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Two Robbers

Two Robbers is Pennsylvania’s first craft hard seltzer, offering a healthier alternative to beer, wine, and cocktails with a distinct, hyper-local, design-forward, no-BS brand. I sat down with Vivek Nayar, co-founder, to discuss how Two Robbers Craft Hard Seltzer is changing the game.

New kids on the [hard seltzer] block.

We don’t drink like we used to.

Especially in the world of urban millennials, we’ve seen a shift from Coke to La Croix, Starbucks to La Colombe, Budweiser to Dogfish Head. Mass, sugary, big-box, and name brand, are out. Local, clean, smaller-scale, and craft are in. We want cleaner, healthier beverages, and smaller, niche brands that resonate with our lifestyles and fit with our personal brands.

In come hard seltzers – lower calorie, lower carb alcoholic beverages that serve as healthier alternatives to your usual beer, wine, or cocktail. Originally created in 2012, the hard seltzer category has boomed as consumers continue to reach for the cleaner, easier drink, and brands trying to leverage this newfound demand have exploded onto the scene. 2019 marked the year of the first ever hard seltzer Superbowl ad.

But that hasn’t stopped Vivek and Vikram Nayar from launching Two Robbers – Pennsylvania’s first craft hard seltzer that’s tackling the category from an entirely different angle – a nutritionally superior, better tasting product, with a more compelling brand and story. Clocking in at 110 calories, 0 sugar, and 5.2% ABV, Two Robbers is here to change the hard seltzer game.

“We see a lot of opportunity to challenge light beer and standard lagers. Hard Seltzers offer great taste with a lot of nutritional advantages. It’s a great casual drink.”

– Vivek Nayar, Co-Founder, Two Robbers

Two Robbers’ Initial Product Line: Pineapple Ginger, Orange Mango, Watermelon Cucumber

It’s hard out here for a beer.

The emphasis on healthy, niche, and craft has challenged global beverage brands’ core portfolios, in turn catalyzing their building out of innovation capabilities in the form of acquisitions departments, venture capital funds, accelerators, and incubators. Soda brands felt it first – Coca Cola hoped to find and develop ‘next generation beverages’ through its Venturing and Emerging Brands arm, and PepsiCo launched The Hive to cultivate niche brands in its portfolio. Alcohol and beer brands have been following suit – Constellation Brands invest in new liquor, beer and wine companies and technologies through its Constellation Ventures arm. Anheuser-Busch InBev buys and builds non-beer concepts through ZX Ventures, its global incubator, operator, and venture capital team.

In 2018, beer, cider and flavored malt beverages drove a $38.2 billion industry. But while traditional beer sales have either been stagnant or slowed, the demand for hard seltzer has skyrocketed. Purchase intent for hard seltzer has grown tremendously over the past few years, and in 2018, hard seltzer dollar sales grew about 16%, to nearly $487.8 million, while volumes increased 181%.

This sizable and growing opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed. The competition is fierce, but it’s also homogenous. White Claw (Mark Anthony Brands), Truly (Boston Beer Company), and Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer (ABinBev) are the three big players dominating the alcoholic malt-based seltzer space. They’re all owned by beverage giants that have moved into the category as fast as they could. They all target primarily female, young Millennial drinkers, in off-premise locations. They all serve up ads with visuals of fit young women drinking on spring break at the beach, at college parties on sunny lawns, or poolside on vacation. The cans are all tall, slim, white, and ‘clean’, and the flavors hinge on the usual fruits paired with alcohol – lime, cranberry, and grapefruit.

(From left to right) Two Robbers, White Claw, Truly, Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer

So despite the increasingly saturated landscape, the Two Robbers team is confident in what sets them apart: it’s fundamentally healthier, better tasting, higher quality, and better branded.

Vivek and Vikram spent the first year of Two Robbers entirely focusing on R & D and product formulation – testing out different yeasts, filtration processes, and ingredients. They’ve improved on existing seltzers with their core formula that serves as a neutral, pleasant alcoholic base offering bang for your buck with higher alcohol and lower sugar than competitors. Two Robbers’ numbers tell it all – they have a higher ABV than most other hard seltzers (5.2% ABV, versus comparable products hovering around 4.7%), 0g of sugar, and no artificial sweeteners.

On top of the nutritional advantage, Vivek and Vikram’s priorities were to create great tasting beverages that people would reach for and crave. So Two Robbers’ initial portfolio of hard seltzers far exceeds the standard grapefruit or lime flavor profiles – they’ve launched with pineapple ginger, orange mango, and watermelon cucumber.

