Sometimes you must ignore the naysayers and take a chance on yourself, even if they think you’re crazy. That’s the mantra that Bronya Shillo, the female founder of Fishers Island Lemonade, had to repeat to herself when she decided to create her company, one of the first craft cocktails in a can a decade ago.
“I would meet with people at networking events and conventions to pitch my product. They would say that it sounded great, but they wanted to change the recipe, packaging, and make it malt-based like other products already on the market,” says Shillo. “I had to tell them no, that’s not who we are and what we do. I knew a consumer was out there looking for something cleaner and more refreshing than what was being offered, and we could fulfill their needs. So, I just put my head down and went to work.”
Her hard work recently paid off with the announcement that Spirit of Gallo had recently acquired Fishers Island Lemonade. By adding the pioneering brand to their rapidly growing portfolio of RTD cocktails (High Noon, Liqs Cocktail CO, and Faux Pas), the fourth-largest spirits supplier in the US is betting that the boozy beverage will continue finding more fans. Especially in the exploding RTD market, one that a recent Drizzy report showed is continuing to grow in share and is shifting to the mainstream.
Part of what drove Shillo to continue chasing her dream despite all the headwinds was that she knew her drink worked. Starting as a child, she spent her summers working on Fishers Island, New York, where her family owned The Pequot Inn, rising to its manager. Its signature “FIL
Like Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, another idea created in a bar that was laughed at initially, Shillo knew that drinkers would respond to something authentic and flavorful. It’s what drove her for the first five years of her company when she was a one-woman show out hawking her product. A mainstay at beer festivals, concerts, and anywhere else that would have her, she spent her time educating consumers on the idea of a spiked lemonade in a can.
When the pandemic hit and the RTD market suddenly emerged, many brands benefited, and Fishers Island was one of them. Their distribution footprint and recent line extension meant that their products were readily available as consumers looked online for something new to sip.
“We were a trusted brand that people were familiar with, and they recommended it to their friends. They knew our story and that we are a real place, we tell it on each can, and that resonated with them,” says Shillo. “I didn’t know it then, but rolling out four new flavors was the best decision we could have ever made. I think we got lucky, and that momentum we started then hasn’t slowed at all.”
One of the requirements of the deal to bring Fishers Island Lemonade into Spirit of Gallo was that Shillo remains with the company. She will have a seat on its board while staying as its spokesperson. The recent announcement of two new flavors, Nude Peach and Blueberry Wave, along with a variety 8-pack, only highlights her commitment to building her product into a significant player in an emerging market. Plans call for the brand to focus on building up its existing footprint in the Eastern US for the foreseeable future before heading west, according to Britt West, SVP and GM of Spirit of Gallo.
Chances are good that one day soon, you might find yourself holding a brightly striped can of Fishers Island Lemonade after reaching into an icy cooler. Especially now that it has the weight of Gallo behind it and a founder focused on introducing her family’s favorite cocktail to drinkers far and wide.