Mixed drinks, wines, beers and other alcoholic drinks come with a price not only to our wallets, but to our bodies as well. When choosing to sip on something bubbly there is a product that can ease your wallet and your body’s healthy mind, it is SOCIAL Sparkling Wine.
Sparkles are not all this fabulous product is about! SOCIAL Sparkling Wine delivers constant authenticity and healthy options for consumers to buy all while creating a sustainable, educational, and helping community around it. We sat down with Leah Caplanis, Founder of SOCIAL Sparkling Wine. Hear her radiant story of passion, organics, and a healthier way of socializing.
Tell me about your company — what is your origin story?
I’ve always wanted to own my own business. Growing up, I was surrounded by many family members that had created their own establishments in areas ranging from plumbing to a flower store. I took many financial and “entrepreneur-like” baby steps pretty early on in my life. I created a website, opened a checking account and always received plenty of advice on my business ideas. I didn’t know exactly how all of these pieces would come together, but I felt somehow that they would.
Fast-forward several years and at 26-years-old, I found myself burned out, working full- time for a large organization. I was in a fog going to-and-from work, and felt not a single sparkle of passion was in my horizon; the effect on me was starting to manifest. I knew I wanted to do something that connected to health, but I was still unclear about my vision.
That same year, I faced a huge personal challenge when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and ultimately decided to heal holistically. I moved back home and worked from there for eight months doing alternative therapies. I felt my health spark up after being on an extremely strict vegan diet and doing many cleanses and my initial interest in working on something healthy grew into a passion!
After moving back to Chicago and re-connecting with friends, I found myself wanting a break from such a strict lifestyle. I was looking forward to having a good drink — but I couldn’t find one that I felt good about putting into my body. That spark to work on something healthy and good came back; I saw the industry really needed a different perspective and there was room for innovation. So, I put a team together serendipitously and dove right in to making SOCIAL Sparkling Wine. Six months into my adventure, I quit my job at Nestle and began working on the company full-time.
What did it feel like to quit your day job?
That moment felt like freedom to finally be myself and do what I was passionate about. I was meeting so many people; and my days were spent problem-solving — it was really great. The support I got from the co-founding team was invaluable. We had an early-on investor; we did a business competition and won some funding. Everything was aligning into an amazing time to get started.
Tell me more about your products?
We make a line of sparkling sake wine drinks that feature various natural flavors and have a taste that is similar to champagne.
There were five qualities that I was sure I wanted to include in creating my product. I knew I wanted a very limited number of ingredients, everything to be organic and I wanted a specific sweetener. I even knew the number of calories I was okay with, and the flavors I wanted to include. I took all these specifications to a beverage-making company and they sent me samples.
Other companies will just want a beverage to last ‘X’ amount of time, and present a list of flavors — and nothing else matters. The qualities I desired in a drink challenged the industry to make the cleanest product. The result is a pure product that I, and others, could feel good about drinking. After that, it was all about coming up with creative flavors.
Ingredient selection seems to be very important to this category. How did you decide on the ingredients themselves and where to source them?
On average, there are five ingredients in one drink and we use a company that works with a lot of organic farmers from all over the world. For the stevia sweetener, I was connected through my sister to a man who owns, what we know as, the healthiest stevia company. Liquid stevia is our sweetener, which made a wonderful difference in taste and also is made without chemicals. I was able to dive deep with each supplier and ask a lot of questions, which in turn, allowed me to find the healthiest option. From California, we use brown rice as a base. I wanted the drink to be gluten free so our brown rice is brewed like beer and we mix it with water, flavor and sweeten it with some sparkle and then you have the drink!
We use USDA certified organic super foods to flavor our product, such as the hibiscus flower and cucumber. We now have four flavors and are the lowest calorie alcohol available. There are only 88 calories in one drink, one gram of sugar and four grams of carbs — which adds up to peace of mind. We also took the extra step of labeling all our ingredients on the can, which is rare for an alcoholic beverage. You’re in control of what is going into your body and I am happy with the transparency we are able to provide.
Tell me about what your company is doing on sustainability. Do you measure the triple bottom line (environmental, social, economic performance and outcomes)?
Deciding to launch our wine product in cans was an intentional decision to be better for the environment that was new for the category. I knew a clunky bottle was not the way to go. People questioned me tenfold about my reasoning, but I knew it was emerging. I found that cans are recycled 57% of the time. Cans weigh a lot less when you transport them so, the carbon dioxide emitted to the environment is less harsh.
We give 1% back of our profits to charity — supporting causes like Girls on the Run and Angel Cancer survivors. I love helping the community through mentoring and guiding interns as well. We have had 150 interns who have worked with SOCIAL, doing it for college credit or for a job experience. Some have been hired after their time as an intern.
I know we all have a responsibility to make the world a place we want to grow in. These smaller brands, SOCIAL Sparkling included, try to offer the healthiest best products they can; to challenge some of the other large industry players, which are not always conscious of what they’re doing.
As more people come up with newer and healthier products, it will emphasize the need to bring awareness for larger brands, to provide their products and make our entire food system healthier.