“There has to be something else out there,” was what KRā CEO and co-founder Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, along with the company’s other co-founders Dan Trainor and Annie Hesser, thought to themselves about the narrow sports drink market.
After many weekends and weekdays spent standing on the sidelines of their kids' sports games where Gatorade was the norm, the three wanted to create a healthier option to hydrate, but something that also tastes “great.”
“We saw there was not an alternative; that’s when we decided to do it,” Hardgrove-Koleno said.
Hardgrove-Koleno took her 20 years of law experience as partner at Jenner & Block along with Dan Trainor’s experience in the manufacturing industries and combined it with Hesser’s extensive background in marketing for major agencies like Foote, Cone & Belding to make an organic, clean-label sports hydration drink called KRā.
The target audience for the beverage is the 18 to 25-year-old athletic set, but with a secondary audience of the younger kids playing sports.
“The middle school and the young high-schoolers always aspire to do what the older kids are doing,” she said.
“I think if you brand something or target it to 12 year olds, you’re going to lose everyone over them.”
KRā comes in the four flavors: fruit punch, lemon, berry, and orange, which Hardgrove-Koleno says are intentionally straightforward and recognizable.
“All sorts of people are trying turmeric or all these new-fab ingredients, like pomegranate or acai,” Hardgrove-Koleno said. “We thought, let’s just keep it basic, keep it clean. It’s what people know and people like, but just do it in a cleaner and healthier way.”
The company launched in Washington D.C. first, and later Chicago where it is primarily available in high-end retail stores, gyms, and country clubs. KRā can also be purchased online through Amazon or the company website for $32.99 for a 12-pack.
“Anytime where you meet the customer when they’re hot and sweating and need electrolyte replacement, that’s when you’ve hit a home run,” Hardgrove-Koleno said.
Organic certification was worth the effort
Obtaining the USDA Certified Organic seal was a lengthy process, said Hardgrove-Koleno: "but that actually makes me very happy because now, as a consumer, when I see USDA certified organic, I know they're not messing around."
For the KRā team, the first-step towards a clean label was securing the USDA Certified Organic seal for their sports drink line, no easy feat, according Hardgrove-Koleno.
“It was a much more complicated and lengthy process than I would’ve imagined,” Hardgrove-Koleno said.
“But I’ll tell you that that actually makes me very happy because now, as a consumer, when I see USDA certified organic, I know that they’re not messing around.
"They’ve done the inspections, they’ve traced every single thing back to its source and there is no doubt that this product is clean.”
Each flavor is comprised of seven basic and organic ingredients: filtered water, organic cane sugar, organic juice concentrate, organic lemon juice concentrate, natural flavors, organic fruit and vegetable juice for color, and sea salt.
Solving the distribution riddle
A challenging, but also promising, aspect of Krā’s startup journey has been finding the right distribution for its product line.
“We’ve been told from the beginning that distribution is complicated and you’ll need to focus and solve for distribution and it will not be easy, and that’s exactly right,” Hardgrove-Koleno said.
A major distribution milestone for the company has been the interest from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), which invited KRā to be part of its “Emerging Brands” program.
KRā also expects to be on more Whole Foods Market shelves by the end of 2017. It is currently in the Mid Atlantic Whole Foods retail stores, with plans to expand into South as well as the Midwest and West US regions.
“I’ve been told that the distribution riddle is the most difficult riddle to solve,” Hardgrove-Koleno said. “We’ve had great meetings and great success getting into the distributors so now it’s a matter of finding out who they distribute to and who their retailers are.”