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KRā CEO: ‘We’ve had tons of success by going about things in a different way’

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

KRā will be adding to its 250 store locations after securing distribution with two new Kroger divisions in Indiana and Michigan. Photo: KRā
KRā will be adding to its 250 store locations after securing distribution with two new Kroger divisions in Indiana and Michigan. Photo: KRā

Related tags: Grocery store, Juice

Cracking into the $8bn US sports drink market can be difficult for smaller brands, but Chicago startup KRā has found success with its grass roots marketing efforts and charitable business ethos, which has attracted a growing consumer following along with expanded distribution and double-digit annual sales growth.

KRā was launched roughly two years ago as a better-for-you sports drink alternative made with USDA organic certified ingredients like organic sugar cane and fruit juice, and is free from artificial dyes with 40 to 60 calories per eight-ounce serving.

Finding the right distribution

When BeverageDaily last spoke to KRā​ in 2016, co-founder Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno shared that the brand was working through its distribution model to get on more store shelves.

KRā

  • Made from filtered water, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, natural flavors
  • No artificial ingredients
  • Caffeine and gluten-free, and kosher
  • USDA certified organic
  • Approx. 45 calories per serving (8 fl oz / 240ml). Two servings per bottle.

KRā products are now in all Mariano’s locations throughout the Chicagoland area, Whole Foods, and Earth Fare stores across the Mid-Atlantic, South, and Midwest regions. Early this year, the brand announced that it had secured distribution with two new Kroger divisions in the Midwest.

The company’s current distribution aim is to expand its reach “east of the Mississippi [River]” ​to the Mid-Atlantic region.

Despite its growing presence at major US retailers, co-founder Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, who will be part of this week's free-to-attend Beverage Innovation Online Conference​, admitted that playing in a market dominated by Coca-Cola’s Powerade and PepsiCo’s Gatorade has been a challenge.

“The reality is, when you walk down that isotonic aisle in the grocery store and you see 50 different types of Gatorade and 20 different types of Powerade, it's definitely harder to get noticed,”​ Koleno-Hardgrove told BeverageDaily.

“Unless you’re walking into the grocery store with KRā on your list, it’s going to be really hard to find it in that sea of neon orange, green, blue sports drinks.”

Hardgrove-Koleno added that it has been a bit easier to get noticed in the natural section in grocery stores next to beverages like coconut water, but that even in the traditional sports drink aisle sales have been positive.

“There are two major players, but even if we get a little piece of this market, we can still do very well and we can make a difference in the lives of a number of people,”​ she said.

“We’ve had tons of success by going about things in a different way and being tenacious and unwilling to just take ‘no’ for an answer. We've been fortunate to find different avenues to get our product out there and in turn, get really good sales.”

KRā is working on forming partnerships with training centers where college and professional athletes practice to expose new consumers to the brand.

The company can also be found on the fields of a number of sports competitions such as hockey and lacrosse tournaments year round introducing the product to new consumers.

“We understand that you need to grow in your own backyard, you need to prove the concept and you need to make sure it works,”​ Hardgrove-Koleno said.

KRā expects to bring in more than double-digit sales in 2018.

KraForPlay

The company also remains committed to giving back to local communities through its ‘KRā for Play’ program, which works with charitable organizations such as the Mercy Home and After School Matters in Chicago, and the Beacon House and Leveling the Playing Field in Washington, D.C.

“We're in the community doing what we can on a regular basis to keep young and disadvantaged kids playing sports,”​ Hardgrove-Koleno said.

KRā completed an equipment drive with youth soccer organization collecting and donating 400 pairs of cleats to young players. 

Who is drinking KRā?

“From a volume of consumption perspective we're focusing on the younger athletes,” ​Hardgrove-Koleno said.

“But it's also for any athlete playing any sport who's sweating and is looking for a great drink to replace electrolytes – that's who we want to drink KRā.”

One of the most effective forms of spreading brand awareness has been by word-of-mouth from young athletes (12- to 20-year-olds) and their parents, as well as professional athletes such as NBA player Glenn Robinson III of the Indiana Pacers who has independently supported the brand.

To continue the brand conversation, the company’s marketing team will also be launching an influencer program to reach even more athletes.

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