Neetu Godara knows all too well that the liquor industry is incredibly male dominated—after all, she’s one of the co-founders of the incredibly popular vodka soda brand, SoCIAL LITE Vodka, the Canadian company that pioneered the Ready to Drink category in 2014, with humble beginnings starting in the kitchen among friends in Whitby, Ontario. We chatted with Neetu Godara about her journey, and asked her to share her perspective as a female entrepreneur and a person of colour in a predominantly male-dominated industry. —Vita Daily
Hi Neetu! Where did the idea to launch SoCIAL LITE Vodka come from?
Back in 2014, my co-founders, Dan Beach and Kevin Folk, and I created what would eventually become SoCIAL LITE by mixing drinks for friends in our kitchen in Whitby, Ontario. It all stemmed from a desire to find a beverage that fit our healthy and active lifestyles. Back then, everything on the market was full of sugar, crazy colours and artificial ingredients. We wanted zero sugar. We wanted real. We wanted clean. We wanted convenient. We produced 6,000 cases of SoCIAL LITE with our life savings and started selling one case at a time, one store at a time. Since we started SoCIAL LITE, our promise has never changed: SoCIAL LITE beverages are for everyone who wants to be social, and live lite.
What makes SoCIAL LITE Vodka sodas a) the perfect summer sippers and b) different from other similar drinks?
We are Canada’s original vodka soda and, to this day, are still completely made in Canada. We were the first company in North America to launch unsweetened vodka sodas which is a category that has now become a cultural phenomenon. With zero sugar, zero carbs and 100 per cent natural flavours, SoCIAL LITE is the perfect summer sipper. Whether you’re gearing up for a picnic or heading to the cottage, SoCIAL LITE is a perfect addition to any summer weekend (or weekday). To this day, we pride ourselves on how we listen to our fans and how their insights lead our innovation. This summer we launched our BOLD Vodka Soda (6 per cent ABV with a splash of juice for extra flavour) to market; the idea behind this drink came from listening to our consumers and acting on what they told us they wanted. Our fans told us they wanted a higher alcohol percentage and an extra kick of flavour, so we gave it to them. And the feedback has been amazing.
Anything new for summer 2020 from SoCIAL LITE? How about new launches to look forward to in the near future?
Absolutely! SoCIAL LITE launched three new flavours this summer, including our first gin-based innovation. We are always working on exciting new flavours, so you’ll have to stay tuned and see what’s in store for next summer!
What’s it like being a female (and a POC) in the incredibly white-male-dominated liquor industry?
My co-founders and I are a diverse set of voices and we’ve been set up that way since day 1. The diversity in our team wasn’t planned, it was very organic. We met through my brother and started the company. We all agree that having a diverse set of voices and lived experiences makes us stronger and has been a large part of our success. I personally haven’t navigated my career thinking about the fact that I am a woman or that I’m a person of colour. We all have life experiences that teach us that the world is not always equal. Ultimately, we cannot wait for the world to be equal, we have to have the confidence to use our own voice. I’ve reflected on this a lot and I’ve come to realize that the confidence that I eventually found was really a product of my parents. I remember winning a public speaking competition when I was in the fourth grade and my dad told me I could be the prime minister of the country. My parents instilled a lot of confidence in me. They gave me the belief that I could do anything and they always celebrated my strengths. When I entered the workforce, I believed that if I worked hard, what I brought to the table was valuable. I wasn’t taught to believe otherwise. I understand that I am so lucky to have had this upbringing, and that it’s important as leaders that we cultivate this confidence in our teams. I also believe as a woman, it’s important that we support each other as we navigate challenges. For SoCIAL LITE, as we now build our team, it’s important to me that we have diverse voices at the table and that we listen to different perspectives, having each of our team members build their own confidence to contribute and lead.
What are you most proud of in terms of product and brand?
It still amazes us that we started this company mixing drinks in our kitchen six years ago, and now seltzers and vodka sodas are the fastest-growing segment in alcohol in North America. What we are most proud of is our drinks. We work tirelessly to craft the best tasting vodka sodas out there and we love hearing that our fans choose us for our taste. Our latest flavour, Triple Berry, has quickly become our best-selling flavour and we are excited for everyone to give it a try!
If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take one kind of SoCIAL LITE Vodka with you, what would it be?
This is the toughest interview question of all time! Given the current heat wave, I’d probably reach for one of our classics, it would have to be a SoCIAL LITE Pineapple Mango Vodka Soda!