Feature

‘Our athletes bring everything to our brand’: STATE’s secrets to success in building its brand

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Bringing on board high-level sporting ambassadors has been key to STATE's success: with the brand's team travelling to Swedish cross-country center Ostersund to meet their latest ambassador
Bringing on board high-level sporting ambassadors has been key to STATE's success: with the brand's team travelling to Swedish cross-country center Ostersund to meet their latest ambassador

Related tags Energy drink functional beverages Energy

Danish energy drink STATE has attracted a host of sporting ambassadors at the very top of their game – including footballer Christian Eriksen, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and now Swedish cross-country skier and Olympic gold medalist Jonna Sundling. So how important are these ambassadors? Very, says the brand’s founder – because of the validation they bring to a drink designed by athletes, for athletes.

STATE is part of a new generation of energy drinks as elite as their athletes – launched, in fact, by former high-level footballer Jon Andersen who couldn’t find an energy drink that fit his long-lasting energy needs. In 2012 – ‘young, energetic and a bit naïve’ – he set out to make his own.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the brand is available across 12 countries (including Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands and Sweden) and 8,000 stores and has attracted more than 70 sporting ambassadors using, promoting and enjoying its drinks – the very definition of success for Andersen.

'It suddenly hit me there was a gap in the market...'

Having first hit the shelves in 2015, the core drink contains carefully selected ingredients: 128mg of caffeine, low-glycaemic Palatinose™ from BENEO, B6/B12-vitamins, taurine, B6/B12-vitamins, and green tea extract (all far away from the typically sugary drinks designed for the mass market) combined with natural Danish mineral water.

But Andersen didn’t set out to be a beverage entrepreneur.

“My dream was always to become a professional footballer," he said, talking to us on a photoshoot as he welcomed the brand's latest ambassador – gold medalist Jonna Sundling – at the Swedish cross-country ski hub of Östersund.

"I tried everything to enhance performance – sleeping better, drinking better – I got so interested in performance.

“On that journey, I developed my own energy drinks.

"I never thought about it as a business. I just knew I needed both the caffeine from the energy drinks but not the white sugar, I needed electrolytes for the cramps, green tea – because I read green tea in certain amounts was calming without making you tired – and things like that.

“It was while I was in Faroe Islands, playing football there, that it suddenly hit me there was a gap in the market for a better energy drink than the ones the market were offering.”

Armed with ‘no money, no background, no nothing – just playing football’ – he set out to launch his business. Now, it's fortified with a roster of elite athlete ambassadors.

Sweden's Jonna Sundling is the latest to come on board: having returned from her first Olympic games in Beijing 2022 with three medals - including a gold in the sprint - and is also a gold medalist in the world championships. She participates in both short spirits and long races, as well as the biathlon.

“10 years after starting out, we are here on a photoshoot with Jonna Sundling. Just to see these amazing athletes, with me being so fanatic about sport, and enhancing performances – it gives me goosebumps,” said Andersen.

Building credibility

Coming up with a good beverage was just the starting point of being a successful beverage entrepreneur. The key to the beverage’s success has been validating the product: whether that be through the scientific backing for its ingredients or the people who put their belief in the brand.

State's ambassador's include:

Caroline Wozniacki (Tennis star, winner of the 2018 Australian Open and 30 WTA titles)
Christian Eriksen (Manchester United and Danish national football team)
Nicolas Dalby (Ultimate Fighter)
Bakken Bears (basketball)
Holger Rune (tennis)
Mads Mensah (handball)
Simone Boye (football)
Mathilde Kramer (athletics)
Youssef Assouik (kickboxing)
Stina Kajsa (swimming)

That’s why the impressive roster of high-level athletes quite simply ‘means everything’, says Andersen.

“They give the brand a lot of credibility,” he explains. 

“Christian Eriksen – he only works with Nike and STATE. He joined our brand when we were two friends in the kitchen.

"He validates the product, when he wants to join us and be part of this – not because of money, but the mission and the product.

"I think that’s why we have more than 70 ambassadors today – they want to be part of this mission around longer lasting energy.”

That's something confirmed by Jonna, who highlights several aspects of the brand that she was attracted to - all in all resulting in a 'perfect match'.

That ranges from the quality and taste of the drinks themselves (she's tried every product in the range), to identifying with the fun, positive athlete-focused branding. 

The partnership has recently gone live, debuting with a video on Jonna's Instagram (where she has 87.6k followers); as well as State's account (47.5k followers).

Slow release energy

While the athletes bring recognition to the brand, its credibility also comes from the drinks science and formulation to bring this longer lasting energy.

So integral to the brand’s mission is that of slow-release energy: for which it turned to ‘smart carbohydrate’ Palatinose™ (isomaltulose), produced by functional ingredient specialist BENEO. 

“We quickly realised that [typical] energy drinks are actually the opposite of the name. They gave you energy for 15 minutes then your blood glucose level would have a downfall, which could have a negative​ impact on your performance.

"So you’re drinking an energy drink to perform worse, which we thought was a bit funny.”

The ingredient brings to the drink a balanced, sustained energy supply thanks to its low-glycaemic profile.

“We knew we needed the right carbohydrates at the right time for performing," said Andersen.

"We came by Palatinose™ and the effect that was documented and approved by EFSA [The European Food and Safety Authority].

“And that was of course important to us – not being a brand just talking and claiming things we cannot support – but with EFSA’s approval of slow glucose release.”

Palatinose blood glucose curve

Another boost of credibility comes from welcoming on board Series A investor Jens Bangsbo: a former football player, coach, and professor of physiology and sports science – “he wants to support the product because of the effect, and actually invested in the company.”

How big could the brand's audience be? 'That's a very interesting question...'

So what’s the goal moving forward? Andersen estimates the brand is already growing around 50% a year – and he’s keen to see how far the brand can go: seeing potential to widen its scope, audience and markets (bringing Jonna on board, for example, will help it make a real push in the Swedish market).

The brand is designed for active lifestyles – typically finding men aged 16-25 living active lifestyles make up the biggest chunk of the brand’s fans – but that doesn’t mean the opportunities are limited within this bracket.

While proud of his core product and its longer-lasting energy proposition, Andersen recognizes the need to cater for as many different need states as possible. The drive to expand into line extensions comes simply from the belief that STATE can “create better functional drinks than any other competitor in all categories – that might be bold to say, but I believe it”.

state portfolio

It now has a zero sugar, zero calorie version. “At first we thought that was a bit funny, when our mission is longer lasting energy, should we do zero sugar?” acknowledges Andersen.

“But there are also people out there who are not focused on longer lasting energy and just want less carbohydrates – and for them we can still bring a better product than competitors."

And it’s also launched Vitamin+ by STATE: a product with ginger extract, folic acid, Vitamins B, D and E.

“I want this brand to go as far as possible," says Andersen. "How many people could love our product – that’s very interesting to me. I believe STATE is the best choice for everyone – whether you’re in the office or an entrepreneur. I think this is the best offer in the market by far.”

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