BRUNSWICK, Maine — A Brunswick soda company is looking for support as it seeks to expand production.
Green Bee All Natural Soda is a semifinalist in the Gorham Savings LaunchPad competition that awards a $30,000 grant to one Maine company to help grow its business. Those who receive the most online votes move on to the final round in which a winner is picked by a panel of judges.
So what would this Brunswick microbusiness do with $30,000?
“We’re in the process of expanding both our distribution footprint and production capacity,” said company founder Chris Kinkade, speaking in Green Bee’s facility at Fort Andross. “The big need is in automating our bottling process. That’s our number one priority.”
The business is run by Kinkade and his wife, Lori. Employee Elijah King can be found concocting new flavors from natural ingredients, such as ginger, anise, rosemary and cinnamon.
“I’m a father of three young kids. They were always bugging me for soda, and I never wanted to give them what’s on the market,” said Kinkade.
A beekeeper, Kinkade said he looked at a jar of honey one day and thought, “I could make something out of this.”
Green Bee ingredients are basic. The Lemon Sting variety, the first one Kinkade made, is simply carbonated water, lemon juice, rosemary and honey.
“To us, it’s about fresh soda,” Kinkade said. “When we make a ginger soda, we get cases upon cases of fresh ginger root, we chop it up, and we get our fresh ginger juices.”
Honey is a critical ingredient in Green Bee products. The company has hives in Harpswell, and there will soon be Green Bee hives at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham, but the majority of honey comes from other local beekeepers or, as Kinkade put it, “from wherever we can get good honey.”
“That’s a wonderful resource Maine has,” Kinkade said. “Everyone knows Maine things like lobster, blueberry and potatoes. But there’s some pretty good honey right in this state.”
Green Bee’s investment in bees is a boost for local agriculture that relies on the insects for pollination.
A 12-ounce glass bottle of Lemon Stinger or Half & Half costs about $1.89 at Morning Glory Natural Foods on Maine Street.
“They love it, the taste of it. Most of them love it because it’s local stuff,” said store owner Susan Tarpinian. “People really go for it, especially when [the weather] gets warm.”
The Kinkades are hoping that customer loyalty translates into online voting for the grant competition. That grant would go a long way toward securing financing for an automated bottling system.
Kinkade said he’ll need a faster bottling system to meet demand as Green Bee starts expanding out of New England.
“It’s a problem, but a problem we’ve been working for for a long time,” Kinkade said.
Now Green Bee is bottle-necked in production. One round of bottling takes eight to 10 hours.
“The system we’re looking at will cut that down to two hours,” said Kinkade. “It’s a five-times increase in productivity that we’re looking at.”
Kinkade said he wants to keep production in Brunswick.
“That’s where it all started,” he said, noting the first store that carried Green Bee was Morning Glory.
LaunchPad voting ends this Friday.
For more information and to vote for a finalist, visit launchpad.gorhamsavingsbank.com.