Green Travel Magzine

Volley mascot Spike cartoon green agave red bottle orange mango
Source: Volley Instagram

Volley: More Than Just A Buzz

I’ll admit it – I’m no high-class drink connoisseur, not a mixologist by trade, and I still choose my wines based on their labels. I am, however, a conscious consumer – I check for food dyes, make sure I don’t buy products with palm oil, and steer clear of the microbeads. Yet the realm of the beverage industry has eluded me.

While the neon colors of Mountain Dew products have been enough to deter me from purchasing them, there’s a very sneaky, and misleading marketing scheme going on with our beloved hard seltzers – and I had no idea about it until a few weeks ago. To be completely honest, I had no inclination to even consider critiquing the beverage industry (except for you, Mountain Dew) and the reasons are multidimensional.

First and foremost, the readily stocked beverage selections afforded to us are bolstered through corporate control; brand recognition, ease of access, celebrity sponsorships etc., are all tools used to tell us, the consumers, to look no further. Yet in late February I had the opportunity to sit down with Camila and Chris, the founders of the tequila seltzer company Volley, and the story they have to share is even more enticing – their knowledge base is expansive, their product is forward-looking, and the whole story makes you think, “why have I just been blindly accepting the Wh*te Cl*w?”

Spike volley cartoon juggling mango agave lime bottle grapefruit and. ginger
Source: Volley

“Don’t Drop the Ball”

Partners in both life and in the business realm, Camila and Chris have been in the beverage industry for over 10 years. Originating out of his home kitchen, Chris co-founded the mixer brand American Cocktail Company, which was later joined by Camila, and they focused solely on creating craft mixers from quality ingredients.

However, in 2018 the two found themselves steering away from consuming craft cocktails themselves, and opting for a simpler concoction of tequila, soda water, and grapefruit juice. And I would dare to say that most of us who participate in adult-beverage consumption can understand why; it’s simpler, *healthier*, and makes for a less grueling hangover.

Around the same time the market of hard seltzers was booming, and Camila and Chris were hopeful that they would be able to bring this, “tequila-soda-withasplashofgrapefruit,” alternative home with them in cute little aluminum cans. And while they were technically right, they were also distraught by the actual ingredients going into them.

For example, White Claw’s alcohol base isn’t vodka – it’s fermented cane sugar. And those natural flavors? – Yeah, they aren’t pureed, pulp-free mango juice. The business of “natural flavors” is a $40 billion dollar industry, and a single flavor can have over 100 different ingredients packed into it. But the term itself sure does sound good, right?

Camila provided some serious insight into this industry as she gave a brief overview of one of her favorite books, The Dorito Effect. The book delves into the ins-and-outs of the food industry in the U.S., and the natural flavors industry. On the subject she said, “The most shocking flavor is vanilla. It was one of the first flavors created because it’s so expensive to get vanilla bean. They found out you can replicate the essence of vanilla with castoreum, which is a goo excreted from the castor sacs of a beaver.”

Let’s read that again:

“A goo excreted from the castor sacs of a beaver, and those castor sacs are right by the butt of the beaver, so you’re essentially getting this goo that smells, or has some sort of aroma like vanilla. And we’re baking with it all the time.”

Doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it? Camila and Chris didn’t think so either, “The word ‘natural flavors’ just sounds too innocent,” said Camila.

silver can with red text resting on leaves in the rain
Source: Volley

With their background in the industry and resolve to use quality ingredients, the two have embarked on their own hard-seltzer journey with Volley. The goal? As Chris said, to simply “…make the product that we would like to drink, make the drink that we would be really proud to enjoy and share with other people.”

With product-consumer transparency in mind, the two wanted to brand their creation with a name that would evoke not only a feeling, but also a call to action. Something light, playful, collaborative, active…  something like “volley.” When the verb was suggested, it felt right. Says Camila, “When you volley, you don’t drop the ball, and so when you’re drinking Volley, you’re also not dropping the ball for yourself, for your family members and friends, your environment, and you’re making good choices in your life.”

Production Process & Sustainability

Their journey has been far from easy. Shipping delays, strict production regulations, and an obscure lime shortage have tested the endurance of their small-but-mighty business. And since tequila is the most regulated spirit, there are a lot of different rules to follow – one of them being that you need to actually make it in Jalisco, Mexico. A little extra razzle-dazzle? They were trying to build out their supply chain right as COVID was in full-swing.

