The former WhiteWave Foods VP told BeverageDaily.com that the brand’s success – it uses Swedish probiotic supplier Probi’s LP299V strain, the same Danone uses in its ProViva beverages, in drinks and shots – is due to the fact that it “delivers on a promise”.
“It’s supposed to support digestive health and solid science is behind it, but from an anecdotal perspective we have thousands of emails from consumers saying ‘you’ve helped me with this or that’,” said COO Beckmann, who heads up GoodBelly’s parent NextFoods with Steve Demos, former WhiteWave founder and president.
GoodBelly was launched in 2008 so it’s fair to say that with $25m in retail sales per year, and Beckman has high hopes for the future.
“We’ve done a lot of research, and only about 3% of beverage startups ever make it to $20m retail sales,” he says.
“We’ve done that. So the next threshold is $50m retail sales and about 17% of the 3% make it to that level, so that’s our next goal.”
'We tried to get too big too fast'
Distribution is the “big push” over the next 18 months, Beckmann says, with the drink currently in 6,000-7,000 natural and mainstream stores in the US, including Wholefoods, Kroger’s and Safeway.
“Getting those 10-12K stores is what it’s going to take to get us to $50m – that’s our 18 month goal – along with a pretty robust consumer acquisition program,” he says.
Given GoodBelly’s status as a successful but still – in many ways – nascent brand, what does Beckmann think is the main challenge faced by beverage startups?
“We tried to get too big too fast. In 2009/10 we went into too many stores without having enough demand – so you’re sitting out there with a lot of product and not enough consumers,” he says.
“The biggest thing is trying to synchronise your consumer demand with your increasing distribution, and not put distribution in front of demand. But clearly you don’t want to lose sales by not having enough distribution when you have demand – so it’s a tricky cycle,” Beckmann adds.
“If you’re out of sync either way you’re inefficient with your cash and as a start-up cash is the most important thing you’ve got, along with your brand.”
So what is the secret of GoodBelly’s success? Beckmann says it feels fulfilling to be part of a brand that delivers on its promises, while products are also GMO-free, organic and vegan.
“So it’s not doing anything bad to the earth, it’s just a healthy wholesome product that works. And we still have a unique position – no-one out there’s copied us,” he said.
Consumer awareness of probiotic benefits is developing, Beckmann adds, due to the growing number of scientific studies on probiotics (see picture, left) and the human biome.
It's tough putting probiotics into juice...
(The US market is warming to probiotics, with the sector as a whole set for a circa. 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to 2017.)
“Quite frankly it’s tough to put a probiotic in a juice and make it stable. We are one of the few strains that really live through to the end of code and be stable, so we think we have a bit of insulation – but of course we’re always looking in the rear-view mirror,” he says.
GoodBelly had a partnership with ProViva brandowner Skanemejerier before Danone bought a 50% stake in 2010 and Beckman noted that brand’s success in Scandinavia and the US potential for a probiotic juice generally.
“We knew if we could make the ProViva a success in the US we’d be a $2bn brand – we thought that was a reasonable number,” he said.
This prospect is a far cry from the bleak EU outlook given December’s health claim ban seemingly banning the very word ‘probiotic’ as a non-authorized, implied health claim.
GoodBelly can make a structure-function claim in the States saying it promotes healthy digestion and contains probiotics, but there are no FDA-approved health claims per se, and Beckman says the FDA has been “pretty silent in terms of how they want to structure probiotics and digestive health claims going forward”.