KWE Cocktails: Reclaiming the Flavors of Quebec’s Boreal Forest
Jessica Côté and Ève-Marie Gravel’s story
“KWE’s mission is to popularize the aromas of our boreal forest and to return to the roots of Quebec’s culinary identity,” explains Ève-Marie. Drawing on the two friends’ native heritage, the recipes were created in collaboration with Fabien Girard, biologist, herbalist and renowned author.
REDISCOVERING THE BOREAL FOREST’S FLAVOURS
Jessica and Ève-Marie grew up between Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean’s forests and blueberry fields. “It’s part of who we are! These flavours are familiar to us,” Jessica answers.
This interest in the ingredients that grow in our collective backyard is part of a larger trend in the food and beverage industry.
“Why would I go as far as Asia to find star anise when we have boreal anise right here? Our forests offer spices that taste just like cinnamon or lemongrass,” explains Ève-Marie.
KWE Cocktails’ syrups, and its new boreal tonic water, are free of preservatives. “We don’t work with artificial flavours either, which is an added challenge during production,” Jessica adds.
SETTING UP FOR GROWTH
In the beginning, Jessica and Ève-Marie rented commercial kitchens where they produced small batches. In just a few years, they went from a 20L pot to a 300L still.
The two entrepreneurs had to find a place to accommodate this large equipment and thus increase their production capacity. Two and a half years ago, Jessica and Ève-Marie were fortunate enough to have a factory built especially for them, one that would be adapted to their needs.
“It has given us room to grow. We still have a lot of square footage available to accommodate additional equipment,” adds Ève-Marie.
STAYING ON TOP OF MARKET TRENDS
Although KWE Cocktails products are distributed across Canada, their volume of sales in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region remains strong. “We are fortunate to have a very patriotic community that has supported us since day one,” says Ève-Marie.
In addition to word of mouth, Ève-Marie’s network of contacts has been a real asset for the distribution of their syrups. “I used to work in the microbrewery industry, so local specialty convenience stores and grocery stores already knew me. It was easy for me to approach them with our products,” she explains.
It goes without saying, KWE Cocktails’ business sector is growing rapidly. New consumer trends sought by retailers include non-alcoholic beverages and ready-to-drink products.
A THIRST FOR INNOVATION
Jessica and Ève-Marie launched their first ready-to-drink product last year: a boreal tonic water, made with green alder, sweet gale, juniper berry and black spruce. “Working with boreal spices that are strong in flavour to make a fairly neutral tonic water was quite a challenge,” recalls Jessica.
While their boreal tonic water did take a lot of work to produce, both in terms of aromas and canning, all of their products offer their own challenges. “Testing our products can take up to six months,” explains Ève-Marie.
“We work with ingredients about which there is little information available. There is a lot of literature on cinnamon, which is not the case for the balsam fir,” says Jessica.
Research and development is essential for KWE Cocktails to innovate in response to new market trends, and to relearn how to use local boreal spices, as Native peoples did long before us.
A FEW FIGURES
8 SKUs—which will soon increase to 9—with the launch of a new product
2,000 square feet in their new plant
$100,000 invested to set up the new factory
55,000 products sold since their foundation in 2017
$225,000 in sales in 2021
50% of their sales are made in their region of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean
300 points of sale across Canada
Browse KWE Cocktails' website to learn more about their syrups and to find their points of sale.