Cole Pearsall and Allan Mai met while studying food science at the University of Guelph. Both had started separate businesses while at school and along with their fellow co-founders, CEOScott Friedmann and creative director Rae Drake, they identified a gap in the vinegar market that presented a great business opportunity.
Acid League has provided them the opportunity to apply their technical backgrounds and personal drive along with the desire to share their love of food. “Our business is an acid-driven food and beverage company. We’ve expanded from initially offering vinegar to beverages, salad dressings, hot sauces and more,” explains chief sales officer Cole Pearsall. “Acid League has become a platform utilizing food culture to expose new ideas, historical versions of products and to inspire discovery through acidity.”
Allan Mai, chief product officer, said they are dedicated to ensuring products are super-exciting while applying their food science background for food quality and manufacturability in their rapidly growing company. “It’s our responsibility to address growing pains in our businesses,” he added. “Vinegar was our entry point. The sleepy category hadn’t seen innovation other than cider vinegar and balsamic in the ‘90s.” The entrepreneurs noticed that for something almost everyone has in their kitchens, there didn’t seem to be strong brand loyalty. “We love food. We want to share that and show why food should be loved.”
Achieving their vision
Over time, they realized that since vinegar is used in other grocery products, in addition to shaking up the vinegar aisle, they could apply their creativity to other products as well. Reflecting on their original business roadmap, Acid League’s current state is fully aligned with their original vision. “We are who we thought we would be,” Cole said. “No one expected us to grow this quickly,” Allan added. “We’ve moved through the phases we had mapped out, just more quickly than expected…with some surprises along the way. We can now be thoughtful about how we express ourselves.”
Acid League has remained aligned with their goal of sharing their love of food. One way they’ve done this is launching experimental singular batches of products that push the boundaries and may not be aligned with commercial/retail interest. The co-founders said that food is an experience not a commodity and that has become a business pillar. They’ve added a tasting menu online and are scaling that part of the business with non-alcoholic wine and creating new streams with entrepreneurial partners.
Acid League was recently included in a Wall Street Journal article. Allan said it’s difficult to assess the impact of publicity. Public relations activity often lacks the data that someone with an economic and food science background looks for, he said. What they really value however, is authentic excitement from people who appreciate their products. The company’s continued growth can be attributed to many factors that include ecommerce, new products, retail chains and more.
It takes a community
They value working with IG mentor Brad Fitzsimmons since June 2019 who has provided an impartial business perspective with no bias related to the food industry. They also appreciate operating in Guelph. “We met here, went to school here, started our business and located our facilities in Guelph,” Cole said. “The infrastructure and access to resources has been valuable.”
As entrepreneurs they’ve learned that putting out a minimum viable product or creative content without being too precious about it is key. “You need to get over yourself,” Cole said. “You’ll be judged no matter what – take the risk!”
It’s clear that their brand identity is a critical element to these entrepreneurs, tying together life and business. “People are CEOs in their lives, people have cash flows, expenses just like businesses,” Allan said. “We struggled at the beginning deciding what our brand was, and what we wanted it to be. It is parallel with life. How do we want to live and what are our values? Our core values and core goals guide our business and our lives.” Allan said. He added that understanding the point of his life helped him to understand the point of the brand too.