Through the process of launching its Atoka line of herbalist-crafted beverages with health benefits through its Lighthouse Incubator Program, Ocean Spray discovered the importance of being “committed to testing, learning and always leading with the consumer so that we listen, iterate and optimize to meet their expectations,” Dana Testa, associate brand manager at Ocean Spray, told FoodNavigator-USA.
This is especially important when it comes to wellness-focused functional products, which consumers increasingly want with which they likely are not as familiar and may not fully understand – necessitating a higher level of education and outreach by brands.
Testa explained that “over the past few years we have consistently seen consumers prioritize functional benefits from natural products in a convenient way – and the impacts of COVID have certainly put an exclamation point on this for consumers.”
So too is effectively educating consumers about the function benefits of an ingredient or product with which they may not already be familiar, which Ocean Spray does via a “two-way street,” Testa said.
“We believe we must continue to educate consumers and build awareness around the natural, superfruit functions of cranberry, while also listening to their needs. Finding that sweet spot is what gets us most excited about the plan moving forward,” she explained.
One way Ocean Spray has done this for its Atoka branded Herbal Tonics, which launched in late 2019, has been to focus first on selling direct-to-consumer online, rather than in retail outlets. This strategy has played out well during the pandemic when consumers rush through in-store shopping and increasingly favor online shopping, which allows them to browse and learn about products without risking exposure to the coronavirus.
“Building the brand online has allowed us to communicate our message and deliver benefits to consumers as they found themselves more isolated and facing more daily mental and physical challenges than ever before,” Testa explained.
She added as consumers become more familiar with the brand and it continues to innovate, it will look at expanded distribution to reach additional like-minded consumers in the Natural channel.
Few consumers will compromise taste, values for function
Educating consumers about the benefits of functional ingredients or products is only part of the challenge of building a wellness brand. Offering a balanced, desirable flavor-profile and taste experience is also essential. As is providing different options for consumers at different points in their wellness journey.
Testa explained, “As much as consumers say they want function, the better that these products can taste the more they will come back for more. Find that balance between function and flavor is so key.”
Atoka does this by offering three lightly fermented teas blended with “restorative herbs and nutrient-dense fruits,” including its Calm Blend of dark cherry, chamomile, hops and ginger, Restore Blend of cranberry, linden flower, lemongrass, orange peel and ginger, and Remedy Blend with elderberry, reishi, rosehips, ginger and spices.
“We believe fruit juice is the original functional beverage. The opportunity lies in innovating with the whole fruit in a natural way that is also function forward to meet consumers wherever they are on their wellness journey,” Testa said.
She added, “as a natural wellness brand, we prioritize non-GMO, organic, thoughtfully sourced ingredients in all of our products so that consumers can consistently feel good about what they are putting in their body.”
Ocean Spray expands focus on health and wellness
The trio of Atoka beverages is a small part of Ocean Spray’s larger move into health, wellness and functional products through its Lighthouse Innovation Incubator, which launched in October 2019 to create and test potential new brands.
In addition to Atoka, the incubator has introduced the CBD sparkling water line CarryOn, the supplement Dabbly to protect skin from the sun and most recently Tally-Ho – a line of functional water enhancers for dogs.
As Ocean Spray explores the wellness sector, it also is prepare to let go of launches that fall short of consumer expectations. When Atoka originally launched in October 2019, it included a line of shots, oatmilk elixirs and a fourth flavor combination that are no longer available on the brand’s website.
Looking forward, Testa said the brand plays to continue to develop its natural cranberry offerings “as it evolves with the changing demands of the consumer.”