Born in the Williams’ kitchen in the east end, Rubee Roselle is a drink that Williams initially pilot tested on friends from her yoga group, and also one that’s meant to plug in a noticeable gap in the market. “I wanted to make a sugar free product, because there was nothing on the market for me to drink,” says Williams. Noticing that sodas, overly sweetened fruit juices and iced teas were the only casual drink options available to most Torontonians, Williams created her own drink that has flavours profiles inspired by countries like Thailand, Philippines, Iran and Egypt.
What originally started as cucumber water and lemon water passed around Williams’ yoga studio eventually turned into something bigger once friends started paying attention to newer, nourishing formulations. Williams pioneered a ginger-based drink to help some pals recover from a contagious bug, and it went down like honey; soon, Williams started asking people what they liked about the drink as she went on to make more. Operations jumped to a Food Starter space as Williams started to massage what she wanted Rubee Roselle to be, and though the company’s still not done cementing its mission and purpose, it’s already got a distinct personality that proves especially attractive to Torontonians.
The bee in Rubee Roselle’s name and logo refers to Williams’ dedication to educating consumers about Ontario’s dwindling bee population, but it also indicates her clear preference for natural sweeteners over sugars and syrups. The drinks are made from pure, steeped ingredients to preserve their vitamin load as opposed to extracts or concentrates that use flavour as a substitute for nutrition. Fully recyclable glass packaging ensures minimal waste, and the diversity of flavours also reflects the variety that downtowners expect from local vendors.
Williams says she wanted to create a “mindful product” that genuinely tended to all its consumers:
“as a younger entrepreneur,” she says, “I wanted to highlight some of the changes I wanted to see in product marketing and packaging and product design and development.”
Each drink contains less than a gram of naturally-occurring sugars, and labels clearly indicate that the recommended way to sweeten the drink—if desired—is by using small quantities of honey.
The magic of Rubee Roselle, however, is ultimately is not in its impressive formulation, but in its ability to grow as a brand through only word of mouth and localised events. Williams emphasises that less than 10 per cent of Rubee Roselle sales come from people who found her online, and the rest find their way to the brand through friends or St. Lawrence Market, where Williams’ stall is fast becoming a mainstay.
Rubee Roselle is an easy complement to clean-eating trends that are the norm in diverse city centres like Toronto, but more importantly, launching a startup has also quickly become Williams’s clearest path to self-development. Williams is always signing up for Food Starter courses, local workshops and hands-on seminars to improve her own product, and indeed, is even teching herself some web development to get a better handle on creating the online footprint Rubee Roselle deserves. It can be challenging and time consuming, but as Williams says, “I’m a millenial, and there are no jobs out there for us, so I went in to business for myself.”
Ultimately, the goal is to become a bona fide healthful alternative to other soft drinks on the market, but for now, Williams has her sights set on making her hometown the leader in this industry. “I’d love to see Toronto set the trend for this product, and not California, like they’re always telling me at St. Lawrence market. Lots of tourists always say they want my product where they live, but personally, I want this to grow here.”