We Decided to Avoid “Natural” Flavours, and Ended Up with Better Taste
When we started Ace Hill four years ago, our team and customers were just starting to care about the nutritional profile of their alcoholic drinks.
Since then, “better-for-you” offerings like White Claw and Nutrl have gained tremendous popularity. Even our buddy’s police hockey league of tough guys has started alternating between beer and low-cal vodka sodas in the locker room.
I’m really proud of what our team has accomplished with our new low-cal, real-fruit vodka sodas and wanted to share some of the backstory.
Over the past few years, we‘ve been searching for low-cal, low-sugar drinks that also tasted great, but we felt like all the options on the market tasted a little synthetic. Our challenge, led by our OG garage brewer Blake, was to develop something that could taste good and feel good.
Looking at this opportunity, we learned that all the other products (White Claw, Nutrl, etc.) are made with so-called “natural” flavours. And it turns out “natural” flavours are controversial and potentially misleading.
A 2019 New York Times article explains:
There is a “loophole” where the “[food] regulations do not restrict the dozens of other ingredients like preservatives and solvents that can go into a so-called natural flavor. Ultimately, because of the wide variety of ingredients that typically go into “natural” flavorings, “there does not seem to be much of a difference between natural and artificial flavors,” said David Andrews, a scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization.
We’re not experts on this topic, but here’s what we learned by going down a Google rabbit hole and consulting with beverage scientists:
- It’s been widely reported that “natural” flavours are actually similar to artificial flavours. While “natural” flavours have to derive from natural materials, they are often highly processed and can include all kinds of preservatives and solvents (see reports here from New York Times, CNN, and Bon Appetit).
- It’s unclear what exactly is in drinks that use natural flavours. The ingredients listed for these products will just say “natural flavours,” but it will not be disclosed what the underlying components are of the natural flavours. Apparently the beverage companies that produce and sell these products may not know either, as the “natural” flavours are sourced from flavour houses who often will not share a list of the underlying ingredients.
- This one is admittedly subjective, but drinks that use “natural” flavours generally don’t taste real, authentic or great.
- Drinks made with “natural” flavours don’t look right. Real fruit isn’t clear!
The education around “natural” flavours inspired us to use a different approach: by adding a splash of real fruit juice to just vodka and soda water, we’ve created vodka sodas that taste real and are just 90–100 calories and 1g of sugar per can. No preservatives, sweeteners, sugars or “natural” flavours added.
At Ace Hill, we’re laser-focused on making drinks that we love and that we think you’ll love too. Product innovation is a corporate priority and, we hope, a hallmark of our brand.
Our new low-cal real-fruit Lemon and Raspberry Vodka Sodas will be available in April at the LCBO for $2.75/can, and will have some availability in other provinces. Both drinks contain just 1g of sugar and are gluten-free and preservative-free. The lemon is 90 calories per can and the raspberry is 100 calories per can.
Let us know what you think! We’re curious if you agree that Real Tastes Better : )
CEO and co-founder of Ace Hill