bet. At least that was the case with Acid League, a platform brand of experimental condiments and beverages that is aiming to redefine center-store categories for modern consumers.

Launched by a team of food scientists in fall 2020, Acid League markets a variety of premium fermented products. The brand portfolio includes raw and unfiltered vinegars and vinaigrettes made with esoteric flavors such as Toasted Thai and Smoked Malt, apple cider vinegar tonics promoted “to taste as good as it makes you feel” and a line of non-alcoholic wines called Proxies that are made from juices, tea, spices and bitters. Leading with the tagline of “gut-friendly gastronomy,” the Toronto-based company had a remarkable start even before getting out of the gate: despite having no commercialized product, Acid League won a commitment from Whole Foods to carry its entire vinegar line in all of the retailer's locations in the U.S. and Canada.

The company, which operates its own production facilities, has since expanded its presence in Whole Foods and several other retail chains, and also operates a robust direct-to-consumer business anchored in subscription-based ordering, limited-edition products and curated kits. Although the company has only been on the market for a handful of months, Acid League has already generated millions of dollars in revenue and closed on a $4.75 million capital round in April.  

In an interview featured in this episode, Acid League co-founder and chief sales officer Cole Pearsall spoke about the genesis of the brand, how his background in food science and the diverse experience of his three co-founders spurred the company’s development and how their collective vision is expressed in both the branding and innovation strategy. He also explained why trust was the key factor in winning over Whole Foods, the use of product as a form of marketing and how the company aligns its retail and ecommerce strategies.

Show notes:

0:42: Interview: Cole Pearsall, Co-Founder/CSO, Acid League -- In a conversation recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2021, Pearsall spoke with Taste Radio editor Ray Latif about his home city of Toronto, the formulation and branding decisions behind Acid League’s unique non-alcoholic wines and why he believes the transition from food science to CPG sales wasn’t as difficult as one might think. Pearsall also  explained why the company debuted with vinegars, communicating product attributes to consumers who may be less familiar with their ingredients and why Whole Foods was swayed by the team’s experience. Later, he discussed the role of DTC in building awareness for the brand at retail, why “kitting” is key to Acid League’s ecommerce strategy and the company’s new pantry loading program.

Brands in this episode: Acid League