A US-based Trinidadian is disrupting the beverage industry with a universal non-alcoholic mixer influenced by one of his grandfather’s recipes.
Zurena is a portfolio of simple and versatile Caribbean drink mixes comprising lemons, limes, passion fruit, mango and Caribbean spices packaged in a 750ML bottle. The products come in two flavours: Tropical and Ginger.
Nigel Smith, founder and owner of Zurena, describes his product as magic.
“You add it to anything. Any dark spirits, any white spirits so rum, vodka, gin, tequila, bourbon, any beer, wine and bubbly. The outcomes are high-quality Caribbean cocktails in a matter of seconds. You don’t have to be a professional mixologist. You just add it, mix it, and magic. Because the drinks have no alcohol you can add it to club soda, to juices, to teas,” Smith explained to Loop News.
Zurena is all-natural, sodium free, gluten-free, and fat-free with 15 grams of sugar per serving.
Smith said the aim was to make it as healthy as possible without compromising taste.
Tasting Panel Magazine gave the product 89 points, which attests to Smith’s success. He said it is the first time the magazine ever graded a non-alcoholic mixer.
Nigel Smith at Pigeon Point Beach, Tobago with bottles of Zurena
Zurena didn’t start out as a non-alcoholic drink. Initially, Smith made the product with rum but he had a friend who couldn’t drink dark rum.
“So I tried it with white rum and I was as floored because it was just as good. And then it hit me if this could go with white rum, it works with vodka. Suddenly I was like oh my God, this works with everything. I could create a whole bunch of alcoholic beverages or I could take the alcohol out and empower people, give them the power to be creative and to add this to whatever they like to drink because we are all individual people,” he explained, noting that his mother created her own cocktail called Lucy for her 70th birthday which was a mixture of Honey Jack Daniels and Zurena.
“And then she had to have knee surgery and she was she literally couldn’t drink alcohol for an entire year. So you know what? She mixed Heineken Zero with Zurena to create an amazing shandy. It is very versatile, so even as an individual, you may have preferences, but those preferences may change based on health needs or upon a whole bunch of different things. So it gives you that power to create something for yourself,” he added.
Zurena Ginger is another mixer
Without the alcohol, however, Smith discovered that his product had a short shelf life so he found a manufacturer who could give the product an 18-month shelf life. In 2016, he had his first production line.
“Smith, who was working with AARP at the time, focused on Artificial Technology and Robotics to disrupt the ageing space, realised he had his own disruptive product on his hands.
“It’s not a technology disruption, but this could change the way people drink and consume what they like to drink. So that was the inspiration to say, well, let me see if I could create something and get it out in the world,” he said. He noted that while some companies produce mixers for specific cocktails, his is the only universal mixer that pairs with everything.
More than a Drink
For Smith, Zurena is more than just a drink. It is about “Uplifting Spirits”, a term that Smith has actually trademarked.
He uses his Caribbean culture to sell the experience.
As a sponsor at Audi Fields, one of the top stadiums in Washington DC where he lives, Smith infuses the Caribbean aesthetic into his marketing with a campaign called Lucky Row. For each game, a group of people in a row with the most vibes are selected and given fedora hats, sunglasses and mocktails made with Zurena. At different intervals, the group will get up and dance to soca music.
“There are about 16,000 people typically that attend each game. So you look up at the screen and you’ll see these weird people with straw hats and drinks, jumping and waving to soca. We are Caribbean ambassadors of Soca wherever we go,” he said.
Zurena runs a Lucky Row campaign at the Audi Fields Stadium in Washington DC
Named after his two daughters Zuri and Rena, Zurena is also about legacy.
Smith is on one hand leaving a legacy for his children and on the other, honouring the legacy of his grandfather, Carlton Smith.
“He worked as a bartender and mixologist. He was at Hilton for many years and he became a master of his trade. He had some secret recipes that he entrusted to his children and through them, his grandchildren. Zurena is a derivation of one of his products,” Smith said.
Smith learned to make one of his grandfather’s recipes while he was studying for his Masters in Business Administration at Stanford University.
“My Uncle David at the time he decided to teach me one of these recipes and I was that guy, you know, this is like the Cr?me de la Cr?me of Business Schools in the entire world and I was driving around with an orange Home Depot bucket in my Saturn, leveling the playing field everywhere I went with my rum concoction and everyone loved it. So that was the beginning.”
Smith said all the men in his family competed to see who had the best concoctions from his grandfather’s recipes but he believes he won the bragging rights since he is in stores now. Zurena is available in bars and retailers in Washington DC, and Maryland as well as retailers in Texas and nationally through Amazon.
Zurena is also in Grenada, the first country in the Caribbean where it is available
“I am really the only one who decided to go for it, and now it’s an entire business…it started off as a passion. I love making this drink, I love getting people happy,” he said.
From experimenting in his kitchen after work to getting his mixer professionally manufactured and in stores all over the US, Smith’s company, Zurena, has now expanded to include three other teammates.
One of them is Shania Cornwall from Grenada who came on to handle Zurena’s social media. She did such a good job that she was promoted to lead the company’s digital marketing and today is the country manager for Grenada where Zurena has a strong presence.
“We are in eight resorts, we are in restaurants and bars and we will be going to be in retail very soon,” Smith said.
He is looking at other Caribbean markets including the land of his birth pending approvals.
Bringing his product to Trinidad will be a real full-circle moment for Smith, who is aware that his story could positively influence others from marginalised communities.
The former St Mary’s College student said: “No matter who you are, where you’re from, you know you can have the right values. You can self-actualize. I’ve been blessed to be from George Street and then on the other extreme as you know, go to Stanford Business School with some of the most privileged folks in the entire world. I’ve made friends, deep friendships throughout in all of these different worlds and there’s more commonality than differences. I’m hoping that through my life and the choices I’m making and through my own life example I’m setting some sort of example as well.”
“It’s inspiring for me. It keeps me going. So there’s a lot riding on this bottle. I don’t think there are any coincidences in life. I believe that God put me on that path. I was born where I was born, with who I was born for a reason. And I’m trying my best to stitch it together and create something of value that could prove my life’s worth.”
For more information visit: https://www.myzurena.com/ or find Zurena on IG and Facebook @myzurena