And from a brand and consumer perspective, Two Robbers isn’t here to challenge the existing mass brands and play to the same consumer. The Two Robbers drinker isn’t necessary male or female, young or old, fit or not. By telling a local story reminiscent of craft beer narratives and emphasizing the personality and history of the founders, Two Robbers resonates on a more personal, egalitarian level. Their go-to-market strategy starts in Philadelphia, and stays true to Philadelphia, where Two Robbers was born, and their small but curated team of collaborators (graphic designers, experiential marketing partners, smaller-scale distributors, local sales team) all speak the same language. The name, the stories, the marketing, and the design on the can are emblematic of Two Robber’s unique voice – it’s grungy but stylish, low key but premium, cool but humble, alternative but for everyone. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s urban and diverse, and it’s starting small but dreaming big.

“The feedback has been amazing. We’ve worked really hard at that, so we’re very proud of the product we’re putting out and will continue to be hyper focused on quality.”

– Vivek Nayar, Co-Founder, Two Robbers

Trusting the Process.

Twin brothers Vivek and Vikram Nayar didn’t grow up drinking craft hard seltzer. None of us did. But as beer, wine, and cocktail drinkers who were trying to stay healthy, they knew there had to be a healthier, better-tasting, higher quality solution than the usual light beer or watery cocktail.

“I came across this category while seeking out healthier alternatives to beer and wine. I was looking for options low in carbs and sugar. Hard Seltzers fit that need really well. This was in the fall of 2017, and the industry was super small at that time – there were no more than $100-200M retail sales in the entire country.”

– Vivek Nayar, Co-Founder, Two Robbers

Armed with the mission of creating a better hard seltzer, and confident in their ability to partner on a new venture they were passionate about, Vivek and Vikram launched Two Robbers in January of 2018. Ever since then, the journey of Two Robbers has taken Viv and Vik on a wild ride. Both brothers have heavy finance backgrounds, having both graduated from NYU with Finance degrees, and started their careers as investment banking analysts at Goldman Sachs. Vikram went on to be a senior analyst at Trian Partners, a consumer-focused hedge fund, while Vivek was a private equity analyst at FFL partners, before he left to pursue an MBA at Wharton. But they don’t see their non-traditional backgrounds as a handicap in this industry – rather a distinct advantage in disrupting a space mostly occupied by old-school beverage behemoths.

“Being outsiders to the industry has allowed us to come in with a fresh perspective. We’re learning on a day by day, month by month basis, about everything – formulation, production, supply chain, legal stuff, licensing… every time we come across these challenges, we tackle them as a team.”

– Vivek Nayar, Co-Founder, Two Robbers

Vivek Nayar and Vikram Nayar, Co-Founders

Despite similar career trajectories, the brothers have leaned into different parts of the business that leverage their individual interests and experience. Vikram has experience and interest in design work, so drives much of the branding, marketing, and design behind Two Robbers, while Vivek is more focused on production and supply chain operations. All major decisions are made together, however, and their heightened level of collaboration and chemistry (they are twins, after all…) has propelled them to succeed.

What’s on tap?

Despite the growing market, scaling up and out is complex in this regulation-heavy, relationship-centric, saturated and volatile market. As with any young company, Two Robbers will experience growing pains – understanding sales cycles to accurately predict demand and produce supply accordingly, and gauging the cadence of sales and distribution to properly service accounts will be key. Expanding the team to ensure accounts are satisfied with the Two Robbers experience, and the product itself is stable and scalable enough to be produced in larger amounts without sacrificing quality, are challenges that lie ahead. There’s a tension between wanting to scale, expand, and grow sales, but also wanting to control growth and continue to make the best quality product, that Viv and Vik will have to navigate.

“We’re having fun with it and this industry is going to be a dog fight. Being the small guys in the room allows us to be nimble and have a differentiated perspective. Right now, the category is moving quickly, but in the long run, quality will always win. So we want to go slow and make sure we’re doing right by customers all the time.”

– Vivek Nayar, Co-Founder, Two Robbers

Longer term, there is clear opportunity to expand into adjacent verticals. While Two Robbers is Viv and Vik’s first product launch, it’s currently nested under the company ‘Rittenhouse Seltzer Co’ – an aspiring portfolio of innovative, premium seltzer-based beverages. Seltzer as a core ingredient is promising in its fundamentally healthy competitive advantage – it’s the least carbs and calories of any beverage, and it’s neutral enough that it offers a blank slate for innovation. If they can stay true to what makes their brand unique today, Viv and Vik see an endless frontier of healthier, better for you, better for your palate, beverages that can continue to tell great stories and keep it real.

Rittenhouse Seltzer Co

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