Kathryn Dougherty Talks About Developing Nonalcoholic, Sparkling Spritz Tea

Training for a half Ironman inspired Kathryn Dougherty’s “softly bubbled” beverage.

Sherry Beck Paprocki
Kathryn Dougherty

Fueled by her health-conscious efforts to train for a half Ironman triathalon, Kathryn Dougherty created an alcohol-free beverage that launched a whole brand. 

Back in 2016, Dougherty was planning an evening meal with friends, who were also training. She wanted a nonalcoholic drink that they could use to celebrate their accomplishments. An experiment with loose leaf tea in her own soda machine resulted in what she calls a “softly bubbled” beverage that had a blush pink tone. She served it in Champagne glasses. 

“I remember my girlfriends were like, ‘This is so cool,’” she says. “It was an emotional and mental experience knowing that you’re having something special.” 

Dougherty, who has a master’s degree in business administration, worked for a decade with Johnson & Johnson and was serving as the senior marketing manager in the medical device division. But the sparkling tea experience inspired her to join the Women’s Small Business Accelerator. She eventually resigned her job to launch a full-force entrepreneurial quest to bring it to market. 

Unfortunately for Dougherty, she resigned from J&J in December 2019 completely unaware, as most of us were, that the following year would be one of the most challenging in history. By March, her target market for the product—restaurants and bars—were closed. In fact, she says, for a while grocery stores were not even considering most new products. Still, she persisted. 

Today, she gives praise to the local Columbus community that helped her launch. Her Spritz Tea can be found in Kroger, Giant Eagle, Whole Foods and other local establishments, including North High Brewing. “It’s a good example of Columbus business owners supporting each other,” she says. It’s also available on Amazon.

Spritz Teas

Tell us about the first time you decided to make something “softly bubbled.” Was there a lot of trial and error, or did you get it right on the first try? Absolutely trial and error. I was used to drinking full carbonation sparkling waters and noncarbonated tea. The first time I made it, it was somewhere in the middle of the two. I played around with it a lot in my kitchen. Even during professional formulation we wanted to find exactly that right level—softly sparkling bubbles that tickled without the bite. 

What is your favorite beverage produced by your company? That’s a tricky question. I love all of my products and choose which one to drink based on time of day. I love our Bright Citrus in the late morning when I want a little caffeine boost. Wild Acai is my favorite for a Champagne mixer if I want a fun and special cocktail. Pink Guava is my go-to for a non-alcoholic alternative in the evenings. And Golden Peach is my midafternoon treat, usually mixed with Vital Proteins beauty collagen.

More:In flavor and market research, sparkling tea startup scores highly

The beverage space is a really competitive marketplace, as you mentioned when we talked. In three sentences, give us your best sales pitch. Spritz Tea is the first-to-market line of softly sparkling, boldly flavored craft tea infusions. Our products are all zero calories, zero sugar, made with all natural ingredients, and are aligned to both vegan and keto lifestyles. And with Spritz Tea, you are supporting a female-owned, proudly Columbus headquartered small business. 

Finally, are you still in training? I completed my first full Ironman in September 2019 in Maryland. I still swim, bike and run, but between launching a business and the pandemic canceling events, I haven’t competed in a race since Maryland. I am planning to do Ohio 70.3 [a half Ironman] again in 2022.