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Brewla ‘craft-brewed’ ice pop founders: ‘We’ve sold more in the first quarter of 2015 than we did in the whole of 2014’

By Elaine Watson+

14-Apr-2015
Last updated on 14-Apr-2015 at 05:03 GMT2015-04-14T05:03:39Z

Brewla Bar ice pop founders target Millennials

While their sophisticated flavor profile and branding might seem a natural fit for Whole Foods Market, Brewla gourmet ice pops – made from brewed tea, coffee and root beer – are also on sale at Walmart, proving that the brand has broad appeal, say co-founders Daniel and Rebecca Dengrove.

But if there is one demographic the brand is focusing on, it's Millennials, says Rebecca, who says that while Moms buy Brewla Bars for their kids because they taste great and have a good nutritional profile, the brand is “targeting the Millennial consumer”.

She adds: “The look and feel of our product is really different for the category; we’ve gone after the 25-40 age group where the consumer is a conscious shopper.”

And while Walmart might not be known for appealing to this demographic, it’s a consumer group all major retailers are increasingly trying to woo, observes Daniel, who says Walmart approached them, not the other way around.

“We’ve picked up business from trade shows, targeted events with frozen food buyers, and cold-calling, and we’re now in around 350 stores with 300 more that should come online by early summer. But in the case of Walmart and Fresh & Easy, they approached us. It’s early days, but we’re now in 50 Walmart stores in the Pacific Northwest.”

We got our gross margin to about 50%

But does the pricing architecture developed by the Brooklyn-based start-up work for the world’s biggest retailer?

Yes, he says: “As we deliver directly to the Walmart warehouse, we have been able to offer a lower price on shelf.”

Importantly for a business in this stage of its development (Brewla bars first hit stores in 2012), the brother and sister team has worked hard on proving they have a viable business as well as an unusual product by driving same-store sales in existing accounts, and improving margins, he adds.

In 2014 we worked on improving the margins for our business; we got our gross margin to about 50% and that’s incredible; that’s viability right there.”

As for sales growth, he says: “We’ve sold more in the first quarter of 2015 than we did in the whole of 2014 and we’re expecting 10-fold growth this year.”

Brewla Bars come in five flavors: Cherry Pomegranate + Red Tea; Peach Ginger +White Tea; Craft-Brewed Root Beer Float; Strawberry + Hibiscus Tea; and Tropical Fruits +White Tea. A new cold-brewed coffee variant will be added to the range this summer.

We didn’t have a ready-made network of wealthy individuals to tap into

However, financing the growing operation has probably been the toughest aspect of the whole enterprise, he concedes: “We initially reached out to friends and family and then we did a Kickstarter campaign that raised about $11,000, which we put towards designing our initial packaging and helping us finance the initial production run.

“We also won a $10,000 grant in the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream competition. Since then we’ve brought on an angel investor and had a few other friends and family members come on, but we come from a humble background so we didn’t have a ready-made network of wealthy individuals to tap into.”

We've bootstrapped really the entire time

He adds: “We've bootstrapped really the entire time. I don't think we've ever had a moment where we've felt really comfortable. Even today we are the only two full-time employees, so we are working insane hours. But I think it's incredible what we've been able to accomplish.

Going through the non-GMO Project verification process has been “very challenging”, says Rebecca Dengrove (pictured left, with Daniel, right). “We’re still waiting on verification for the root beer float, as milk is one of the ingredients that harder to get approved. While we use organic milk, they want so much paperwork that’s not easy to collect, and you have to prove the feed is non-GMO, so it’s very time-consuming.”

“With additional financing, you know, we can accomplish so much more; get to where we want to be so much faster.”

You get this really bold and nuanced, flavor that no one's experienced in an ice pop

The Dengroves – who work with a contract manufacturer in California, but have access to a kitchen in Brooklyn for product development and producing small batches – have made some changes in the past year, switching from four 2.5oz bars per pack to five 1.75oz bars, and revamping the packaging to flag up their bars’ health credentials and calories.

However, the recipes – developed by Rebecca, who has worked in product development at a series of CPG firms from Pepsi, Masterfoods and Glaceau to B&G Foods – haven’t changed, says Daniel.

Brewla Bars - which contain brewed tea, coffee or root beet plus botanicals, fresh fruit juices/purees, organic milk, plus vitamins and minerals – contain 20-50 calories and 3-10g sugar per bar, and were created as an alternative to the bland and sugary ice pops the Dengroves had eaten when they were kids, he recalls.  

We learned right off the bat that not everybody likes tea

What I saw in stores were products with a lot of artificial ingredients, a lot of sugar, and the same bland flavors – cherry, grape and orange - they didn’t appeal to the more adult sophisticated palate.”

He adds: “So Rebecca started experimenting in her kitchen and landed on this idea of using tea as the base for our product, because you get this really bold and nuanced flavor that no one's experienced in an ice pop. And you also get the health connotation that comes with tea.

Daniel Dengrove: “What makes our product really unique is this craft brewed flavor. But they are also functional. Our root beer float, for instance, delivers 10% of your daily calcium while our strawberry hibiscus is an excellent source of vitamin C.”

“So we tested the products at a farmer’s market and at a couple of events and we kind of learned right off the bat that not everybody likes tea, so we expanded our range to include all brewed ingredients, experimented with coffee and even developed our own root beer recipe.

“What makes our product really unique is this craft brewed flavor. But they are also functional. Our root beer float, for instance, delivers 10% of your daily calcium while our strawberry hibiscus is an excellent source of vitamin C.”

Demos are the most effective way to drive our product  

While there are “days when the obstacles can seem like they are insurmountable”, seeing consumers’ eyes light up when they taste the product for the first time is an effective antidote, says Daniel:

“Demos are the most effective way to drive our product; when people taste it and realize how flavorful it is, that’s definitely one of the best ways to show them we have something special.”

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