Originally from Florida, Anne-Marie Kypreos worked all over the world as a model before meeting her husband, former NHL player Nick Kypreos. The pair settled in Toronto (his hometown) after he got a contract with the Maple Leafs. Kim Taylor moved to Toronto from the Bahamas; originally coming for school, but eventually staying for career and family. The pair became friends after meeting through their teenage daughters back in 2016.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020: the pandemic had just started, and Kim (then 48 years old) and Anne-Marie (then 54) founded Little Buddha Cocktail Co. — a line of premium distilled cocktails, made with organic, health-forward (they come in low or no sugar options), and socially conscious ingredients. We asked them about their career transition, what it was like to launch during a pandemic, and what they’ve learned on their entrepreneurial journey so far.
My first job ever was… (Anne-Marie) at a Hallmark Card Shop and (Kim) at Benetton clothing store.
We decided to be entrepreneurs because… Kim and I felt it was the perfect time in our lives to challenge ourselves. We had both taken time off work to raise our families, but our kids were now in their teens and more independent so it made sense to start a new career chapter. It also was clear to us that there was a growing segment of people looking for healthier and organic cocktail options — and luckily we were ready and eager to create a product to fill the gap. As they say: it’s never too late to be what you might have been.
The idea for Little Buddha Cocktails came to us when… visiting Kim’s farm for the weekend. At dinner we discussed that the adult beverage market had a niche that hadn’t been filled yet. We imagined a flavourful ready-to-drink cocktail that was organic, had no sugar, was gluten-free and that had a low-calorie count. There was nothing on the shelves like that. The lower calorie drinks we did find didn’t have the burst of flavour that we wanted in a cocktail. Our husbands joked around that maybe we should just start a cocktail company ourselves.
Our proudest accomplishment is… launching a company during the pandemic when the world seemed to basically shut down (we launched in Spring 2020!) We could only rely on word of mouth and grass roots efforts – we couldn’t do any in-store sampling or participate in any events to get people to try it. We overcame shipping issues, aluminum can shortages, as well as the inability to have the hands-on approach that is necessary for new companies. We must have held our breath for the first six months after our product hit shelves.
Our boldest move to date was… entering a blind taste test against very established brands. We fared very well!
We surprise people when we tell them… how quickly we came into being. It only took a few short months from conception, flavour development, branding and design, creating a business plan and then contracting supply partners. It was a steep learning curve, but somehow, we made it happen.
Our best advice to people starting out in business is… ask as many questions as you can. And find a product or service that fills a void. Most importantly, ask potential customers what their needs and desires are.
I would tell my 20-year-old self… (Anne-Marie) to stop worrying so much about the what-ifs in life and trying to be perfect. There is no perfect. The philosophy of our company is actually a great reminder to my 20-year-old self. Live mindfully. Live more in the present. Embrace what you have, today. Also, to buy Apple shares!
(Kim) Celebrate all of your achievements…ideally by dancing.
“As they say: it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
Our biggest setback was… not being able to have consumers sample our product at the LCBO and restaurants, as well as having to cancel our big launch party. We were also scheduled to be the exclusive cocktail at the Canadian Film Awards. We had planned large events that were all cancelled due to the Pandemic.
We always felt if we could just get people to try our cocktails, they would love Little Buddha. Even now, over a year after we’ve launched, all tastings and events are still on hold. Of course, we are just one of many who have been impacted and certainly aren’t complaining. The most important thing is to keep everyone healthy and safe.
We overcame it by… relying on social media and word of mouth. We’re so fortunate that many of the people who pick up Little Buddha Cocktails share their love for it on social media. We also continue to work to produce new flavours to offer more variety on shelves (we just launched our Organic Natural Peach Tea flavour in April!)
If we had an extra hour in the day, we would… (Anne-Marie) spend more time outside and (Kim) workout with weights.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… (Anne-Marie) accepting things that are out of my control. I like the analogy that trying to change life’s circumstances is like trying to change the current in a river; it will never switch directions just because you want it to. This is something I especially have to remind myself.
(Kim) Things always happen for a reason, even if you don’t immediately understand the reason.
If you googled us, you still wouldn’t know… what we thought was a simple concept took many months of 18-hour days to get off the ground. And it came with a few mistakes along the way, but it has been an amazing experience — and we would gladly do it all over again.
The best thing we’ve done for our business so far is… surrounded ourselves with hardworking partners who are excited about our product. This ranges from flavour providers, sales agents, can suppliers, a marketing team, social media management, and the list goes on.
We stay inspired by… the reaction we get from people who have tried our product. We hear from our customers every day. We love reading the testimonials and seeing photos of Little Buddhas being enjoyed on docks, in backyards and on snowbanks. One customer sent footage of a drone finding a Little Buddha at the top of a mountain. We love seeing these personal tributes!
Also, believe it or not, we stay inspired by our competitors. The ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail market is one of the fastest growing distilled beverage categories in history. We are thrilled to be a part of it.
The future excites us because… people are seeking out drink options with better-for-you, organic ingredients. We’ve always said our customers are people who read labels and want to know what goes into their bodies. We are proud to list and provide transparency about our ingredients (directly on our cans!) which is uncommon in the alcoholic industry… we are excited to see that this industry is starting to incorporate and promote this evolution.