Jenny Lucas and Katie Williams are the founders of Navy Hill, a Southern-based mixer company born out of the desire for a refreshing low-calorie, low-sugar cocktail. Their “sonic” mixer, a soda and tonic concoction that is equal parts crisp and sweet, eliminates the need for a splash of tonic in your go-to light cocktail. Plus, with added electrolytes, hangovers are a thing of the past. Learn more about this small-batch mixer company — made and bottled in the U.S. — and meet the female founders who created it.
Tell us about Navy Hill’s origin.
Katie: The Navy Hill story began while ordering cocktails at the Quirk Hotel rooftop bar in downtown Richmond, VA. Our simple order request, a vodka mixed with half soda-half tonic, was instantly recognized by the bartender as a vodka “sonic.” At that moment, the idea for our brand was born. Our intention for Navy Hill is to offer premium mixers that blend soda, tonic, and electrolytes to complement your favorite liquor. We offer a simple yet elegant solution. For many of us, tonic is too much and club soda is not enough, so we invite you to meet us in the middle.
Tell us what it’s like to be a woman-owned business in your industry.
Jenny: The food and beverage space is incredibly entrepreneurial with a lot of women-owned brands, so it is extremely welcoming in that regard. Many of our mentors are women founders or beverage industry professionals, so we have a strong support network of other females in our space.
What makes Navy Hill different from other mixers?
Katie: Navy Hill is the first to market “sonic” — aka a blend of club soda plus tonic. Our mixers are a better-for-you alternative to a full tonic with half the calories and half the sugar. Each cocktail has only 17 calories, is made with all-natural ingredients, is highly carbonated and designed to look beautiful on your bar. We offer three flavors — original, juniper and ginger. We have also launched a classic club soda for the non-tonic drinker. Navy Hill is also unique because it is the only mixer on the market to include electrolytes.
Tell us about the electrolytes and natural ingredients in your mixers.
Jenny: No one likes a hangover. So, Navy Hill is topped off with electrolytes to replace essential elements that are depleted when drinking alcohol. Folks tell us they do feel more hydrated and refreshed! We really wanted to focus on making our mixers a healthier alternative to the competition. Many of our competitors use high fructose corn syrup in their tonics, and diet tonics include artificial sweeteners, so it was really important for us to use real sugar and maintain a clean label. Navy Hill allows the consumer to enjoy a drink without the sugar or calorie shame spiral found in other mixers. It also makes a fantastic mocktail or ready-to-drink option!
What has been a favorite memory or stand out moment during the Navy Hill journey?
Katie: Our initial trade show, Fancy Foods in New York, was a breakthrough moment for us. It was the first time we were surrounded by our competitors and other great food and beverage brands. We went all out on our trade show booth and received a lot of attention about both the booth and our brand. It was then that we realized we were onto something and Navy Hill could really take off.
Jenny: There have been so many great moments along the road. For me, seeing our product for the first time on the shelves is hard to beat — something we dreamt up that we could now actually hold in our hand and purchase in stores. It was wild! Another amazing moment was when we were featured and sold by Garden & Gun at their Jubilee event in Charleston, SC.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Katie: As folks have been under quarantine, the home bar has been getting a lot of use, and our mixer sales have increased 300% in some accounts. As a young brand, we see this as trial and exploration by consumers that might not have otherwise tried Navy Hill. In that way, it has been incredibly meaningful. On the flip side, we have been limited in the number of new accounts we can present to. The grocery world is based on review schedules, so meetings with new retailers have been postponed.
Do you have any advice for young female entrepreneurs?
Katie: Embrace your femininity. Utilize it to create your brand and product design, and market to your target audience. There is a certain style and grace that comes with being a woman, and sometimes it takes a woman’s touch to really differentiate something. Our focus on creating a thoughtfully designed and beautiful product helped set us apart from the competition.
Jenny: Go for it! This journey has taught us that anything is possible. We didn’t have a background in food and beverage, but we believed in our idea and product and knew with hard work, we could make it happen. We also think it’s important to talk to as many people as possible. We have had so many powerful conversations and received great advice along the way.
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You share plenty of delicious recipes on your website. Can each of you share a favorite?
Katie: The Navy Hill G&T.
- 1 part gin
- 1 part Navy Hill Juniper Soda + Tonic
- Cucumber slices and basil leaves
- Muddle several basil leaves and cucumber slices in the bottom of your glass.
- Add crushed ice, gin and your favorite Navy Hill soda + tonic. Then stir.
- Spear a few basil leaves and cucumber slices for garnish
Jenny: The Navy Hill Paloma.
- 1 part tequila
- 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 part fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
- 1 part Navy Hill Original Soda + Tonic or Navy Hill Club Soda
- Sprig of rosemary
- Mix all ingredients together.
- Serve over crushed ice.
- Add a fresh sprig of rosemary for a fun twist!
- Optional: Salted rim
Thank you, Katie and Jenny.
Navy Hill mixers are sold in 28 states at more than 1,500 retailers, including Publix, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, World Market, Central Market and independent liquor stores throughout the South. Learn more about Navy Hill by visiting their website. And shop the build-your-own pack or four-packs of your preferred flavor, including the only juniper flavored mixer on the market, on SB Shop. All photos courtesy of Navy Hill.
To see more Southern-made goods on SB Shop, click here!