Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Harris Derner and I am the co-founder of Brine Brothers, an All-Natural Premium Brine company. I started Brine Brothers in 2016 with my friend of 25+ years, Michael Belicose. Our current products are all-natural, drinkable pickle brines; ‘Darn Good Dill’ - the classic for pickle lovers and ‘Chili Cherry Fire’ - for those who like it hot. Pickle ‘brine’ (also referred to as pickle ‘juice’) is the liquid solution that transforms cucumbers into pickles.
What makes us unique and distinguishes us from thousands of pickle companies is that we do NOT sell pickles…..just the Brine. Our product is the only all-natural pickle juice on the market. We designed our 750ml bottles to fit specifically with a shot pour making it very easy and clean to serve. Most people think they can drink the leftover juice in pickle jars, but what they don't know is that brine is not meant for drinking. It contains a lot of preservatives and chemicals to keep the pickles fresh and can be dangerous to consume.
Our customers at home as well as bars and restaurants use our brines for Pickle Back shots, Martini Mixers, Bloody Marys, Cramp Relief, Hangover Cure, and creating their own fun pickled food creations (pickle back chicken wings).
Our company was recently featured on Barstool Sports Big Brain entrepreneur contest and won an investment from Barstool and Jon Taffer. We are currently generating over $10,000/month and are determined to make Brine Brothers a million-dollar beverage company.
See the episode here.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2015, when I figured out Pickle Juice was curing my hangovers, I looked everywhere to find a drinkable pickle brine, but it did not exist.
It took me a couple months to realize that pickle juice was the main reason I was not getting a hangover. When I went out and took over 3 pickle back shots, the next morning I felt great.
We invested a total of $11,000 in 2016 and had a business valuation of $200,000 3 years later.
This led me to drinking the leftover juice in pickle jars before I went to sleep after a long night out. After chugging countless pickle jars, throwing out pickles, and straining all the seeds, I searched for a drinkable pickle juice and to my amazement I couldn't find anything.
I talked to Mike (who had just got his MBA from Haas School of Business at Cal Berkeley) about the possible endeavor and then we were on a mission to take every pickle back shot in NYC.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to go to 10,000 bars to realize they had the same problem as us. Every single bar we went to used the same unsanitary pickle juice in a plastic quart that they would usually grab off the floor. We knew we had something with our idea.
Brine Brothers started as a passion project but we always knew it was bound to catch fire.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Bringing our concept to reality was much harder than we anticipated. Neither of us had a background in the food/beverage industry but it was very helpful that we had a clear idea of the result we wanted to achieve.
After researching our market, educating ourselves on the industry, and putting together a strong business plan, we were able to face our challenges.
We started with small batches in a commercial kitchen to test flavors with family and friends, then ultimately found the flavor profiles we wanted.
We needed the ability to scale the business, so we started looking for co-packers around the tri-state area. There was a lot of helpful resources online but like anything else on the internet it was harder than it looked. 95% of the co-packers we contacted stopped the conversation at ‘pickle juice.’
They justified cutting the phone calls short by claiming they didn’t want pickle flavor affecting their bottling machines. We finally vetted a list of co-packers that agreed to run pickle juice through their bottling lines.
Our next obstacle was learning how we can legally produce a consumable beverage. We worked with Cornell University and NC State. It took 4-months processing time to test our samples and obtain approval letters for our co-packer.
We sourced our logo from 99designs. It was a really fun process where a community of artists compete for the project by submitting creative ideas. We selected a winning designer and worked with them to create the branding we have today.
Mike and I have witnessed so many bars spill pickle juice everywhere, so we always knew we wanted a glass 750ml bottle to make it easy to serve with a shot pour.
Plus, we have never seen pickle juice in a wine bottle and thought it was another way to distance ourselves from just your regular pickle guys.
Our startup costs were relatively low; business insurance, state filing fees, 99designs, trademarks, UPC Codes, food testing, and inventory. We invested a total of $11,000 in 2016 and had a business valuation of $200,000 3 years later.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After we ran our first 3,000 units, we went bar to bar in NYC handing out samples to bartenders. I worked part-time in a bar throughout college summers and knew if we could create something that was easier, cleaner, and faster for bartenders, they would love it. They never saw anything like it and were ecstatic.
We were able to land several accounts before we started selling online straight to consumers. Mike’s brother-in-law, Jamie Haas, had a lot of experience building e-commerce stores so we were able to leverage his knowledge and employed him to build the site and run our IT. Mike and I know if we aren’t experts in a certain field then we will find someone who has the technical expertise.
At this point in our operation we had 2 sales channels; e-commerce and NYC self-distribution to bars and restaurants. It was somewhat odd how the stars aligned when we launched in 2017, the year of the pickle trend. At the same time we were going live; pickle soda was trending, pickle flavored popcorn was in 7/11, and pickle slushee rumors were circulating out of Sonic drive-ins. There couldn’t have been a better opportunity for us to have the only all-natural premium branded pickle juice on the market.
