The CEO of breakthrough coffee fruit-based soft drinks brand Bai 5 reveals his brand grew 400% in the past year but says he worries less about case sales than converting ‘Bai-lievers’.
Speaking to BeverageDaily.com after Bai 5 inked a nationwide distribution deal with Doctor Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG), brand founder Ben Weiss insists that over four years the firm has worked out “how to win at retail” and delivered exponential growth.
“But I don’t go to work thinking – we need to sell more cases or hit numbers. I’m thinking – how many more Bai-lievers are we going to create today,” he tells Ben Bouckley.
“That’s how we approach business. All of our staff are Bai-lievers, our loyalty and authenticity is vital to today’s consumer. You have to show the consumer your soul. And this brand, this company, has a soul.”
Asked the million-dollar question – literally – about prospects of Pepper possibly buying a stake in Bai 5, Weiss replies: “DPSG traditionally has not really invested in what they call their ‘allied’ partners. We have a distribution deal with them, and I can’t speak to whether it will turn into a financial arrangement.
“That’s not the nature of the relationship today. They are our distribution partner, and together we’re going to increase the brand’s distribution across the US in a fairly aggressive manner.”
Tearing up ‘white space’ in soft drinks
Weiss says Bai 5 has been “running hard” for four years – marketing at the “point of thirst” and not via billboards on interstates – working diligently to create an authentic 'movement' that consumers will pay a premium to be part.
As chief brand evangelist he preaches the benefits of beverage that delivers a healthy proposition with only five calories in an all-natural way.
“It’s kind of a white space in the beverage industry, where you can deliver low-calorie great taste, and do it in a natural way. It’s a space where we cut our teeth with a coffee superfruit,” Weiss explains.
“We deliver the antioxidant message in a unique fashion, without the cost of calories and sugar. That’s typically the drawback with ‘healthy’ beverages. You’re drinking something that will nourish your body with nutrients and vitamins – say a 100% pomegranate juice, orange or apple juice.
“But you’re doing it at the expense of calories and sugar. So in a way, even ‘healthy’ beverages contribute to the diabetes and obesity epidemics we face.”
‘Significant void’ in CSD portfolios
Describing Bai 5 as “in many ways the evolution of enhanced waters”, Weiss says it delivers health in mainstream way – coffee fruit as a unique functional delivery agent for antioxidants, five calories per serving that allow for 4% fruit juice content, 1g of sugar – but not at the expenses of taste or mouth feel.
The name Bai 5 is intriguing given the weight Dr Pepper is throwing behind its TEN-calorie CSD portfolio, and Weiss describes the tie-up as a natural fit, adding that his brand also “fills a significant void in their portfolio”, although he insists that other CSD players also suffer from this lack.
“I think a TEN is an attempt on [Dr Pepper’s] part to address where consumers are heading. When it comes to diet, consumers didn’t think of beverages as contributing to diabetes or obesity,” Weiss says.
“But now consumers ask ‘what’s driving taste?’ and find that calories and sugar are big players there. As a low-calorie carbonate TEN speaks to that mindset.”
As does Bai 5, he adds, before insisting that we’ll never see the words ‘low calorie’ or ‘diet’ on the brand’s bottles. “It’s who we are – but in it’s in the bottle as the soul of the brand, not on the label.”
“The millennial consumer is very cynical – they’ve seen it before on labels. One thing I don’t put on our label is use of organic stevia. It’s a great sugar substitute and we’ve mastered use of it without off notes. But so many attempts in the beverage space to use it have given it such a bad name in taste terms,” Weiss says.
“So we don’t scream that we use organic stevia – yet we do it better than anyone else.”
Shelf standout in a sea of labels…
When consumers buy and drink Bai 5 they’re so impressed they take a “deeper dive” into the brand, Weiss says, look at the back label to discover that it only has five calories, uses stevia and is rich in antioxidants.
Ironically, the same goes for coffee fruit, Bai 5’s point of difference: “In an impulsive category where consumers have 10 seconds to choose from in sea of labels, I didn’t want to tell the coffee fruit story,” Weiss adds.
He explains that he doesn’t want to alienate non-coffee drinkers, or confuse consumers as to what coffee and fruit juice tastes like – so omits any mention of coffee fruit on the front label of bottles.
“But when consumers discover its use themselves, they own that discovery. They become very proud of that and talk about it. And this really helps the brand,” Weiss adds.
Tanzania Lemonade Tea launch imminent
The nine Bai 5 flavors are currently onsale in the States – examples include Sumatra Dragonfruit (Indonesia), and Malawi Mango (Africa) – all pay homage to a specific equatorial coffee region.
“I like to say that every bottle of Bai touches the soil of a faraway place,” Weiss says, before revealing that Bai 5 will launch its tenth flavour, Tanzania Lemonade Tea, next week as “our version of an Arnold Palmer”.
As a retail play, consumers are attracted by the Bai 5 name, he adds, even if they don’t know that ‘Bai’ means ‘pure’ in Mandarin, is an acronym for ‘botanical antioxidant infusion’ or that ‘bai’ is a coffee byproduct.
“They think, ‘It’s interesting, seems like a cool name’. They don’t necessarily know the ‘5’ means five calories, but think, ‘Bai 5! High 5! The packaging is cool, I trust the word ‘antioxidants’ and like that picture of a Costa Rican Clementine. That sounds good – I’ll buy it’,” Weiss says.
“When the range is presented at retail in its entirety, its performance is exponentially greater than when the whole line up is shown. There no dominant flavour and from across our nine flavors there’s a single-digit variance between our ‘worst’ and our ‘best’ performers,” he reveals.