Born out of a desire to provide an approachable option, WYNK THC-infused seltzers aim to meet cannabis consumers where they are.
“The only way to do that is with low-dose,” said Angus Rittenburg, co-founder, COO and CTO of Wherehouse Beverage Co. “Everybody has a story of having a gummy, not knowing what the dose was, and having a really bad experience. We wanted to make sure that there was a product that regardless of your tolerance or prior cannabis experience you’d enjoy it.”
Angus Rittenburg, co-founder, COO and CTO of Wherehouse Beverage Co.
WYNK, along with its high-potency counterpart Countdown, were incorporated under the Wherehouse Beverage Co. umbrella in 2022. The company continues to evolve its retail strategy, driven by innovation in dosing and manufacturing technology.
Early on, Rittenburg understood the manufacturing limitations imposed by the ban on interstate commerce — especially for the cannabis beverage category.
“What I saw was a lot of people using licensed co-packers in each state, but that’s challenging because there are only a few, which only makes a few states available to brands that want to produce a beverage and sell through a dispensary,” he said.
Rittenburg developed a mobile production unit that traveled on a tractor-trailer, allowing the company to meet license holders at their manufacturing facilities. The unit had everything it needed, including its own power system, air compressors, batching systems and carbonation capabilities.
The trailer, which contained the heavy and noisy equipment, would stay outside of production facilities. The company also built a small beverage line that could be rolled inside, and the finished beverage — once flavored and carbonated — would be dosed with THC within the license holder’s facility.
“You can produce beverages in a parking lot,” he said. “You didn’t need any structure. You didn’t need any external power. It was completely self-supported.”
The company quickly scaled this model, expanding WYNK into 10 states within the first year. However, having multiple tractor-trailers on the move became difficult to manage.
Instead, Wherehouse has shifted to producing uninfused beverages and dosing them on-site in each market. The company uses specially designed cans with one-way valves in the bottom that allow it to inject cannabis-derived THC with custom equipment that’s similar to a vape filler. The machine, which is about the size of a desk and plugs into the wall, takes in 24-ct. cases and flips them twice during the dosing process, ensuring homogeneity.
“It lets us go into states where other beverages don’t even exist because there is no co-packing facility,” Rittenburg said. “We can just partner with someone who already has a license and go. It’s given us a really unique ability to produce in markets that others would have to wait a year and spend $5 million to build a facility. We go there with a $50,000 doser and make our product.”
So far, regulators have not taken issue with Wherehouse’s processes, and many are excited to see innovation in this space, Rittenburg noted.
“There are a lot of cases where we invite the regulators to come see what we’re doing,” he said. “They’re usually pretty curious how this all works. More than anything, they want to make sure that the THC doesn’t leave the building. They want to make sure the cans are undosed coming in, but we’re completely transparent.”
Evolution for retail
WYNK launched in Ohio in 2021 with the goal of offering a low-dose beverage to new cannabis consumers and those seeking an alternative to alcohol.
Available in Juicy Mango, Lime Twist and Blackberry Fizz flavors, the beverages featured 2.5 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD. While this potency fit the low-dose profile, it didn’t completely translate in dispensaries, said Phil McFarland, general manager, THC beverages.
Phil McFarland, general manager, THC beverages, Wherehouse Beverage Co.
“Selling that potency in the dispensary channel is a tough road to go,” he said. “We quickly added a 5 mg WYNK, which has more traction in the dispensary, but for the consumers that are regular shoppers there, that’s a low potency for them.”
In 2022, Wherehouse launched the Countdown brand, which offers beverages with 25 mg THC in Berry Force and Orange Blast flavors.
“Countdown grew out of this clear demand for higher potency brands in the dispensary channel, and we didn’t think WYNK could or should flex up to 25, 50, 100 mg — it just didn’t make sense for WYNK, so we created this new brand to operate in that higher potency space,” McFarland said.
Last year, Wherehouse introduced WYNK with hemp-derived cannabinoids, in doses of 2.5 mg THC and 5 mg THC. Offering hemp options has allowed Wherehouse to bring WYNK to traditional retailers of adult beverages.
Earlier this month, Wherehouse announced WYNK has become available at Ancona’s Wines and Liquors in Connecticut; Garfield’s Beverage Warehouse and Binny’s Beverage Depot in Illinois; Luke’s Liquors in Massachusetts; and select ShopRites, Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits and Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlet in New Jersey.
“By getting these cannabis low-dose drinks into mainstream outlets, we’re expanding the pie of cannabis consumers and destigmatizing it,” McFarland said. “If I can buy it at my local liquor store, all of the sudden it’s a much different perception. We’re bringing consumers into the category, which I think, no secret, has been a challenge for the category historically and destigmatizing cannabis broadly.”
WYNK’s hemp offerings have also allowed Wherehouse to build its direct-to-consumer (DTC) business, which McFarland describes as “thriving.” He added WYNK’s online platform is an important tool for promoting brand growth and awareness of THC beverages as a whole.
“That’s a big challenge for us — A) getting the product into the market, and B) making people aware that there is an entirely new adult beverage on offer,” he said. “We see our DTC platform as a big way to drive that, get in front of people, communicate that message, and try their first purchase.”