What’s Going On: Fishers Island Lemonade founder: ‘I’m not going anywhere’
“Exciting times,” Bronya Shillo deadpanned as we got together on Zoom earlier this month to discuss her recent sale of the North Stonington-based Fishers Island Lemonade brand to a spirits company on the other side of the United States.
I’ve been following Bronya’s canned cocktail company for half a dozen years, ever since being introduced to the local brand at the Thames River Greenery wine shop in New London, and last year I met her in Groton when she made a local appearance to promote some new Fishers Island flavors.
It seemed the quintessential business story that thousands have embarked on but few have managed to pull off. How many people have wanted to dust off gramma’s recipe and turn it into a brand, and how many have made the idea a success?
Well, Bronya certainly went way beyond what most people could have predicted, at last count selling more than seven million cans a year. At one point, Fishers Island Lemonade was one of the fastest-growing ready-to-drink canned cocktails in America, and just last year she had expanded it into 13 states, including Florida and Georgia.
California-based Gallo wines certainly took notice. The company approached Bronya several months ago as it explored expanding its Spirit of Gallo offerings, and they eventually agreed on a purchase price that is so far undisclosed.
“They had faith in what we can do together,” Bronya, 38, said on Zoom. “They want to work with the Fishers Island team and the portfolio we created.”
Bronya said she plans to stay on as the Fishers Island Lemonade founder for the foreseeable future, and her team of about a dozen employees will remain as well.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she declared.
In fact, she was excited to announce the introduction of two new Fishers Island flavors, blueberry and peach, that will be for sale starting Memorial Day weekend. Both flavors, which were regularly trotted out at her parents’ Pequot Inn bar, will be based on the original recipe that includes lemon juice.
She added that the Fishers Island packaging will change as the company rolls out a beach variety pack that includes the two new flavors with a 7% alcohol content compared to the original recipe that is 9% alcohol. The original popper four-pack will also be available for all flavors.
Bronya pointed out that Gallo is the number one wine supplier in the United States and one of the top spirits brands as well, highlighted by its High Noon seltzer brand. This will give Fishers Island Lemonade a chance to enter more new markets quicker.
“They have a great reputation in the market,” she said. “We have lots of great things to look forward to.”
For now, she said, Fishers Island Lemonade will concentrate on its market on the Eastern Seaboard, plus Colorado. Some of the choices of where to expand next depend on changing state laws to allow the sale of ready-to-drink cocktails, which are still a relatively new phenomenon in the market.
In fact, Fishers Island Lemonade was one of the first of these brands, and one of the few initially that didn’t include malt or seltzer in the recipe. It has won many awards for its cocktails, including a Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Awards earlier this year.
Bronya said she expects the price point of Fishers Island to stay the same, at $16.99 for a four-pack and $8-12 on restaurant premises. As the founder, Bronya said she retains control over the brand.
As for her parents, who have been supportive of Bronya from the time she conceptualized the brand in her 20s, she said they are very proud of her decision to sell the company.
“They’re ecstatic,” she said. “They have been involved in all the steps of this company, and clearly this is a big one.”
She’s also happy to report that states like Vermont which previously had been reticent to allow dual-spirit cocktails like Fishers Island are now considering legislation to allow their sale.
“The timing is quite perfect for us to continue to innovate with our flavors,” she said. “We have more muscle with Gallo. ... With them, we can expand further than we could on our own. ... Everyone is just really excited for the future.”
Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. Reach him at email@example.com.