Founder Friday Feature:
Megan Klein of Little Saints
From selling out of a trailer to selling out at Erewhon: how Megan Klein is building her non-alcoholic beverage brand
by Grace Kennedy
In her own words, Megan Klein’s career has been “all over the place,” from environmental lawyer to urban farmer to plant-based foods innovator at Field + Farmer to now CPG founder of the non-alcoholic beverage brand Little Saints. Amidst all of these twists and turns, however, Klein’s love of plants has remained constant. “I’ve always been doing my job to protect nature and plants in some way,” she explains, “and I believe that change can be inspired through consumer products like CPG.”
As much as Klein has always loved plants, she has also “always liked to party.” But in 2020, Klein realized that her drinking habits were no longer serving her. “I was slamming Negronis at night and didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until the pandemic hit and I was single and alone.” As Klein was re-examining her drinking habits, she began to dream of a non-alcoholic beverage that was more than just seltzer — one that combined her passion for plant-based products and her enthusiasm for a great-tasting cocktail at the end of a long day.
Klein began ideating for a future brand, and she turned to plant medicine for inspiration. She worked with a food scientist with a master’s in adaptogens to create drink formulations that both tasted great and had functional benefits. Once she had the formulations down, she went to a friend and plant medicine shaman to ensure the beverages had spiritual as well as functional benefits. “I wanted to create a brand that would bring joy and connection and spirit to beverages,” she explains. And with the taste, function, and spirit of her beverages locked down, Little Saints was born.
Launching out of a Trailer
Little Saints began with five mocktail offerings — Paloma, Negroni Spritz, Mimosa, Ginger Mule, and Spicy Margarita — all of which are sugar-free and offer plant-medicine benefits from hemp-derived CBD, botanical terpenes, and Reishi. But when Klein set out to launch with these mocktails in the summer of 2021, she faced a series of supply chain-related disasters. However, instead of waiting for everything to be perfectly ironed out (is it ever?), Klein took the product she had and drove around the midwest in her trailer, selling Little Saints person-to-person. Klein got real-time feedback from customers as they tasted her mocktails on the spot and was able to build an early consumer base just from the people she was meeting. Selling Little Saints this way helped Klein realize a crucial difference between her background in food CPG products and beverages: “Beverage is a much more of a consumer-facing product than salad dressing. Most of Field and Farmer’s business was based on wholesale, but beverage requires a lot more face-to-face with consumers.”
Klein’s early success with face-to-face selling is something the brand continues to this day. “We co-sponsor a ton of events and are always gifting to events that are like-minded,” such as music festivals and arts & culture events. They also aim to have someone from Team Little Saints attend each event so they can continue building relationships with their consumers. Selling beverages is “[an] intimate relationship,” Klein explains, “and one that requires a lot more attention.”
When it comes to distributors, bigger is not necessarily better
Little Saints may have started selling out of a trailer but they now juggle multiple distribution channels and strategies, some of which, Klein admits, have been more successful than others.
One of their first setbacks came when Klein signed a contract with a large alcohol distributor. Because Little Saints positions itself as an alcohol replacement (not an adaptogen wellness drink), they were brought on to help a large alcohol distributor build out their new NA/CBD category. Klein put a lot of resources into making the distributor relationship successful, but ultimately found that “dudes that like to sell beer, want to sell beer.” There was a major disconnect between the distributor’s desire to bring on an NA brand and their ability to actually push and sell the product. “After wasting time and money, we broke up and I bought our inventory back.” Most distribution contracts are lengthy and binding, so Klein was happy they were able to get out of the contract when they did, but she regrets the time and money they wasted upfront when she was still self-funding. Now, they are working with smaller and more niche regional distributors while focusing on e-commerce and their wholesale base.
What does wholesale look like for an NA brand?
Klein and her team have found it easier than they expected to land wholesale accounts and have seen success at Erewhon, other specialty markets, and NA bottle shops. “Luckily,” Klein says, “our packaging and ingredients are unique. We also do tastings with all of the NA bottle shops and we’ve bought shelf space at Erewhon, which helps a lot.”
Little Saints also works with MML hospitality, and this partnership has allowed them to expand into a variety of hotels, bars, and restaurants in New Orleans, Austin, and more. Still, Klein says, “We’re not trying to be in a million stores to start. We want people to find us in a cool place, buy us online, and grow organically.” Getting your product into the right people’s hands is about being “in the right places,” Klein says, “So we’re starting with key tastemakers and growing from there.”
One problem they’ve encountered with breaking into some wholesale accounts is the inclusion of CBD. Though it’s legal, many accounts are unable to stock beverages with CBD in them. To combat this, Little Saints recently launch St. Ember, which offers a whopping 100mg of Lions Mane and is flavored with palo santo, vanilla, cardamom, and ginger, and finishes with a peppery kick to mimic our favorite Mezcals. This product has opened up an entirely new wholesale channel for the brand as they can now sell into more bars, restaurants, and any other accounts that were previously unable to stock Little Saints.
Growing e-commerce organically
Little Saints has also seen steady, organic growth via their e-commerce presence. Klein has found that “E-commerce is successful when there’s a promotion or gifting that’s driving people to the site.” Big months like Dry January and Sober October are key times to capture new consumers who will keep coming back in the months to come. During those peak times, Klein and her team “do a lot of gifting” and “rely on our friends and family and the influencers we work with” to spread the Little Saints love on their social media accounts. This gifting strategy has proven to be effective as they saw sales from dry January last year continue at pace throughout the rest of Q1.
Little Saints is for the dance floor
Though there are many wellness benefits to Little Saints, Klein is not actively going after the wellness, yoga-pant-wearing sober crowd. Instead, Klein wants Little Saints to be a part of the party. “We love yoga, but we’re not only showing up at yoga events…We’re also showing up on dance floors.”
Whether someone is hoping to drink in moderation or has given up alcohol entirely, drinking Little Saints is all about the experience — an experience that, Klein hopes, captures the culture that surrounds drinking — one of community, festivity, joy, and fun — without the nasty hangover the next day. Just because someone has given up alcohol or is trying to drink less doesn’t mean they have to sit at home, twiddling their thumbs and drinking seltzer. With Little Saints in their hands, they can go out to as many concerts, bars, and festivals as their time allows.