Jeff Battaglia grew up with a Coca-Cola machine in his kitchen and a father who hawked soda for a living. Like many kids, he saw what his father did—and went in the opposite direction.
Mr. Battaglia says he never liked any soda products as a child and would very rarely drink them, choosing instead to mix natural juices with seltzer water in his own kitchen.
But like so many rebellious kids, Mr. Battaglia was more like his father, Tim Battaglia, than he knew.
Mr. Battaglia, who lives in Brooklyn and holds a day job as chief financial officer at Schafer Cullen Capital Management, now owns and operates a small beverage company, Sprizz-O, with East End ties and big dreams.
Sprizz-O is a low-calorie mixture of juice, seltzer and natural flavors. Its five flavors—orange, cranberry, grape, grapefruit and lime—all contain 50 calories per 12-ounce bottle, which, according to the company’s literature, is 33 to 50 percent fewer calories than in other sparkling juices.
The drink—whose closest competitors in terms of similar content would be San Pellegrino and GuS (Grown-up Soda)—contains 12 percent juice and no filler juice, which Mr. Battaglia says is commonly used to add sweetness while inflating juice percentages.
“For a long time, I looked for a drink on the shelves like the concoctions I make in my kitchen. I never found one. So I made my own,” said Mr. Battaglia. He added that he had always wanted to be his own boss and start his own business.
The trick was finding a way to recreate his homemade flavors in a commercial context.
“It’s been a learning process indeed,” he said. “Everyone, starting with my dad, advised me about how tough the beverage business is, and they were not wrong. But I’ve been having fun and pressed ahead with the expectation that, at worst, I’ll end up with a whole lot of drinks that I like to drink.”
Mr. Battaglia chose not to do any market research before uncorking his idea. After all, he said, “in high school and college, I stocked the beverage aisle at my local grocery store before starting my career as a CPA, so I spent a lot of time thinking about why people were drawn, or not, to particular beverages on a shelf.
“I could see what was selling or not. You might say my ‘research’ was aggregated over a period of several years,” he joked.
After a few years of tweaking the recipe and trying to find the right combination of flavorists and packing companies, Mr. Battaglia thought he had the right combination to move forward.
Then he walked into Sag Harbor Beverage while on vacation last summer and met Dave Madison, owner and operator of the beverage store, and his friend Dan O’Connor, a Hampton Bays resident who runs the Long Island division of Big Geyser, a non-alcoholic beverage distribution company.
That is when everything changed.
“Last summer, I walked in the store and randomly met Dave and Dan. Dave asked my wife, Juliana, what she was drinking, and she had to turn to me for an explanation,” explained Mr. Battaglia, whose wife was drinking was an early version of Sprizz-O.
“It wasn’t just a drink in a cup—it was packaged, but it was really raw,” said Mr. O’Connor. “It was a whole different label, a different look, different color, real raw.”
Mr. Madison agreed, saying the product looked pretty dull, but that the passion of Mr. Battaglia piqued his interest. The four say they conversed about the product for more than half an hour before exchanging information in the hopes of working together.
Since then, Mr. Battaglia said, they’ve “kept the conversation going,” with the two newly-on-board experts advising the entrepreneur on everything from the look of the packaging to business strategy—such as giving away free samples at local stores and staying away from large distributors so Sprizz-O doesn’t “get lost in the shuffle,” according to Mr. O’Connor.
“Dave has been great about sharing with me which brands seem to be selling at his shop and his opinion of why within the context of his customer base,” said Mr. Battaglia, who has appointed both Mr. Madison and Mr. O’Connor to his board of directors. “Dan has shared his experience working with several startups that became mainstay brands, how to think about the distribution landscape in New York and beyond, and the importance of remembering that distributors’ sales teams are instrumental to a brand’s success.”
With its primary target market being health-conscious, urban and suburban adults ages 25 to 49, Sprizz-O has been self-distributed in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn for a few months now. According to Mr. Battaglia, it has even been well received at the Tribeca Film Food Festival and the Levain Bakery, a well-known Manhattan eatery.
But after signing a contract with Preferred Beverages, a distributor focusing on emerging brands, Mr. Battaglia will have to self-distribute no more. As of September 1, Sprizz-O will start to be seen on shelves in all five boroughs of New York City and in some areas of Long Island.
Mr. Battaglia and his wife spent the past two weekends at Sag Harbor Beverage, offering free tastings of their line. “They went through more product at their sampling than any other product sampling I’ve held,” said Mr. Madison. “People loved it and loved Jeff’s passion. It’s a great product, he’s a great guy. I’m really looking forward to the future of it all.”
“We’re probably one or two minor tweaks away from a product that can be a national brand, but I love to see the entrepreneurial spirit in Jeff,” said Mr. O’Connor. “It is exciting to see someone who is behind their product and believes so strongly in it. He is definitely onto something.”
“I suppose only time will tell whether it was one of those chance encounters that was meant to be,” said Mr. Battaglia, “but I’m quite glad we decided to walk through his shop last summer when we did.”