Looking back to 2016, the consumer may not instantly recognize the sports- and performance-fueled branding of ROAR Organic (ROAR Beverages at the time) which included Marvel superhero-themed line extensions and partnerships with pro-athletes.
The beverage company was seeking to carve out a spot for a plant-based variety of sports drink, touting electrolytes from coconut water in a variety of fruit-forward flavors.
The brand pivoted pretty quickly in its first year with an updated brand identity that felt more like "Lululemon in a bottle" and targeted active, health-conscious millennials that were eschewing traditional sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade in favor of a coconut-water based alternative with less sugar and added vitamins.
"Where ROAR had been up until a year ago was a sports drink for women, but not a Gatorade in the sense that it was no longer this pro athlete, male-driven kind of brand," said Alex Galindez, who took over as CEO in November 2020, succeeding Bart Silvestro.
Galindez first connected with the ROAR brand through the company's primary investor, Factory LLC. From the get-go, she felt the brand could use more fine-tuning and a refreshed perspective on the needs and wants of its core consumer.
Galindez – who in her 20-year career in the beverage industry has worked at Red Bull, vitaminwater, and Runa, where she was CEO – knew her first order of business was to understand what motivated current consumers to buy ROAR, and thus led targeted consumer insights research of 250 category and brand buyers.
"One of things we did very early on was to probe on what the usage occasions are," Galindez told FoodNavigator-USA.
"Funnily enough, pre-workout and post-workout were a small fraction of those usage occasions, and there was this all-day, almost like a water replacement usage happening vs. just at the time of a workout; 99% of the purchasers were telling us that."
Consumers reported drinking ROAR from morning to mid-morning, with their salad at lunch, and after work, she added.
'When they looked at the attributes that drew them to ROAR, electrolytes were actually not at the top'
The brand also probed consumers on the components within ROAR that made the beverage appealing, which led to the brand's recent reformulation.
"When they looked at the attributes that drew them to ROAR, electrolytes were actually not at the top. It was more about B vitamins and vitamin C, and having this holistic replenishment vs. just electrolytes," said Galindez.
And in certain cases, she said, electrolytes were not desirable in high levels because usually consumers - mostly female - associated their presence with sodium and salt, and bloating.
With these consumer insights in hand, the company refortified its formulation and increased its daily percentage value of vitamins B5, B6, B12 and C, as well as antioxidant vitamins A and E to 100% while keeping the electrolyte content consistent. The brand also kept its 20 calorie count per bottle count the same.
ROAR also revamped its packaging and flavors to reflect its new positioning as an all-day hydration solution. Founder Roly Nesi has led much of the innovation and redesign of the products, noted Galindez.
"We changed the entire identity of the product, and in doing so, opened ourselves up to be able to drive more frequency of usage," she said.
What is ROAR?
Made from an organic coconut water base, ROAR bottled drinks are fortified with a 100% of the daily value of B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and E. At 20 calories per bottle and 2g of sugar, ROAR is sweetened with a blend of organic erythritol, cane sugar, and stevia.
ROAR Organic beverages come in four flavors: Cucumber Watermelon, Mango Clementine, Georgia Peach, and Blueberry Açai.
'There was definitely a rightsizing of distribution'
These changes also opened up a whole new class of retailers, primarily in the natural channel, said Galindez.
For instance, she said, "ROAR had been in front of Sprouts six times previously and the buyer just couldn’t see the point of difference [from vitaminwater and Bai]."
But when the brand represented itself as an all-day hydration solution, she said, Sprouts took on the brand almost immediately, launching at 362 locations last week.
'The mortality rate of brands in this category is so, so high'
The repositioning and reformulation of the brand and its products also helped shed a few retail accounts that weren't a right fit for ROAR, added Galindez.
"The mortality rate of brands in this category is so, so high. And a lot of that mortality is definitely associated with scaling brands too fast," she said.
"I had to carefully assess and make some tough decisions and come out of places where the consumer was potentially not ready for the brand."
Instead, ROAR is pushing hard into the natural channel where Galindez knows the brand has a lot more runway ahead of it.
"We want to ride our organic premium nature as long as we can before we really start going mainstream. We really see 2022 as the year when we go deeper into conventional, but selected conventional," she said.
Galindez added the brand is in active conversations with Whole Foods and other key natural grocers to get their product on store shelves.
'We compete head-to-head with Bai'
Galindez noted how ROAR is stealing share and sourcing volume from competitors Bai and vitaminwater.
"If I had to define our competitive set, we compete head-to-head with Bai, vitaminwater, and Gatorade, but we are very often put into sets that do have other coconut water players," she said.
"If you took the best of Bai, the best of Vitaminwater, and the best of Gatorade, and made it organic, that would be ROAR."
Galindez clarified that ROAR is the next chapter of healthy hydration for the consumer who is seeking something other than bottled water.
"The reason why Vitaminwater was so successful was because it was the 'healthier brand' consumers gravitated towards when turning away from carbonated soft drinks. Certainly if you compare a Vitaminwater with a Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Sprite, it is a healthier alternative... but consumers get smarter or more savvy and more demanding, and now, 27 grams of added sugar is just not acceptable," she said.
"And that's what ROAR is," Galindez continued. "It’s the solution for the more demanding consumer that perhaps coming off of sodas, but they’re coming off of Vitaminwater."