A part of our Beverage Business Breakthrough Series, featuring stories, advice, and insights from beverage entrepreneurs who’ve broken down barriers to reach remarkable goals.
Imagine building a line of ready-to-drink cocktails, hard seltzers, spirits, a co-packing manufacturing business from the ground up, getting the largest distributor in the world to carry your products, and winning countless gold medals, including “World’s Best Pre-Mixed Cocktail.” Now picture accomplishing all of that with no prior beverage industry experience. Alan Miller, Founder, and Danyelle Rabine, Co-founder of Blue Marble Cocktails and Blue Marble Productions, are proof that passion for your product and smart business practices can turn obstacles into beverage building opportunities.
In Search of a Better Cocktail
A successful entrepreneur in the medical technology space, Miller’s journey into the beverage industry started when he couldn’t find a flavorful ready-to-drink cocktail.
“Danyelle and I just wanted a great-tasting cocktail we could easily serve to our friends on our boat,” says Miller. “We couldn’t find anything that wasn’t watered down, loaded with sugar, or poorly packaged.”
For Miller and Rabine, the gap in convenient cocktail options signaled an opportunity worth investigating. They spent a year researching the market to learn what it would take to be successful. They met with flavor houses and co-packers and worked on costing and business models. As they learned more about the intricacies of the beverage industry, they quickly realized what they needed to do to launch a successful product.
“The vision behind Blue Marble is to be a company that stands out with premium, all-natural ingredients, and superior products that help make the world a better place through our “keep the blue marble blue” donation program,” says Miller.
Beginning with The End in Mind
With the vision in place, Miller set out to gather his team and get investors. While looking for the right investors Miller invested himself personally and still owns nearly 68% of the company's stock. Having skin in the game was one of the most important considerations he has for success. From his success in his previous businesses, he knew he needed people with established relationships for distribution and on-premise and off-premise sales. He also needed an exit strategy. It may seem counterintuitive to think about exiting when you’re just starting, but Miller explains why it's essential for success.
“Having an exit strategy is like plugging in the address of your destination before you leave on a trip,” he says. “Once you know where you’re going, you can estimate how long it will take and measure how decisions will impact your journey.”
Miller has been open about his plan to build Blue Marble nationally and eventually position it for a buyout to expand globally.
Blue Marble curated a staff of industry experts with backgrounds in areas like product development, ingredient procurement, and distribution, as well as leaders from outside the beverage world who could bring in a fresh perspective.
“I don’t care about what’s been done in the past unless it’s applied to what consumers want now,” says Miller, who worked with his in-house PhD and Purdue University to formulate cocktails with ingredients like real lime concentrate. “We knew that with enough passion, talent, and bandwidth, we could navigate the challenges and end up with a dynamite product. And we wouldn’t settle for anything less.”
If You Can’t Find It, Build It
With distribution contracts in place from day one, the biggest challenge Blue Marble faced early-on was finding a facility with the quality standards and capacity to produce the product. When Miller reached out to find co-packers who could package his eight flavors into 200ml cans, he realized that the manufacturing partner he needed might not exist.
“The facilities I reached out to couldn’t do what we needed without a substantial upfront investment in building a new line,” says Miller. “There were canning lines for low-volume production, and there was high-volume capacity, running 1,000 cans per minute for companies like Molson Coors. There really wasn’t anything in between.”
So, Miller set out to build out a canning line in 60 days. He went to Pack Expo and bought machines and materials off the show floor. Blue Marble Productions started small with a 35,000 square foot facility producing 600 cases on a “big” day. But soon, they began receiving requests from other companies for 200ml - 355 ml cans. They upgraded the line and can now produce 350 cans per minute with the flexibility to easily switch between can-type and end-packaging.
“Consumers are changing,” says Miller. “It’s not just Coke and Pepsi in the running. This is the era of craft beverages and cocktails. Companies need more options to meet demand efficiently.”
Canning Gets an Upgrade
Starting a manufacturing company wasn’t originally in the plans. Still, Miller quickly saw the opportunity to bring his background producing medical-grade lasers to create a highly-technical and extremely flexible beverage manufacturing facility.
In addition to incorporating world-class practices in traceability, quality assurance, regulatory compliance, and accounting, Blue Marble Productions uses automation to advance beverage manufacturing innovation.
“We’ve gone outside the industry to look at robots, lasers, high-speed cameras, and other technology to improve efficiency and maximize output and quality,” says Miller. “We’re looking at everything to see how we can do it better with more flexibility and less cost.”
The company is also helping brands become more sustainable by reducing waste and introducing non-plastic packaging options like biodegradable, edible trays, and cornstarch wrap.
Blue Marble Productions is already producing for some of the top beverage companies in the world and bringing more processes in-house every day. From managing ingredients and packaging to label design, the ultimate goal is to make premium products more affordable by offering one-stop beverage production.
“I see Blue Marble Productions as a place where Google meets canning,” says Miller. “We have a top-of-the-line facility and a fun environment. We offer premium wages and creative incentives like corn-hole, go-kart racing, and tastings. Even as a relatively small company, we’re attracting top talent.”
What’s Next for Blue Marble
For Miller, it’s all about expansion. The new Blue Marble Productions facility (opening this summer) is 181,000 square feet and has enough room to house six complete lines including can sleeving, pasteurization, in-house batching, in-house laboratory testing, and 3PL services. Blue Marble is already canning alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including sparkling/still water, energy drinks, kombuchas, spiked/hard seltzers, and of course, ready-to-drink cocktails. “We want to offer turnkey services to our co-packing clients including private labeling so we can lower their overall cost and give them more of a competitive pricing strategy to their distributors/retailers and ultimately the consumer. If we can help them be successful it means we are more successful,” says Miller. He’s excited about growing Blue Marble’s line of premium products, advancing its support of global conservation and environmental initiatives, and inspiring others.
Blue Marble’s line of beverages has already been expanded to include nine RTDs, four vodka-based hard seltzers, and their own ultra-premium vodka.
“With the onset of COVID-19 we have been approached by restaurants, bars, and more on-premise businesses like arenas, and golf courses, seeking a solution for no-touch or one-touch cocktail service for their patrons.
I am passionate about learning everything I can to advance the brand and our mission,” says Miller. “I want to use what I know and learn to help others succeed. So many people have helped me on my journey, and I am always looking for ways to pay it forward.”
As for advice for aspiring beverage entrepreneurs-Miller says it’s all about passion. “Be fully immersed in whatever you do and make sure you plan on having at least double the money for whatever is in your business plan,” Miller says. “There are no quick wins, but if you believe in what you’re doing and are passionate about it, that will carry you through.”