Faced with the aforementioned, the highest prices of agave ever seen, and a massive can shortage – Camila and Chris persisted. They set about designing all of the recipes themselves, invested in a canning facility, and now own a warehouse dubbed, “Casa Volley,” where they prepare all of their materials.

Being the conscientious consumers we are, you may be wondering, “What does this ‘production process’ look like, exactly?”

And I’m so glad you asked:

Casa Volley isn’t just a cute name, it’s the heart of the company – or as Chris described it, “Like the Costco freezer for raw materials.” The juices used – mango, grapefruit, lime, and ginger – come straight from their produce farms in flash-frozen, 50-gallon drums and are stored here, never defrosted, until the moment they’re thawed out to be put in cans.

When asked how Volley plans on keeping sustainability and resource preservation in mind, Chris was quick, and excited, to share that their efforts don’t end with nutritional integrity, but that the team at Volley is also incorporating energy-saving strategies throughout their production process by utilizing solar-powered canning facilities. “That’s part of the story we’re trying to tell, that even on the production side it’s important to do that.”

colorful fruits lime banana ginger grapefruit
Source: Volley

But what about the produce used? How did they find their suppliers? Isn’t the commercial cultivation of agave an environmental nightmare?

Great questions:

To start, I want to reiterate that Chris and Camila aren’t part of some multi-level corporate conglomerate, they’re a small business with transparency at the forefront of their mission. Furthermore, they’re also the consumer for which they are producing. “[There is] the demand from consumers for transparency, and you know, we are that consumer, and this is the mission we’re on here,” says Chris.

They’ve found their suppliers through a variety of networks; some were existing relationships, some were a result of Camila’s familial relationships in Mexico, and all were bolstered through the two’s Spanish-speaking abilities. In the unique case of their Peruvian ginger, they were actually approached by the sellers.

“We had been buying ginger for a while as it’s pretty essential in craft cocktail,” explained Chris, “and found that the ginger used in the U.S. is mainly from China, and it’s a little bit of a duller spice, and a blue-ish color, and this supplier actually had a really bright, vibrant ginger that they were producing, and they were telling us about it and that this one was the best.” The verdict? Unanimous agreement. Volley has been using the ginger from the Peruvian supplier since – and better yet? It’s from a regenerative family farm.

When asked if sustainability is taken into consideration during their production process for their other ingredients, the pair both smiled before Chris responded, “Luckily, we have so few ingredients, so we also want to make sure we have relationships with who’s making them.” Camila added on, “It’s definitely what we’re working on, and is part of the initiative, and I think more people are transitioning to that kind of farming as well, so people want that story.”

Agave is the real point of contention in terms of production. It’s the new coconut oil in today’s market – being utilized for cosmetics, cooking, medicine, and of course, tequila. Since the maturation of an agave plant is around 7 years, this demand has put a massive strain on agave farmers and their environments.  The use of chemical crop “enhancers,” early harvesting practices, and the proliferation of extensive monocrops are enough to raise eyebrows, and urge us, the consumers, to take a deeper look at the sourcing practices of our beloved (or for some, loathed) tequila.

Volley CEO Chris holds up an agave plant surrounded by other larger agaves
Source: Volley Facebook

As for the murky area of agave farming, Chris concedes, “It’s tricky because it’s often hard for the agave farmers to keep up with demand. You know, right now you have some of the lower caliber tequilas being harvested at 4-years [old]… and the price is going up just based on the limitation of resources. But for us, we work with our distillery partner who has contracts with the agave farmers, and so they have reserved our [agave plants] which are 8-years old and quite large… so they have relationships with the farmers and the supply, and then it goes to the distillery to be processed.”

It’s not all monetary and environmental considerations, however. As Camila pointed out, “Our distillery in Mexico really believes in the art of creating tequila. They of course use machinery, but there are still a lot of hands that touch it – because that’s part of the craft, and that’s very important to us, that they believe in and take pride in making their tequila.”

