Being a minnow in a pool of sharks is both scary and exhilarating, admit the entrepreneurs behind caffeinated fruit juice Frava. But “in the worst case scenario, it’ll make the subject of a good business school essay” (presumably about biting off more than you can chew), observes chief marketing officer Alex Portin.
But jokes aside, a year after launch, it certainly looks like their gamble might just pay off.
Frava (fruit + java) - the brainchild of three Colgate University students cramming for finals and looking for an energy boost - has just secured authorizations at up to 250 Target stores and struck a deal with Bernick's Beverage & Vending that will get it on shelf in 470 Holiday convenience stores in the Midwest to add to its 400+ locations in the New York area.
And retailers, says Portin, “are always skeptical until you can show them results that are sustained over a period of months”, but once you show them you mean business, they will give you a chance.
“We definitely see Frava as a national brand. We’ve created a completely new category.”
Kickstart has 5% juice; Frava has 40% juice
And while 1,000+ stores pales in comparison to the kind of distribution fellow juice/caffeine combo Mountain Dew Kickstart achieved in its first year, so does Frava’s marketing budget, points out Portin, who notes that the Frava team was on quite a learning curve in the first few months (“the beauty of a liberal arts education is that it prepares you for nothing”, he says).
“We weren’t putting billboards up in Times Square. But we were doing a huge amount of sampling, guerilla marketing, and knocking on a lot of doors. When you haven’t got any money you have to be pretty creative.”
Meanwhile, Frava is not really competing with Kickstart, he says: “Kickstart is carbonated, it only has 5% juice, and it is filled with artificial flavors, coloring, and synthetic stimulants.
“Frava has 40% juice, 200mg of natural caffeine [per 16oz bottle] from green coffee beans and no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. They are completely different products.”
Frava also contains no additional ‘energizing’ ingredients such as guarana or taurine, chiefly because there’s no credible evidence that these ingredients deliver in the way that caffeine does, says Portin.
“We wanted to keep things simple.”
And while Frava is currently sweetened with sucralose and ace-k - which are not entirely consistent with its ‘no artificial…’ image - its next iteration will likely contain natural sweeteners, which did not deliver when the product was first being developed in 2010/11, but have since improved considerably, he says.
When you haven’t got any money you have to be pretty creative
Despite the constant stress (where did my life go) and the “waiting for something to go wrong” feeling that keeps all new business owners awake at night, Portin is nevertheless supremely confident that Frava has what it takes to compete in the fiercely competitive beverages market.
“There are a lot of people out there that like juice, but want something with fewer calories or sugar, or they want an energy boost, but wouldn’t touch Monster or Red Bull. And not everyone wants to drink coffee all the time. Evan [CEO Evan Berman] was a classic example. He liked juice.
“We also knew that when people tried it, they loved it. Within four months, it was the best-selling beverage on campus at Colgate University. We were outselling Red Bull and Snapple combined. We also got a lot of traction at office locations with firms such as Tumblr, Linkedin, Microsoft and Yahoo.
“The great thing for retailers is that it is generating incremental sales. People that don’t drink ‘energy drinks’ are buying it."
We weren’t putting billboards up in Times Square
Available in Cranberry Orange, Peach Mango, Pomegranate Acai, and Pineapple Orange flavors, Frava is hot-filled and shelf-stable.
The company is owned by Evan Berman and its two other founders, Geoff Karas and Chloe Goldman, plus CMO Alex Portin, and Howard Weinstein.