From a thesis concept to a flavor-packed Better-For-You Texas-style Sangria, learn how Ashley Deutser turned a family recipe into her passion.
While Ashley Deutser was working on her Plan II senior thesis, she decided to bypass the typical long-form essay for a creative product she ideated on a hot summer day: Texas-style Sangria. Sick of drinking chemical-laden spiked seltzer and flavorless beers with friends, Ashley took a family-favorite Sangria recipe and created a fun, Better-For-You drink without compromising flavor or fun.
We interviewed Ashley about her experience creating Little Bird TX Sangria as a part of our Longhorn Entrepreneur series.
How did you come up with the idea?
AD: One summer day, my friend and I decided to make Sangria. I didn’t really like Sangria because I thought it was really sweet and had a lot of added junk in it. But we thought we could make something more natural without losing flavor, all the while staying true to the fun, carefree experience attached to drinking Sangria.
At that time, I also was thinking through the idea of making a fruity sangria with transparent ingredients from Texas, including Texas wine and Texas fruits. Since the weather in Texas is generally hot, Texas-grown grapes often turn out to be too sweet for wine in retail, so there is surplus supply every summer. I was talking with Marissa when I TA’d for her course about whether there might be an opportunity to reuse the surplus product for a drink like sangria, which is a perfect fit for sweeter grapes.
With Plan II’s thesis requirement, I thought it would be a cool way to combine my fun hobby of making sangria during my leisure time with my year-long project. I started the process in March with a lot of free time on my hands when everything shut down. I was supposed to go to bars and grocery stores to interview people about their drinking habits, but I obviously couldn’t do that I started doing virtual interviews, reaching out to friends, friends’ friends, relatives, etc. I interviewed over 80 people—most of whom I didn’t know before—about their drinking habits. People were very excited to talk about anything other than COVID-19!
My next step was to start recipe testing in my own kitchen. After countless test batches, I finally came up with a recipe. I dropped off samples at people’s doorsteps and invited them to do virtual taste testing. Everyday, people were asking me for samples, and I received incredibly useful feedback. Plus, it gave people a reason to celebrate during an... unfortunate time.
How did UT play a role in your journey?
AD: I really appreciate the liberty that Plan II granted me to work on this as my thesis. My thesis is focused on how to develop a product, the market research around the product, and the sustainability of the wine and alcohol industry. Instead of writing a long academic paper, I was able to do research that directly applied to developing a product.
Why did you decide to start the company?
AD: I decided to create the product and found the company because it was already something my friends and I loved. Sangria was always the biggest hit at any of my family dinners and my friends’ parties. We were tired of drinking things that were filled with unknown flavorings and loads of sugar. That was what drove me to develop a product with a concept I believed in. Along with the passion, I have two amazing mentors, Marissa Epstein and Drew Hays. The consumer-packaged goods (CPG) space has always been a space that I love and having the opportunity to develop a product of my own has been a ton of fun.
What advice would you give other aspiring food and beverage entrepreneurs?
AD: Unexpected things always happen. Lean into it and get creative. COVID-19 isn’t the most ideal time to start something like this, but the situation prompted me to be creative and find ways to reach out to people in a different, but effective way.
How does COVID-19 impact your current business from an innovation standpoint?
AD: COVID-19 made me alter my initial approaches a bit. As I mentioned, I planned to conduct in-person interviews and testing. In light of the current situation, I had to transfer everything virtually and do contactless delivery. The constraints of the pandemic helped me get very creative with how I have gone about my research, and I have really enjoyed the process so far. I also got to drink a lot of sangria and give people something to celebrate around, so what’s not to love!
Get inspired by other Longhorn entrepreneurs innovating in the better-for-you food and beverage space.