Boozy canned seltzers don’t usually bring the world functional to mind—but new brand PLANT is here to change that notion. Created by Asian American alternative healthcare expert and herbal specialist Simone Wan, whose imagined career path was derailed when she suffered severe burns during a freak accident at home, the endeavor has brought an antioxidant-full and vitamin-rich canned natural vodka to the shelves. As if that wasn’t enticing enough, with ingredients like ginseng, goji berry, and dandelion root, it’s brimming with beauty enhancing and energizing benefits too. We’ll drink to that! Here’s how Wan’s brainchild came to be….
How did you begin your career?
My mom is a nurse and my dad has his Ph.D in engineering and they always wanted me to become a doctor. So I started with a biomedical engineering major at USC, but after working at cancer hospitals and seeing an autopsy at the age of 18, I realized I needed some art in my life as a balance. I graduated NYU with a film degree and a pre-med minor degree.
What was the path that led you to discovering Eastern medicine?
After working in film and TV for a few years (Warner Brothers, Weiden + Kennedy) I had a terrible burn accident from a pressure cooker explosion that put me in ICU for over a month. My entire face had 2nd degree burns and my body had 3rd degree burns. I had skin graft surgeries and had to wear a burn garment for a year, 24/7. The doctors prescribed opioids and anti-depressants and I hit a wall and needed to turn to a different type of therapy. I discovered herbology and acupuncture, which really helped my pain and anxiety symptoms. I then decided to study Eastern Medicine and completed a four-year masters degree in alternative medicine.
How has Eastern medicine changed your life for the better?
Eastern medicine—which includes acupuncture, herbology, diet therapy, meditation, and massage—helped me recover from an opioid addiction and anxiety attacks. It helped me realize what self-care really meant and taught me how to take control of my life by using natural medicine and natural methods for pain relief, relaxation, and focus. It not only changed my personal health, but gave me a mission to help other people, which I’ve done for 20 years; from helping women get pregnant to helping cancer patients at cancer hospitals. I spent the last five years of my career working with cancer patients.
What inspired you to create PLANT and when did you start the brand?
I never thought I would be in the alcohol industry! But while I was working on my other company, IN:TotalWellness (a herbal effervescent remedy to help with inflammation, anxiety, and sleep), I found that other countries infuse their cocktails with botanicals to help prevent hangovers, boost immunity, and increase stamina! I decided to bring this concept home to my family and friends and now the open market. The idea was born in 2017…so it’s taken some time! On one hand, it was a challenge to start a company during the pandemic. There were a lot of shortages in materials and retailers were not very open to bring in any new products. On the other hand, I had to quarantine at home so I was able to focus on building the business. Raising money was definitely a process and was probably one of the hardest things to do; to convince my family and friends to invest in me when I knew nothing about the alcohol industry. But we raised what we needed to raise to launch and I’m so grateful for our investors and their trust in us! The fun part is when major retailers are super responsive to our presentation and want to carry us in their stores! I think it’s because we are a unique product in a crowded category with an authentic story. Now the struggle is how to scale with the current demand and how to communicate to our consumers about our brand pillars! We are hyper focused on benefit added ingredients, sustainability, and having a great time!
What do readers need to know about the beverage?
I am a control freak about our ingredients! And flavor! I’ve tried so many seltzers out there, so I wanted to make sure we were putting something in the market people enjoyed drinking and would grab again and again. First of all, the product is mostly water, so we use a reverse osmosis process to make sure our water is the best possible and doesn’t taste like tin. Our water is sourced from Yakima, Washington, which I chose because they have low pollution and clean water. I use the same herbs I give to my patients in our formulas, which means our botanicals are the freshest and most effective. Our goji berries help skin glow, are high in antioxidants, and boost immunity. I also use them to help anxiety. Dandelion is great for detoxing. Ginseng helps with physical and mental stamina, who doesn’t need that? And I use Angelica root as an overall tonic. We made the flavors in our kitchen by testing each fruit puree, flavor, etc., to make sure they tasted good. My partner and I are currently working on our tequila seltzers and we chose tangerine and guava, because those fruit juices and purees were so tangy and fresh! Lastly, our vodka is distilled in Napa in copper stills by a true artisan. The vodka alone tastes better than any other vodka I’ve ever tasted. Plant Botanical Vodka, launching this fall, is made from sorghum, a highly Earth-friendly grass which takes 1/2 the water to feed than corn or wheat. It is also safe for people with celiac disease so it’s hyper gluten free. I have two family members with gluten intolerance, and I don’t eat gluten either…unless I’m in Europe!
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What is PLANT’s uniqueness and benefits in the market?
I believe we are the only hard seltzer made by a health care practitioner. We’re unique because we are infused with functional botanicals, made with real fruit, Keto-friendly (with 1g sugar and 1 carb), plant-based, gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO, and no sugar added.
The design is cute! Tell us about the packaging.
Thank you! My husband owns a branding agency called CO OP, which saved us a ton of money. Then my partner’s mom (I’ve known my partner since college in NYC!) painted the fruit and her friend drew the botanical which is on the vodka bottle. So it’s been a real family affair!
What are your favorite holistic lifestyle practices?
I love them all! But meditation, yoga, and acupuncture are my favorites. Or wait, maybe massage comes first!
What’s next for the brand?
The botanical tequila and botanical tequila seltzers, which are coming out in the beginning of 2022. It’s super exciting for us! We are also hoping to get into some of our favorite national retailers. Whole Foods and Target in California have taken us on, which we are so grateful for. We also just got picked up by Breakthru Beverage, the third largest distributor in the U.S. We’ll be entering many more states in the next few months and 2022.
Do you have any fun summer plans? What are you looking forward to?
We just got back from visiting our besties in Sweden! It was so beautiful and I just love the food in Europe. Their food standards are much higher than the U.S. so I tend to just pig out when I’m there. I have a lot of traveling to do for the brand. I like to get on the street and sell directly into restaurants, hotels, and independent retailers—so I have a full summer of work ahead of me!