Partnerships, Advocacy & Future Endeavors

Aside from the contents of their product, Camila and Chris have taken the word “clean,” to the next level. What does this mean exactly? Chris elaborates, “Studies show that 8 out of 10 cans on the shelf have dangerous or concerning levels of bacteria on them… So we’re the first seltzer to have a protective foil on the top of the can, which we’re really proud of, because that actually took custom equipment to do that.”

Aside from the entire can and pieces being recyclable, the foil itself is made from 90% recycled materials. “[…] and it’s fun!” continues Chris, “It has some messaging on the top and soon we’ll have some messaging on the bottom as well. But, that’s the big initiative for us, to really lean into that word ‘clean.’

However, the work doesn’t end with creating the cleanest tequila seltzer in the biz, Volley’s core values expand far beyond consumer-product transparency – into the realms of community service and environmental education.

You’ve likely heard of the organization Leave No Trace (LNT) before, and if you haven’t, you should familiarize yourself ASAP… like right now, click the link… seriously. LNT is spearheading the mission to keep our green spaces green, and preserve the environmental integrity by keeping trash and other human-made pollutants out ­– they’re also partnering with Volley to sponsor community clean-ups.

Volley drink cans flavors in a row grapefruit lime mango ginger
Source: Volley

While both founders pride themselves in being environmentally conscious, the partnership with LNT was initiated by Camila. “When we came up with the whole ethos of having an outdoor, active brand, we were living in New York, and you know, New York can be kind of dirty.”

(Oh, I know).

“And I was just like, ‘I cannot see my can lying around everywhere, that would drive me nuts.’ I’m always picking up the trash, always picking things up, so it was just an initiative that we really wanted to be a part of the brand. What we love about Leave No Trace is that they’re not necessarily one of the ‘large ones,’ but they really focus on education and teaching people how to leave no trace. You can arrange cleanups all you want, but if people don’t know why they need to do something, they’re going to keep doing it.”

Aside from their partnership with LNT, Volley is also working with us here at ecomadic to collaborate on sustainable travel tips. Volley’s Director of Marketing, Michael, spearheaded the initiative and said, “[We were] looking for other ways to amplify these core values of ours – and [ecomadic] really resonates. We love to get out and explore and do things, but do them in a responsible way – educate our audience in a different way.” In February and March of 2022, Volley and ecomadic teamed up to collaborate on a limited series which focused on curating a quick and practical guide of sustainable travel tips for conscientious explorers. 

What else are they cookin’?

Plenty.

Volley has already arranged for a number of community clean-ups to take place in 2022, and are continuing on with their partnership with Leave No Trace. They’ll also be expanding their outreach to local organizations and neighborhoods, “[…] the markets we’re selling in and are active in, we want the community to physically go out and help clean up the areas,” says Chris, “and we want for Volley to support that and be the instigator of that.”

Also stay tuned for a potential opportunity to tour Casa Volley in the near future. In the spirit of transparency, Chris and Camila want to afford the ability for people, consumers, producers, distribution partners, etc., to come and see how they make everything. (Hi Volley team, remember me!!!)

As for a new flavor on the horizon? Well, my skills as an investigative journalist are clearly in need of some cultivation, since I can only report that it’s a definite maybe. “We definitely love these four, one sour, one sweet, ginger is spicy, and grapefruit is slightly bitter, so we feel like we’ve got a really nice, rounded portfolio,” teases Chris, “but we have two flavors that are in the hopper… being recommended by our fans… but no plans to release them in the short term.”

And if that’s the one thing they’re not transparent about, that’s fine by me.

spike cartoon volley mascot drinking a volley can
Source: Volley Instagram

ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.


Want to learn more?

8 Things to Know About Palm Oil – WWF

Plastic Microbeads – 5 Gyres

Leave No Trace – Leave No Trace

Drink Volley – Volley


 

Cecilia Hyland
A retired preschool teacher, Cecilia is a Content Writer for ecomadic, and serves as the Project Manager for Weave News. Born and raised in upstate New York, her appreciation for the natural world was nurtured by the Adirondack Mountains and continues to be bolstered throughout her travels. Emboldened by the synchronous experiences of learning and unlearning, her writing and research attempts to focus on how human experience informs our relationships with our environment. She currently resides in San Diego, California where her favourite past-times include people-watching, yoga and spending an exorbitant amount of money on her cat, Pete.