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Persistence pays for teenage sugar-free drink seller

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When teenager Sari Smith launched a sugar-free drink business in July, things got off to a rough start.

The 16-year-old went door-to-door flogging her products, but only one person answered the door and they refused to try her drinks sweetened with monk fruit.

“I don't know if people didn't want to buy homemade stuff or they were nervous because of Covid-19,” she said. “I didn't make many sales. It was hot and the sun was horrible. I felt like going home.”

Walking around town, things did not go much better.

Her father, businessman Raynard Smith, had some sage words: “Every day is a fishing day, but not every day is a catching day.”

Mr Smith, owner of cleaning business Filter Queen Bermuda, started introducing her to his clients. That gave her a chance to work on her pitching skills.

“When I first started approaching people I was explaining all this stuff,” she said. “I learnt that I was approaching someone on the street with a cold drink, I had to keep it simple and fast. My drinks are all natural, sugar-free and taste good. Would you like to try some? If you are in people's homes you can talk more.”

People had varying levels of enthusiasm when trying her drinks.

“Some people were hesitant but they wanted to try it,” she said. “Some people said I really want to see how good this tastes.”

One of her most popular flavours is fuchsia blast, a pink lemonade that contains dragon fruit, lemon, ginger and a hint of mint.

“Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is produced by a cactus that grows on top of trees,” she said. “Its peel is of an intense pink colour and the pulp is white. It has a soft flavour and contains black seeds that are edible. Pitaya is what many would call a superfruit. It has been found to help in lowering cholesterol as well as being used to prevent high blood pressure.”

Another popular flavour is coconut bliss which contains lemon, ginger, coconut and monk fruit.

Ms Smith first tried monk fruit two years ago when her father brought home some in powdered form.

“It took me back because I'd never tasted anything as sweet as that before,” she said.

Extract of monk fruit, grown in Thailand, is up to 250 times sweeter than table sugar, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

She started replacing the sugary drinks she had, on occasion, with lemonades sweetened by a few grains of monk fruit. She also started making her own protein bars and snacks.

“I lost 30 pounds,” she said. “Because it is so sweet you only need a few grains. Monk fruit is great for fighting obesity and diabetes. And my products don't have any artificial preservatives in them.”

The idea for a business started percolating last year when she took part in BizCamp Bermuda. After that she could not wait to join the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation's eight-week summer student programme in July of this year.

“I learnt that no matter what setbacks you have in life, you have to have drive and determination,” she said. “There are so many things in this world that will try to take you off the track. At the end you will have a reward for everything you do.”

In the programme she learnt how to design business cards and logos, and how to market herself.

“I think I enjoyed the marketing part the least,” she said. “I'm not someone who is always on social media. The part I like is approaching people, talking about the product and seeing the surprise on their face when they try it.”

She won third prize in the BEDC programme, ­­­$250, for her business idea.

“Winning that gave me the confidence that maybe what I was doing was worth the while,” she said.

Her plan is to put her winnings back into the business to grow it further.

So far, one of her biggest challenges has been keeping the product in the fridge. Her four siblings like to sample it.

Ms Smith is a busy young woman. She and her older sister, Naphisa, have a violin duo, The Violin Sisters, and play at venues around the island. She also sails, plays volleyball and is the president of the Hamilton Rotary Interact Club.

“Everyone asks me where I get time to run a business,” she said. “It seems like at times one thing has to give out. I try to balance all of them, but my main priority is my violin and homeschool.”

Her father is one of her inspirations.

When she was little, Mr Smith often had ideas for how she could make some spending money. At his urging, she started selling popcorn a few years ago. When her siblings saw what she was doing they wanted to take part. Gradually, they took over the popcorn making.

“Then it stopped for some reason,” she said. “But we enjoyed it.”

Now popcorn has joined the Simply Natural line-up of products.

For more information, see her on Instagram @Simplynatural.bda e-mail violinsisters@yahoo.com or call 703-4275

Sugar-free drinks: Sari Smith of Simply Natural (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Fuchsia Blast, one of Simply Natural's most popular flavours (Photograph supplied)
Sari Smith of Simply Natural (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Sari Smith of Simply Natural (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

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Published September 24, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated September 24, 2020 at 2:56 am)

Persistence pays for teenage sugar-free drink seller

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