It used to be, if you wanted a non-alcoholic drink you were basically stuck with water, soda, or maybe a virgin pina colada. Now, spurred by younger generations’ embrace of wellness, ‘mocktails’ are becoming a craft area all their own.

Burden of Proof, a finalist of our Future Food competition for the Smart Kitchen Summit {SKS}, is trying to cash in on this new trend in non-alcoholic beverages that excite just as much as their boozy counterparts. They’ll be pitching onstage at SKS next week, but we spoke with Zain Tarawneh, founder of Burden of Proof, to get a sneak peek into how their company hopes to turn the social beverage game upside down. Check out the Q&A below then grab your ticket to SKS!

This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.

First thing’s first: give us your 15-second elevator pitch.
Burden of Proof makes culinary-inspired sparkling cocktails, 0% ABV, packaged in aluminum cans. Crafted from a range of ingredients like cold-pressed citrus, purées, cold brew herbal teas with l-theanine and spices/herbs, our priority is to the retain the fresh, nutritious and functional elements of the ingredients we mindfully choose. Our elevated beverages provide healthy alternatives in social settings while promoting social inclusivity.

What inspired you to start your company?
As someone who prioritizes health and wellness, I questioned why functional wellness beverages were sold everywhere except in social settings. It was frustrating that water was my only healthy option at restaurants, bars, networking happy hours, live sporting events and concerts. With attention to health and wellness at an all time high, I was even more baffled that sugar-loaded mocktails were classified as the healthy alternatives.

After researching non-drinkers and drinkers choices in social settings, I found they shared the same problem: the lack of healthy beverage options was pigeonholing them into mindless, unhealthy choices. So we took the fresh elements that people love in mocktails like fresh-squeezed citrus, purees, teas, herbs and spices and prioritized retaining their functional properties like nutrients and antioxidants. We then added l-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea known for counteracting cortisol (the stress hormone), benefiting mood and alertness and promoting a calm, focused relaxation. Finally, we made it sophisticated in taste and elevated in style so it would fit into social settings. It was also important that we make it sustainable in practice so we planned to can it into recyclable aluminum cans. With that, Burden of Proof was born.

What’s the most challenging part of getting a food startup off the ground?
The food and beverage space is a real science and with that comes a huge learning curve. I constantly have to research and learn new things. That can be daunting, but it helps having people you can go to who have successfully launched and currently sell in the food and beverage space.

Creating a clean, functional and transparent product is also more challenging than creating an industry standard beverage that contains things like artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Most of these beverages position themselves on flavorings versus function. For example, many co-packers heat pasteurize which leads to changes in flavor and degrades nutrients. Because our brand is built on retaining the freshness and nutritional qualities of our ingredients, popular manufacturing practices are limiting. Going completely against that is challenging. Although it can feel like you are trying to solve problems that are unsolvable, part of being a creative is creating a way out of your circumstances when there isn’t one.”

How will your company change the day-to-day life of consumers and the food space as a whole?
Burden of Proof is built on the belief that you shouldn’t have to carry the burden of providing proof or reason for your positive choices. Similar to drinking, both eating and smoking are also considered social activities but here is where they differ: if you are a vegan, there is no social expectation to explain why you arn’t eating a cheeseburger if everyone else is. Mainstream society accepts and promotes healthy eating options. If you don’t smoke, it’s socially acceptably to just say no. That is because there was a rise in public awareness surrounding the ill effects of cigarettes.

But if you aren’t drinking because you work early the next day, you are allergic, it gives you headaches, you are on medication, you are expecting, you abstain for spiritual reasons, or you just don’t feel like it (the list goes on), there is social pressure to provide your reason. We want to lift that burden so there’s freedom to make positive decisions without having to explain yourself. By working to provide alcohol-free but sophisticated beverage options, we can help carve social change with regards to normalizing healthy lifestyle choices.

Whether it’s at a company happy hour, on a night out with friends or enjoying your own company at home, we want our consumers to not only have healthy alternatives but also feel free, confident and socially included irrespective of their beverage choices.

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