Elixir G founder Bill Tocantins has traveled the world in search of ingredients to craft the perfect ‘liquid ginger.’ Since stumbling onto the idea for fresh ginger syrup nearly 10 years ago, Tocantins has become a thriving entrepreneur, expanding Elixir G’s outreach to save restaurants millions in ingredient costs and give consumers the opportunity to make their very own ginger beer at home.
Tocantins took the time to discuss Elixir G’s development, as well as the peaks and valleys that come with launching a new product in the F&B world.
How did you come up with the idea for Elixir G?
“Some people I knew had an Indian restaurant and moved to a location with a liquor license. When I took over the bar program, they had this ginger [syrup] and I decided to make a margarita out of it. It was a big success. I had people getting up out of their seats to ask me ‘how did you make this?’”
“I knew that people were flocking to this stuff. I asked [the restaurant owners] if they wanted to bottle it, and they said no. They responded that ‘we’re in the restaurant business, and that’s not what we do.’ I saw the opportunity and decided to pursue it.”
What went into the product development process?
“There was an enormous amount of trial and error. I explored gingers from across the world. After some time I found that far and away the best ginger source is Hawaii…It’s amazing, I looked at nine competitors and only three of them are using fresh ginger.”
“Originally, Elixir G was called Gingerita. I took on a partner who had a marketing background. We went to three designers and gave them the description of what we were doing. After 15 – 20 different ideas, one designer eventually came up with Elixir G and that’s what stuck.”
“We started our first version of Elixir G in 2007. My partner was on board until 2011. Since then I’ve been CEO as well as a Chief Bottle Washing Officer [laughs].”
Who drinks Elixir G?
“Women, age 21 – 39. Women are the change-makers. Men will find what they want to drink and stick with it for 20 years. Women are always looking to try something new and see what’s out there. Women have always responded positively to our product...based on the length of time they spend with us, either on the phone when they’re ordering or at one of our booths during a fundraiser or expo."
How are you building Elixir G's customer base, and what have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
"Our first target is to go to the restaurants rather the retail stores. It’s one step easier. When we educate the restaurant, they can use it right away. The stores are tougher. First you have to convince the store to buy, then you have to convince the public how to use it.”
"Our biggest success recently has been Longhorn Steakhouse. We started in Yard House, where they used it for their Moscow Mule and saw so much success that they expanded to three cocktails. Then [Yard House] got bought by Darden Restaurants. Once we were in Darden’s system, we jumped to Longhorn’s 450 restaurants. They started cooking with it, making a ginger-flavored steak. They’ve had so much success with it in their drink program that they’re also offering three variations of Moscow Mules."
"We started to look into Amazon to retail directly to consumers. With a new product it’s very expensive to get off the ground. With some retailers, they will require a free case for every store to offset the risk for their selling the product. We’re looking to target those regional stores who will make room for the smaller labels like ours."
"The hardest piece of the puzzle is the distributor. Distributors usually won’t take a new product until it has a demand of more than 200 cases a month. That said, since we're a nonalcoholic product we’re lucky that we have two choices: liquor and food distributors."
What are the next steps for Elixir G?
"We're pursuing restaurant chains right now as hard as we can. For a restaurant chain that has 1,000 locations, we can save them $1.2 million a year. Eventually…we’ll target various areas for retail and come out with a plan to saturate the media and inform the public. We're also open to a liquor brand partnership several years.
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Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.