Beginning on Feb. 4, Bravo TV’s “Summer House” started its fifth season, and reality star Kyle Cooke, co-star and fiancé, Amanda Batula, and housemates are “quaranteaming” and partying in the Hamptons. However, this time around they’ll be imbibing with beverages Cooke created with help from Batula: Loverboy Sparking Hard Tea and Loverboy Spritz. The better-for-you, zero-sugar added, lower calorie premium craft cocktails grew out of Cooke’s desire to stop consuming “diabetes in a bottle” and high-calorie flavored malt beverages (FMBs).
He explains: “I run a weight loss app and I know that the average adult gets 20-30 percent of their calories from alcohol. I’m on a summer TV show, consuming sugary alcohol and trying to keep my summer body in shape. … I started buying hard seltzers and hard teas when we were filming in 2016, and was unimpressed with the taste and woke up with the worst hangovers — not a great look for the camera. I thought there had to be a happy medium.”
Enter New York-based Loverboy Inc. and its first lineup Loverboy Sparking Hard Tea, which was conceptualized in the summer of 2018 on Season 3 of the reality TV show. The product had a soft launch in New York City in 2019 followed by distribution in Massachusetts. It now is available in six states: New Hampshire, and parts of Wisconsin, New York, Florida, Philadelphia and Texas.
The 90-calorie, 4.2 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) hard teas are packaged in 11.5-ounce slim cans with zero grams of added sugar and are gluten free, caffeine free and keto friendly. Loverboy Sparking Hard Tea is available in three flavors: White Tea Peach, Hibiscus Pom and Lemon Iced Tea kissed with a hint of lavender, lime and ginger, respectively.
Cooke notes that his sparkling hard teas are the first in the beverage market that combine the best parts of tea with elements of a hard seltzer and sweetness from all-natural monk fruit and botanicals. As a challenger startup beverage brand, Loverboy also has differentiated itself from other FMBs by offering higher quality ingredients with an accent of flavor.
“We combined the refreshing goodness and lightness of tea, carbonated it, and formulated it with better quality ingredients and about 2-3 grams of sweetness that comes from actual juices and purées,” he explains. “We’re not cutting corners. Although monk fruit is more expensive than erythritol, it really brings out the flavors, like in the case of our most popular SKU, White Tea Peach, which is our most fruit-forward tea.
“When you pour out our hard teas, there’s some actual color from the juices and teas,” he continues. “We managed to do that while getting our calories and sugar below [other brands].”
Backed by a solid fan base and more than 800,000 followers on social media, Loverboy was a huge hit in Massachusetts, one of the top markets for “Summer House,” which had fans clamoring for the brand, Cooke says.
Because he had no experience within the beverage industry, Cooke and the five-person Loverboy team initially set the bar low. “[B]ut month after month, we saw 200, 300 and 400 percent growth,” he explains. “April through September, we were running on zero inventory and were operating with nothing in our warehouse. We were sending inventory directly from our co-packers to our distributors.
“… In New Hampshire, we convinced them to take a full truck despite them only wanting a half truck. In three days, they ordered three more trucks,” he continues. “In 2020, we grew 10,000 percent and actually turn profitable last year, which doesn’t typically happen that quickly with beverage startups.”
A flirtatious twist
Part of the company’s exponential growth stems from the 2020 launch of another lineup: Loverboy Spritz, a premium ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail that debuted in the heart of the pandemic. Available direct-to-consumer (DTC) on the company’s website (drinkloverboy.com), the premium craft cocktails can be shipped to 44 states. The brand has more than 12,000 customers and a 30 percent repeat purchase rate, Cooke says.
The products can be purchased in four-packs of 8.4-ounce slim cans or in four-can variety packs. The product is billed as a “flirtatious twist on the not-too-sweet, bubbly spritz.”
Available in Blueberry Lemon kissed with basil; Mango Peach kissed with chili pepper; and Passion Fruit Guava kissed with honeysuckle, the RTD aromatic cocktails are 6 percent ABV, contain zero-added sugar, are between 90 to 100 calories and offer a fuller body flavor and a touch of sweetness from the all-natural juice and purées, the company says.
“We wanted the spritz to be a little more dressed up, more for a special occasion and to give consumers the opportunity to indulge a little bit more,” Cooke explains. “The Loverboy Spritz is not on par with an Aperol spritz because if you look under the hood, you see that it has tons of sugar, maybe 20-30 grams of sugar. Our spritzes are made from a wine base, orange, in the case of our popular Blueberry Lemon spritz, and most of the sweetness is coming from the blueberry juice.”
Cooke highlights that he feels very fortunate that Loverboy has had such a captive TV audience. “When I launched the idea in Season 3, we filmed little bits and pieces of the formulation and brand development. I got to work with my then girlfriend, now fiancée, on the process and the challenges of that interrelationship in building a company,” he says. “Loverboy has grown up on television, and people will see it in expansion mode in the fifth season.
“We have such loyal customers and have sold a quarter-of-a-million dollars worth of merchandise in an industry that normally gives it away,” he continues. “Moving forward, we can rely on the fact that we built a brand around authenticity. We have a unique founding story and our supporters are buying Loverboy because not only is it cooler to do so but because they’re getting a better quality alcoholic beverage.”
Cooke is unafraid of the competition in the “beyond beer” space. “The more healthy hard teas out there, the better,” he says. “I think up until recently, I was the only one, and it’s up to me to inform consumers that we’re not just another Twisted Tea. In fact, Loverboy Sparkling Hard Tea has almost nothing in common with Twisted Teas, other than the fact that we use tea.”
This year, Cooke promises that Loverboy will keep the innovation engine chugging along with new products and more flavors.
On Valentine’s Day, it’s launching a new 12 percent ABV Espresso Martini canned cocktail exclusively sold DTC. The brand is the company’s first non-spritz RTD and is naturally sweetened with maple water and “tastes as amazing as it sounds, while being healthier,” Cooke says. On the sparkling hard tea front, an Orange Chai tea flavor is in the pipeline.
Filming a reality TV show while running a beverage business isn’t easy, but Cooke notes the journey is no longer a complete guessing game. “We hope to grow about 500 percent in 2021,” he says. “We show distributors our data points and this encourages them to make a bigger initial purchase. Our alcohol RTDs are healthier options. If we can win on taste and nutrition, that’s always going be our goal at Loverboy. Stay tuned.”