Kevin Sherman is the Chief Executive Officer of Tractor Beverage Company, the first and only certified organic, non-GMO beverage company dedicated to the foodservice industry.
Sherman has spent nearly 15 years in the food and beverage industry, working with companies like BAZI International, True Drinks, Proximus Tequila and River Nutrition Brands before joining the Tractor team in 2015.
Tractor’s handcrafted drinks feature agua frescas, lemonades, teas and premium craft sodas with clean ingredients that deliver on taste and functionality.
Beverage options in the foodservice industry have been dominated by big brands for decades. When picturing the soda fountain, the same five or six options come to mind without much thought. With an abundance of choices in other aspects of life, it seemed odd to settle for limited options at the beverage station.
This was the catalyst for the creation of Tractor Beverage Company – to finally offer consumers an organic choice when dining out. The demand for healthier options was evident, as a recent survey reported that 72% of consumers with children would choose a better-for-you alternative to traditional soda if available.
Challenges on the Journey to Success
Kevin Sherman came from humble beginnings, with his mother being a Cuban immigrant and his family not having much but each other growing up. He started working at an early age to pay for school and contribute to household expenses.
Although challenging, this experience taught him how to persevere with kindness and dignity. Before entering the beverage industry, he worked as an educator across the globe and gained insight into the growing socio-economic divide. This understanding aligned closely with Tractor Beverage Company’s mission to democratize organic beverages, making better-for-you options affordable and accessible to all.
Initially, the founders raised approximately fifty thousand dollars from angel investors and were determined not to squander the opportunity. Their first test batches were handmade and sampled from a tiny booth at the National Restaurant Association Show, featuring a logo hand-drawn by the founder’s 11-year-old daughter. As industry leaders continued to express positive feedback, they knew they were onto something.
Breaking into the food and beverage category required immense courage from the team, as a few industry giants controlled most major brands. These companies had more experience, money, and power than newcomers, and they played to win at any cost.
Courage proved contagious, and the team understood that taking market share away from competitors would be part of the journey, anticipating a strong response from their rivals.
Three Lessons Learned Along the Way
Kevin saw data suggesting that only around three percent of new beverage brands succeed. He believed that Tractor could beat the odds by staying committed to their original vision and refusing to take shortcuts or make unnecessary compromises.
Reflecting on the early days, they were so focused and cautious that they didn’t allow room for mistakes. The lesson he learned was the value of risk – making mistakes meant giving the team the necessary creative space to test new ideas and strategies.
Nowadays, he observes many food and beverage newcomers not fully grasping the amount of money it takes to build a brand – a lesson he had to learn along the way. Every dollar counts, and being deliberate and thoughtful with capital allocation is crucial.
He advises against chasing shiny objects and recommends finding someone trustworthy to help navigate financial decisions if finance isn’t a strength.
In his opinion, starting a new business comes down to trust and humility, qualities often lacking in entrepreneurs. Trust is needed to partner with experts who can help execute a vision, and humility is required to step aside and let them take charge.
He believes that many great ideas fail because too many founders are dreamers, not executors. It’s a tough lesson to learn that one doesn’t have all the answers, but a team can be built to complement individual strengths and weaknesses.
Three Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Kevin advises entrepreneurs to think long and hard about their product – why does the world need it, and what sets it apart from the competition? He emphasizes the importance of addressing people’s needs instead of their wants. Differentiating a brand is a complex task, so articulating a vision, purpose, and “north star” early on is essential.
He also stresses that winning is a team sport. Building the right team from the start and trusting them to do their jobs is vital for success. A
business needs a wide range of skills and perspectives to reach its full potential, so entrepreneurs should surround themselves with experiences, wisdom, views, and insights that they don’t already possess. If there’s one place to invest capital, it’s in hiring the right people to bring ideas to life.
Lastly, building a company undoubtedly means forging relationships with various business partners. Kevin advises doing thorough research before sealing any deal. Prioritizing these relationships, surrounding oneself with the right partners, and never taking them for granted is crucial.
Business partnerships are like a marriage – they involve obligations, compromise, and hard work. Navigating difficult situations becomes more manageable after establishing strong relationships and a sense of trust.
In conclusion, Kevin Sherman’s journey with Tractor Beverage Company is a testament to the power of perseverance, courage, and a strong team. By focusing on offering organic, better-for-you beverage options in an industry dominated by a few major players,
Tractor has managed to carve a niche for itself. Kevin’s insights and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs serve as valuable lessons in navigating the complex world of business while remaining true to a company’s core mission and values.