Créavenir: How Quebec company 1642 Tonics et Mixeurs made their way onto grocery store shelves and into our hearts
In this second of 4 profiles, discover how the Créavenir program can propel your startup by providing you with accessible financing and personalized support. Meet Bastien Poulain, founder and CEO of 1642.
On January 9, 2015, French ex-pat Bastien Poulain took a giant leap of faith and launched his own local cola brand, sweetened with maple syrup. At the time, it felt particularly risky because buying locally wasn't anywhere near as popular as it is today. To survive and thrive, he's had to rely on his boldness, perseverance and resilience.
1. Dare to take on the market
"There were shelves of soda 32 feet long. And not a single Quebec brand in sight. Zip. Zilch. Nada."
To get a new product on the market, you have to be sure of the value it adds and believe that consumers will be willing to open their wallets and buy it. And that's even truer when it comes to a high-end product that's competing with multinational brands. Even though buying local has become more popular—and nobler, even, thanks to the push during the pandemic to support our homegrown businesses—it's tough to make a name for yourself if you don't fully believe in what you're selling.
"People have caught on to the virtuous cycle. If I spend a dollar on a product from Quebec, $2.50 goes back into our society. That's huge!"
Believing in your product can also help you avoid the pitfalls of analysis paralysis. A lot of the time, the best move is to stop questioning yourself and just go for it. When you take on the market, you start understanding it. And that enables you to start making the adjustments you need to keep going.
2. Leverage distribution and brand recognition
Today, Bastien's business relies on a network of 1,500 points of sale, but getting distribution was a significant challenge. "You've got to use every argument and every trick you have up your sleeve to get your product on shelves and in front of your customers." You might have a delicious product, but that's not enough. People need to know it exists so they can try it.
"We've got a double challenge in our field. First, we've got to convince the store to stock our product. Next, we need to convince customers to buy it. If our product just sits there gathering dust, then it makes perfect sense that it's going to get taken off the shelf."
Bastien also thinks it's important to tell a story, to explain the "why" behind the brand. It's a way to highlight the distinctive features of the product as well as the values the business stands for: never using preservatives, only choosing natural flavours and spring water, avoiding plastic, etc. What makes the product unique and attractive is the combination of all these elements.
"When you make a gin and tonic with 1642, you can tell. It absolutely makes a difference in your glass."
3. Make room for innovation and collaboration
Innovation plays a key role in Bastien's quest to build a top 3 high-end soda company. He's tuned in to the market, predicts trends and listens to his customers. That's why he decided to launch a cucumber tonic, retire orange soda from the line, and bring back maple cola by popular demand. "You've got to take risks. Sometimes you get it wrong. But on balance, you've got to win more than you lose."
1642 has also benefitted from the power of collaboration. Thanks to connections with 20-some distilleries—and a large network of representatives—the business been able to position its high-quality mixers and tonics on the market. "Networking is the reason that folks in Rimouski, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay know about 1642."
4. Surround yourself with the right people
"Programs like Créavenir are what it takes to encourage more people to go into business. I'd be worried about a society that stops generating entrepreneurs."
Toward the start of its journey, when the business was not yet profitable, 1642 Tonics et Mixeurs submitted a project to the Créavenir Program. The primary goal was to secure financing. But the business got so much more. "The money was important, but as I see it, taking the steps to submit our file, to have it reviewed by experts, and to hear that our project had potential was just as valuable," Bastien says.
Surrounding yourself with the right people also means being selective about your collaborators and inner circle. In business, a relationship built on trust is fundamental to employee morale and the success of the company.
To learn more about the Créavenir Youth Entrepreneurship Program, check out the free information session about financing your company. It could be your turn to take action and make the most of the program.