“The company is on fire. In the year to date, we’re 22% ahead of our budget, and we’re moving towards over a $20m [annual] run rate, it’s a complete dream come true.
“Natural and specialty gourmet has been our focus, but we’ve started to go into conventional accounts such as Safeway, and Giant Eagle where we performed exceptionally well, so we know this brand is ready for conventional.
“We have grown distribution and velocity, which is a beautiful thing, as what you often see is that velocity can level off as distribution grows. But we are very disciplined in our approach; it’s not all about building distribution, it’s about making sure our velocity is strong and the consumer is ready for us in any account that we go into.”
We’re seeing the emergence of a new sub-category in the beverage set
As for adaptogens, so-called body-system modulators claimed to fortify the body’s own adaptive resilience to stressors, said O’Loughlin, “Initially we were kind of like the lone rangers out there, but now we’re starting to see some high profile brands such as Suja and Califia Farms add adaptogens to their products.
“I feel like it’s got past the tipping point and we’re seeing the emergence of a new sub-category within the beverage set which is the super-herb adaptogen category. I also think that we need to redefine what we have been calling the functional beverages category, as I don’t think all of the brands in there are really functional in the sense that you’re getting meaningful, healing amounts of ingredients with real health benefits.”
While the science behind adaptogens is still emerging (O’Loughlin has previously referred to “ancient wisdom that is starting to be backed up by clinical research”) and REBBL does not make hard health claims on pack, consumers are becoming more familiar with some of the better known herbs such as ashwaganda and turmeric, which have better name recognition than the term ‘adaptogen,’ she said.
Other shoppers are likely buying in because they love REBBL’s indulgent taste, clean label and organic credentials, and feel good about consuming a product that is packed with herbs, and gives away 2.5% of its net sales to The Not for Sale campaign, which is working to eradicate slavery and human trafficking.
Retailers, meanwhile, see that REBBL is bringing something new and incremental to the grab-and-go beverage case (which is still mostly built around refreshment, she said), said O’Loughlin, former CEO of Clif Bar and co-founder of Plum Organics, who took the helm at REBBL in late 2015.
According to botanicals expert Chris Kilham, a.k.a. The Medicine Hunter, adaptogens are claimed to reduce stress, both mental and physical. “To put it simply: Adaptogens help you adapt.” Key herbs on his list include: Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, Maca, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, and Schisandra.
One of the best-researched ‘super herbs’ in REBBL’s armory is Ashwagandha (pictured left), the flagship herb of Ayurveda (a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent), which has steadily been gaining traction in the US market in recent years, with consumers embracing its wide-ranging body of claimed health benefits.
A shrub whose various parts (berries, leaves and roots) have been used by Ayurvedic practitioners as folk remedies for centuries, Ashwagandha is gaining traction in the dietary supplements market.
Beware pixie dust!
But how much ashwaganda, or maca, is enough to confer a benefit?
“We take this very seriously, so we put meaningful, efficacious doses of super-herbs in our products, healing quantities of these ingredients based on what the research is saying,” said O’Loughlin.
“But in any market when a certain ingredient starts trending, you’re going to see people putting in pixie dust [negligible levels of said ingredient in order to cash in the trend] whereas for us, these ingredients are absolutely core to our reason for being.”
So where might REBBL (Roots + Extracts + Berries + Bark + Leaves) go next?
“REBBL is clearly a brand that is a platform with huge stretchability, but right now we’re very focused on beverages,” said O’Loughlin.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past when you think Oh my God, the brand is growing so great and there’s so much potential and we can go into anything, but the worst thing you can do is lose your focus when your brand is taking off like a rocket ship.”
REBBL CEO Sheryl O’Loughlin - who has been on the board of the Emeryville, CA-based beverage brand since January 2015 - took the helm in October 2015 after co-founder Palo Hawken (who launched the business in 2012) moved into the role of chief innovation officer, because she knew what a winner looked like after 25 years in the food and beverage industry, she told FoodNavigator-USA at the time.
“I saw the magic in this company that I have seen in other successful companies… because it has three critical things: One, it has an incredible team that is hungry and has grit. Two, it has the brand X-factor, so the products have a real point of difference… and also taste fantastic. Three, this is a brand with a purpose.”