We caught the attention of Delish.com and 400k views on Facebook.
Landing an athlete sponsor
Shortly after we launched, we saw NHL-NJ Devils forward Blake Coleman drinking a pickle jar in the penalty box. Pickle juice is a growing trend among athletes for cramp relief; faster than water and sugary sports drinks.
Mike and I are huge devils fans so we did everything we could to connect with him. We were finally able to reach him via Instagram DM, dropped off samples, and have been business partners with him since.
We currently white label Blake’s sport version of pickle juice ‘P20.’ This past season we joined Blake in his charity ‘Pickles Pals’ which supports the boys and girls club of Ironbound-Newark, NJ.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The first two years we were building Brine Brothers organically through grass roots growth. We attended pickle festivals on the east coast, pitched bar to bar in NYC, and were very active on social media. We had the longest lines at festivals, and nothing makes us happier than creating something people love and enjoy.
Kurt has an extensive background in this field, we are under his guidance for SEO, ad spending, and social media marketing.
These metrics are from 1.5 weeks after the Big Brain release. We monitor our activity daily and are cautiously distributing our online marketing budget. We are finding out which platforms are working best for us and at the right customer acquisition costs.
Articles and mentions from companies like Barstool, $20 chef, Delish, NHL.com, trendhunter.com, CBS news, USA Today, and NJ Bergen Record have fueled our growth and online search results.
Our biggest e-commerce challenge is shipping costs. Customers are deterred when they see shipping is $12.80 but the bottles are only $8. The new norm is Amazon free 2-day shipping and as an avid amazon user I understand their hesitation.
However, we priced our online bottles at a lower price to make up for the high shipping prices. 3 bottles fit into one package, so we try to tell our customers the most cost-effective is the 3-pack for a total of $34.
Our bottles retail at stores for over $11 ea, so they are paying the same price buying a 3-pack online. We engaged in talks with Amazon but they are crushing small businesses under their model and it would leave us near breakeven.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future is very exciting for Brine Brothers. Our passion project has escalated into a premium beverage brand that we hope continues to grow.
Our focus after the Barstool Big Brain contest is on distribution. We have had so many people reach out to us, the support and requests for our product has been amazing. We are in talks with regional and national distributors to scale our company and get to more customers.
Nothing is easy, be creative, and prepare to make sacrifices. It took us 2 years from concept to production and we faced more challenges than ever anticipated. Stay focused and goal oriented.
Brine Brothers - All-Natural Premium Brine Company. We have always wanted to keep our options open for future products. After our recent success of pickle brine we will be expanding to premium olive brines. Everyone has seen bartenders strain unsanitary olive jars while making martinis. This will be another big market for us and this time we already have the infrastructure in place.
We are also working on merchandise. We have orders in for branded tote bags for our festivals and Barstool Sports co-branded apparel. Barstool has been a great partner for us with a lot of resources we plan on leveraging. Look out for our t-shirts soon:
Barstools investment has allowed us to scale our inventory and increase our profit margin from 60% to 80%. This will allow us to grow even faster than our YoY growth of 200%.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We have really valued surrounding ourselves with industry experts.
Jamie and Kurt have been a great addition to our team. Another example is my father, Jules, who has been an executive in the packaging industry for over 25 years. We have been able to bounce ideas off him and looked to him for guidance on issues such as packaging, supplies, freight, and fulfillment. Another childhood friend of ours, Jason Sansone, is a professional videographer who has also helped us out with content:
We look back and are still amazed that we were able to partner with Blake and the Devils. It has been an extremely fun and rewarding partnership. Not only do we want to expand our business, but we are also trying to make an impact and strengthen communities.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We originally used WooCommerce but have recently switched to Shopify. We made the jump after realizing how much better shopify works for us. They offered better reporting and analytics we can use for customer engagement and acquisition.
- Google Analytics
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have always wanted to start my own company. Even if it takes working 80 hours/week instead of 40, I rather create something for myself and my family than work a job that is unfulfilling.
We always try to surround ourselves with people that inspire us. Our families and friends have all played a major role in propelling us to where we are today.
Podcasts I am listening to right now:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Nothing is easy, be creative, and prepare to make sacrifices.
It took us 2 years from concept to production and we faced more challenges than ever anticipated. Stay focused and goal oriented.
We found a need for a product that didn’t exist. So we created it.
Its been 3 years, Mike and I still have never taken a distribution from the company, not even our original investment. All of our profits go back into the business to grow and scale. We have sacrificed countless hours and efforts into growing our company.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We currently do not have any positions open but are always seeking help with the following:
- Social content creators (we can always use more freelance content)
- Help at our pickle festivals (shoot us a DM if we are in a city near you!)
Where can we go to learn more?
- [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!