STOP IT WITH THE SPIKED SELTZERS! No, seriously. Stop. A category started by the Whiteclaws and Trulys of the world has become saturated with hopeful upstart beverage brands hoping to make it big with their ~innovative~ hard seltzer. LOKI, though, took a different route.
LOKI is an entirely new type of drink. Made with the cannabinoid extract Delta-8, it offers a clean alternative to alcohol that tastes great and delivers a unique and vibrant sensation, with no hangover the next day. LOKI is on a mission to create a new category-niche in the alcoholic-alternatives market that give consumers a “better buzz,” coining the term “Enhanced Seltzer.”
With five main active ingredients, one serving of LOKI contains only five calories, zero sugars, and zero carbs. The result is a delicious beverage that enriches experiences after a few sips, immerses consumers in the moment, and prolongs the party.
Harji spoke with Foodboro about his background in the creative world, his journey to entrepreneurship, the challenges of the beverage industry, his approach to work/life balance, and what he recommends for other early-stage food founders.
Before starting LOKI, what were you up to?
I’ve been working in the creative industry for about 10 years now. But it’s funny because my background, or what I went to school for and worked in in the earlier years, was real estate finance! It was only when one of the vendors we were working with asked me to join their agency that I shifted to the creative world. I hit that moment when work started to feel like play. I began to get paid for my judgment and began to earn with my mind as opposed to simply earning with time.
Eventually, I figured that it made sense to just start my own creative agency, Azai Studios. We ultimately became international and opened up offices in Dubai and Riga, Latvia. I felt like I was in a sweet spot where I had what I thought was a solid business acumen and creative experience. I had learned the ins and outs of making money out of my ideas and how to sell them. LOKI was born out of that.
How has your background in branding and marketing influenced LOKI?
Since I’ve worked on so many different types of brands, ranging from luxury goods and hospitality to CPG brands, I have a keen understanding of how and why consumers make decisions. That really helped us shape what LOKI turned out to be today. I think our branding is a massive part of the success we’ve had to date. We wanted to create something that stood out in the marketplace of non-alcoholic beverages on all different types of touchpoints, everything from the brand strategy, identity design, and brand. We wanted to create something that even non-cannabis users would consider trying.
Retail relationships: do you sell mostly DTC? What retailers do you work with?
We’ve seen steady growth on both sides of the business (D2C and Retail). The types of retailers we work with range from smaller bodegas and smoke shops to larger hospitality chains and event organizations.
Delta-8 isn’t anything new, but its regulations let us sell both DTC and retail on a national scale. This is one of the reasons why we think we can become the first actually mainstream alcohol alternative.
Who in the industry do you turn to for inspiration?
I’ve been asked this question a lot in the past. Personally, when looking for inspiration, I don’t really turn to brands or people in the industry for it. I think that to stand out, you need to look in other places for inspiration. I turn to music, fashion, art, architecture, cinematography, different cultures and their traditions.
Any other brands in the industry that you think are killing it?
Well, yes. But everyone’s definition of “killing it” is different, I think. I don’t believe anyone is “killing it” yet in our industry, specifically, the alternatives to alcohol.
Redbull is Killing It. Their brand equity is phenomenal. Anytime anyone thinks of “energy drink,” they’re usually the first thing that comes to mind. They built a brand around what it feels like to drink a Redbull. They created the “why” and did it right.
You guys are calling yourselves an “Enhanced Seltzer,” what is that?
We came up with that term to denote a beverage that isn’t alcohol but still gives you some sort of feeling.
A lot of these alcoholic-alternative beverages on the market, whether they’re CBD-based or adaptogen-based, don’t really do anything. They claim they do, but they don’t. That’s why we figured – let’s separate ourselves from the rest and call ourselves an Enhanced Seltzer, a beverage that is not alcoholic but will still give consumers a full-on experience.
What have been the challenges of the beverage industry?
We’re learning as we go. One of the biggest challenges we have right now, which isn’t actually a beverage industry-specific challenge, is that we can’t really do any paid social media. It’s because we were in the hemp-space, so Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., they all block our paid ads, even though we are a federally legal product. So our customer acquisition needs to get creative.
But to be quite honest, I think this challenge is an opportunity in disguise. That “challenge” means that every one of our direct competitors also has that challenge. It allows us to shine since we can get more creative with our advertising and customer acquisition efforts.
LOKI is a new type of drink, how do you educate consumers and retailers?
Our drink is in a new category of drinks, and consumers are always hesitant to try something new. Events have been a HUGE part of our success to date. I have a pretty solid network of event organizers in the larger metropolitan areas (NYC, Miami, Austin), so leveraging that network and sponsoring events has helped us cross the barrier of entry to getting consumers to try LOKI. From there, the word spreads. We’ve received many wholesale requests because someone had tried it at some music festival, or a customer came into a store asking for LOKI because they tried it at a friend’s house.
As a founder, what do you do to take care of your health, “turn off” work?
Oh man, my wife’s always on me about this! But honestly, music is my “turn off” from work. I’ve been DJing and producing since I was 16. So record shopping for new music, playing shows, and making music have been how I tune out of work.
Check out my Soundcloud… ha!
If you’re going to fail, fail quickly and adapt.
What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?
This is such a cliché statement, but if you’re going to fail, fail quickly and adapt. We hit some speed bumps along the way but adapted quickly.
The market pays for what it wants but can’t make or do itself. Validate your product or service, make sure it has a product-market-fit. You can easily do this by spinning up a quick brand to test it out, build a landing page and take orders or inquiries.
Who you’re working with is as important as what you’re working on, and I’m fortunate to be working with my other two co-founders on this. We all bring value to the table, each in our own way. I’ve seen startups where everyone is running around like a headless chicken, and I think that’s just wasted time.
And lastly, learn how to sell. I can’t stress this enough.
What food and beverage trends are over-hyped and which are here to stay?
Hard seltzers! Please, guys.. Stop it with the hard seltzers. We don’t need any more. I think the brands that were first to market with this, the Whiteclaws and High Noons will be here to stay.
We’re actually doing a massive marketing campaign in NY, Miami, and Austin, and the main headline is “The world doesn’t need another hard seltzer,” haha.
What does the future look like for LOKI, what are you currently working on?
We launched LOKI with the black can, which leans on the citrus side flavor-wise and has been targeted towards going out, nightclubs, bars, music festivals etc.
In the next 4 months, we’re launching the white can! The flavor will be more on the tropical side, and we’re going to target it more towards hanging out on the beach, skiing/snowboarding, being on a boat, being by the pool. More chill vibes :).
Then on the horizon, we’re going to launch a bottled version of LOKI. Something you order at a restaurant and share with friends at dinner.
We’re excited to see where this can go.
- Connect with Harji on LinkedIn
- Follow LOKI on Instagram