Frozen drinks in a pouch put Cordina on the map
So there you are, lounging on a sunny beach and reveling in a summer breeze. As the tide laps toward your toes, a craving suddenly hits you: Wouldn’t it be great to have a tall, cool drink within reach?
Thanks to three guys from New Orleans who experienced many such cravings while in their 20s, having a refreshing icy beverage available at the beach and just about anywhere else has become simple.
Cordina beverages are pre-mixed frozen drinks that come in flexible, individual drink-size pouches. Pop the top, insert a straw and – presto! – you have a frozen margarita in your hand.
Created by brothers Antonio and Sal LaMartina and their friend Craig Cordes, the drinks have gained a wide following among folks who enjoy icy refreshers and want the convenience of a grab-and-go package.
“We’re now in 48 states, and in South Korea, where we do extremely well,” Antonio LaMartina says.
Best friends during their high school years at Archbishop Rummel High School, the LaMartina brothers and Cordes shared an entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating from college – the LaMartinas from University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Cordes from Louisiana State University – they were driven to start a business, and they hatched the idea of pre-mixed frozen cocktails in a pouch.
Antonio LaMartina says the idea came to him – on a beach, of course – when he noticed kids clutching juice drinks in pouches while playing in the sand. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing this with alcoholic drinks?’” he recalls.
The three friends put their heads together and soon became obsessed with the idea of building a business on frozen cocktails. They shortly founded Big Easy Blends LLC.
After two years of research, product development and scouting packaging vendors, they launched Cordina brand beverages in 2009 with a classic lime cooler they called Mar-GO-rita. They sold the product initially through a single Louisiana wholesaler.
The pre-mixed drinks had a 6 percent alcohol base and flavor that rivals the home-blended or bartender-made classic, LaMartina says. But just as important as the drink was the package. The Cordina team had developed an easy-to-grip pouch with a cap that can be resealed if the beverage isn’t fully consumed.
In fairly short order demand for the frozen cocktails swelled. Sales expanded beyond a handful of Louisiana retailers into markets around the country. The owners were building Cordina – the brand name is a combination of their last names – on a series of alcoholic beverages that came to include: strawberry daiquiri, piña colada, watermelon margarita, a “mudslide” type drink called Choc-GO-late, mango daiquiri and a version of one of New Orleans’ signature drinks, the Hurricane.
Cordina’s fan base grew, but the brand’s popularity brought a new challenge: copycats.
Big players in the alcoholic beverage sector had taken notice of Cordina’s success, and even venerable brands like Seagram soon had similar portable-pouch beverages on the market.
As grocery shelves became crowded with competitors, the Cordina owners decided they needed to diversify, and they turned toward non-alcoholic drinks.
“We used to get tons of requests for kids drinks,” LaMartina says. “People wanted to know why we hadn’t created a ‘slushy’ for kids.”
So they put in a call to the president of The ICEE Company, maker of the well-known “frozen” drinks sold from dispensers at many retail sites. Within months, Cordina had inked a partnership with ICEE, and soon one of that company’s big sellers, the Slush Puppie, began appearing in Cordina’s pouches in supermarkets and discount stores around the country.
With retailers selling out the Slush Puppies in a pouch nearly as soon they stocked them, Cordina and its new partner looked to expand. As a result, by the end of this year, ICEEs in three flavors – strawberry, cherry and blue-raspberry – will be available in Cordina’s pouches.
LaMartina says the company’s incorporation of non-alcoholic beverages has been a winner. Big Easy Blends has built a manufacturing plant in Elmwood Business Park and during the high-demand summer months it employs as many as 40 workers, blending and packaging the alcoholic drinks in 10- and 12.7-ounce pouches, and Slush Puppies in 8-ounce servings.
Their success not only validated the three friends’ original concept, but also helped assuage their early fears of financial failure.
“We were young entrepreneurs and didn’t have much money to launch the business, but we had to find a manufacturer capable of putting the certain style of spout we wanted on our packaging and marking sure it wouldn’t break when dropped,” LaMartina says. At a trade show in Chicago, they met with a Chinese manufacturer who convinced them that he could do the job.
“We wired $40,000 out of our personal bank accounts to a company in China that we had never seen,” LaMartina says, explaining that they couldn’t afford to visit the plant in-person.
But their roll of the dice paid off, and Cordina “ended up with a good partner,” he says.
Big Easy Blends shipped 400,000 cases of Cordina drinks last year, topping $10 million in annual revenue. Several of the world’s largest grocers, including WalMart and Dollar General, carry the drinks, as do Louisiana grocers Rouses Supermarkets, Dorignac’s Food Center and Breaux Mart stores. In addition to South Korea, Cordina now also exports to Colombia and Peru.
The LaMartina brothers and Cordes are all in their 30s now, and Antonio LaMartina says they have new projects in the works. Meanwhile, he predicts that sales of Cordina’s non-alcoholic drinks soon will surpass the company’s boozy offerings. The company could ship a million cases of product in the coming year, he says.
Made by: Big Easy Blends LLC
Founders: Antonio LaMartina, Sal LaMartina and Craig Cordes
Year founded: 2007
Headquarters: 5635 Powell St., Harahan
Light Strawberry Daiquiri
Light Mango Daiquiri
Slush Puppie (in partnership with The ICEE Company)
Soon to come: ICEE drinks in three flavors
Cordina alcoholic beverages: $1.99
Slush Puppies: 99 cents
Some of the stores that carry Cortina products in Louisiana: