CEO interview: The rise and rise of energy drink Celsius

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

The secrets to success: Energy drink Celsius on building a better-for-you lifestyle brand

Related tags Energy drink

Energy drink Celsius has seen sales rocket over the last few years - and it's on a trajectory for further growth. From gaining loyal consumers to international expansion plans, CEO John Fieldly reveals the brand’s secrets to success.

The better-for-you, functional beverage brand hit the $1bn sales milestone last year thanks to success in its home US market: and its growth is outpacing the overall energy category tenfold.

And while currently little-known outside the US, that’s all set to change with a push into international expansion this year.

Doubling sales in a year

Celsius dates back to 2004, with the brand centered around the company’s proprietary, thermogenic formula.

But it wasn't until 2012 that the brand took a close look at itself and decided to concentrate on building up a strong foundation of loyal consumers: recognizing that loyalty is paramount in this area. And it concentrated on finding that loyalty within the fitness community. 

By 2015, the brand had started to think big. That trajectory gathered serious momentum: sales of $300m in 2021, $653m in 2022, then doubling that into a billion dollar brand with revenue of $1.3bn in 2023.

In 2022, PepsiCo made a $550m investment into the brand​, eying up a shared opportunity to drive growth and innovation in the sector: taking an 8.5% ownership share in the company and setting up a long-term strategic distribution agreement.

Brand focus

In the early days, the thermogenic properties were a key part of the brand’s positioning (thermogenic properties increase metabolism, causing the body to burn more calories and body fat than would be the case with exercise alone) with the brand gathering the backing of scientific studies for its MetaPlus blend.

The brand has since, however, evolved towards what CEO John Fieldly describes as a ‘fitness lifestyle brand’ - accompanied by 661K followers on Instagram and 23K on Twitter.

But he says the company’s initial focus remains relevant and core and in fact the secret to its mass success.

“The Celsius brand and products were born in the gym and fitness channel, and we’ve kept hold to our roots in this area," he said. "I think this is why consumers have gravitated to our brand so much; they see that we’re authentic to our core and continue to support the fit lifestyle culture,” he said.

CELSIUS Sparkling Raspberry Functional Essential

Chromium, Vitamin B, Ginger Root, Green Tea Extract, Vitamin B7, Guarana Seed Extract, Vitamin C. 10 calories per 12 oz can.

CELSIUS Sparkling Raspberry Peach 2

“As we’ve grown as a brand, we’ve become available to more consumers who pursue their own, personal 'LIVE FIT' goals," he said, citing the company's motto.

"Celsius is still a great gym partner, but it’s also enjoyed as a great study partner, as an assist to help you get through your work shift and even with meals.”

Having said this, some consumers are attracted to Celsius simply as a better-for-you option, Fieldly notes: “They consider Celsius to be a functional soda they pair with food and meals because it tastes so good, and with zero sugar, Celsius doesn’t come with all the calories a traditional fountain soda could have, but it delivers on their desire for refreshment.”

But again, Fieldly highlights the brand hasn’t lost sight of its core purpose- pointing to the launch of Celsius Essentials “Thermogenic properties are still an element of the overall functional benefits of Celsius. "We recently launched Celsius Essentials with added aminos and more volume that we created for people seeking performance energy," he explained. "This 16-ounce product uses the same MetaPlus blend, green tea extract, guarana seed extract, ginger root, b vitamins and adds aminos.”

Key distribution channels

Targeted primarily at on-the-go consumption occasions, Celsius has built up a diversified distribution set-up.

“Our distribution model spans multiple channels including convenience, food service, mass, drug, club, e-commerce, gyms and vending,” said Fieldly. “We continue to expand growth opportunities in non-tracked and foodservice channels and are gaining more distribution in colleges, universities, hospitals, hotels, eateries, casinos and more.”

Growing in less conventional energy drinks locations is a focus for the brand: in particular with foodservice (which also ties in with the brand’s partnership with PepsiCo.)

Overall, foodservice comprises approximately 12% of the brand's sales through Pepsi, and the brand identifies this as an area for scaled growth in the future. Fruit-forward, zero sugar products in particular work well in this setting for bringing new consumers into the energy drink category.

Celsius is now being sold in over 2,000 Jersey Mike’s locations across the US and has authorization to be sold in over 3,000 Dunkin Donuts' locations nationwide.

“We’re also expanding our college campus presence through programs like Celsius University," said Fieldly. "We’re on more than 60 campuses and have over 170 student ambassadors nationwide and are working with some of the top collegiate sports programs and NIL athletes to expand brand awareness and affinity nationwide.”  

The secret to success?

John Fieldly became Celsius' CFO in 2012 and was named CEO in 2018: bringing with him more than 20 years of broad financial and operational experience in consumer goods.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Abraham Lincoln," says Fieldly. "He said, 'Things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustle.'"

"The opportunity is out there, and capturing that opportunity is on you.

John Fieldly Headshot

"In the case of Celsius, we had an opportunity for a turnaround back in 2012.

"We knew that we needed to build a strong foundation of loyal consumers, recognizing that loyalty is paramount in the consumer products realm.

"So we focused on continuing to build this loyal consumer within the fitness community and ended up getting the company to be profitable in late 2015.

"Today, Celsius is more than a beverage; it’s a lifestyle brand. Drinking a can of Celsius projects one's identity and values. Realizing this transformed our marketing approach: LIVE FIT! 

“What’s also helped with our success is motivating our team members, making them feel like their vision is our vision too. Building high-performing teams boils down to getting to know your people, encouraging them to do better and to learn new things.

"Every day, we look at what we're doing, figure out how we can do it better, and then actually make those improvements happen. Keeping that attitude of always wanting to do better is super important. Finding the right vibe and approach helps us keep that mindset of always improving without bringing everyone down with negativity.”

International expansion in 2024

North American sales have been driving the company to date. On Amazon, Celsius has become the top selling energy drink with a 19.7% share of the category, even edging out Monster at 19.6% and Red Bull at 12.3% (Slackline data for the last 14 weeks of 2023).

In multi-outlet and convenience stores, Celsius is now the #3 energy drink in the US, with a 10.5% market share, according to Circana (IRI) data: more than doubling the 4.9% share it had the same time last year (last four weeks of 2023).

So far, the US has been the brand’s playground: accounting for the vast majority of sales (international revenue currently accounts for just 4% of sales, mainly through a distribution partnership in China).

But Fieldly says the company will step up its international expansion over the next five years.

That starts this year with the launch in Canada (served via an existing distribution with PepsiCo) and the UK and Ireland (via Suntory – which is part of Japanese giant Suntory group and is behind British household names such as Lucozade Energy, Ribena and Orangina).

celsius cans

And this week the brand announced its expansion into Australia and New Zealand, via a manufacturing, sales and distribution agreement with Suntory Oceania.

However, despite these big plans with strong backings, Fieldly wants this growth to be careful and controlled.

“Our methodical approach to international growth will follow our proven playbook that’s served us well in the US with support from the best distribution partners for our brand in these markets we enter,” he says.  

“We’re not going to take a shotgun approach to new market expansion. Growth will happen over the next 3-5 years, and we’ll manage our margins appropriately as we invest in our international growth."

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