It is no secret that genuine maple syrup turns a plain stack of pancakes into a meal fit for a king. Most people, however, probably don’t know that the sap itself, fresh from the tree, contains electrolytes, antioxidants, manganese and over 40 other vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
While growing up on farms in Underhill, Vermont, Chas Smith and his cousin, Nikita Salmon, learned first-hand about the hard work required to produce maple syrup. After finishing school, Smith went to work for Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington, DC, while Salmon ran the farm his grandparents had purchased in the 1950s—complete with a 300 acre sugarbush with 12,000 tapped trees.
After working in D.C. for over three years, Chas decided to return to Vermont. In 2014, he enrolled in the Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program at the University of Vermont, and was looking for an idea for a business. His father, Charles Smith, had toyed with making a drink out of maple sap, and had often brought his concoctions to family functions with good results. Salmon had been providing some of the sap for these experimental drinks. The three began discussing the possibility of creating a business making waters and sodas from maple sap.
In 2015 they formalized their endeavor as Smith & Salmon, Inc., and created Sap! With family financial backing, they did a small run and were sold in two local stores, receiving lots of positive feedback about the product. At this point they knew it was time to increase production and expand their market, but with $8,000 in sales the first year, they weren’t in a position to get traditional bank funding. Smith and Salmon wanted both high level investors and support of a broader community. They enlisted the help of Designbook, an online platform for entrepreneurs to find capital and people to grow their businesses. Designing a two-pronged approach, they utilized both a debt-based offering under Vermont Small Business Offering Exemption and an equity offering for larger investors using Title II of the JOBS Act. According to an April 25, 2016, review on Locavesting.com, this approach was very successful. “Smith and his partners have raised $400,000 in equity through the Title II offering and $57,000 in debt through VSBOE from about 40 investors so far.”
On February 5, 2016, Sap! held a Crowdfunding Launch Party at Designbook’s office in Burlington, Vermont, and in April, 2016, Sap! became available for sale on the campus of the University of Vermont. Smith and Salmon eventually decided to include beverages made from birch sap, which contains many of the same healthy properties as maple sap.
Sap! was included in a listing of The Most Interesting Beverage Brands from 2016, by Drinkpreneur. Smith and Salmon brought their drinks to the Specialty Food Association’s 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show, and Elly Truesdell of Whole Foods wrote in her review: “There are so many exciting trends in just one can! This line is expanding from the maple soda and seltzers to include the whole forest. … It’s also an excellent and innovative example of sparkling drinks or waters with low sugar and plant-based or health-focused ingredients. ”
Sap! comes in three versions. One is carbonated like soda, one like sparkling water, and the other is not carbonated (still water). It is pasteurized and canned at Woodchuck Hard Cider in Millbury, Vermont. Sap! is sold through the website, on Amazon, and in stores throughout New England and New York, including Big-Y, ShopRite, and Whole Foods.
As Nikita Slamon told Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press in a September 9, 2015 story on Sap!: “I grew up drinking sap out of a bucket on the back of a horse. We can offer that to people.”