Bottling a new business

Alumnus prepares for second alcoholic beverage launch

Nathan Melby

Nathan Melby,’12, earned his degree in management. He is planning to launch a new drink this summer, Wonderlust Nectars.

Nathan Melby lives by the motto, “fail fast.” When his first attempt at launching an alcoholic beverage with his longtime friend didn’t work out, he accepted it, learned from it and is now moving on.

“Yeah, we put a lot of time and effort into it,” reflected Melby, a 2012 management graduate. “But when it was apparent it wouldn’t take, it was time to get to work on starting something else.”

Later this summer, he hopes consumers will be picking up his product — Wonderlust Nectars — from the shelves of stores in La Crosse and the Twin Cities.

Brewing interest in business

Melby grew up in a family that has worked in the alcohol business, primarily distribution, since the 1940s. He knew in high school he wanted to someday launch his own brand.

But before the brand, he wanted to get a business degree, and one from as far away as he could. That’s how he ended up in Arizona.

After a year away, Melby found himself back in western Wisconsin. “I never thought of my degree as more than a stepping stone, and that wasn’t worth going into debt for,” he says. “But that was a bad mindset.”

As Melby progressed through his business management classes, he found his perspective on education changed. “I think it is very easy to downplay the significance of college degree,” he says. “You take with you more than just classroom lessons.”

Melby, who was working as a beer distributor while attending classes, found himself applying what he was learning.

Lessons from the first brand

While Melby has a love for craft beer, he believes “the world does not need another craft brewer.” So he set his eyes on a sweeter and fruitier market.

Enter Sunsoma.

The hard citrus drink featured a blend of fermented citrus fruit, cane sugar and fruit flavor. It was launched over a year ago, but it didn’t quite catch on. “We created something people liked, but not something they loved,” he explains.

Melby says there could be a number of reasons for it not catching on — the bag in a box packaging, possibly the wrong market or the drink itself, but he won’t dwell on it. Remember, Melby likes to “fail fast.”

He takes the lessons learned and moves on. “Our goal is to create a product that people feel better about buying,” he says.

And now Melby is patiently waiting to see if the brand will be the next big thing.