“There wasn’t a protein product that was speaking to this growing boutique fitness market -- the Soul Cycles and Pure Barres of the world,” co-founder Darby Jackson told FoodNavigator-USA.
Après is a ready-to-drink plant-based protein beverage startup located in San Francisco that is seeking to provide on-the-go, clean-label, post-workout protein nutrition for the female modern wellness consumer.
Before launching six months ago, Jackson and fellow co-founder Sonny McCracken spent more than a year and half developing Après, which involved researching and speaking to this audience to understand ‘her’ nutrition needs following a workout.
”Everything out there screamed ‘bulk and biceps’, had ingredients that terrified this woman, and she’s not really intense enough to take protein powder in a protein shaker and shake it up.”
The company’s range of products has a proprietary blend of four organic plant-based proteins – pea, chia, hemp, and cacao.
“We also added (four grams) organic virgin coconut oil to keep her fuller longer and coconut water as well, which is full of electrolytes to give back to her body at the end of workout,” Jackson said.
“One of the things we heard from women is most protein products out there are really hard on the stomach so we wanted to make sure that this is really easy on her stomach, especially after a hard workout.”
Its three SKUs – mint cacao, sea salt, chai spice vanilla – all contain 13 grams of plant-based protein, six grams of sugar, and fall between 180 to 190 calories per 11-ounce carton bottle.
Online go-to-market strategy
In order to leverage its agility as a startup, Après wanted its primary presence to be digital when first launching.
“Direct-to-consumer online has been really, really important to us,” McCracken said.
“We’ve explicitly chosen to build a community over a network of distribution early on so we could get quick feedback on the product, build a network of evangelists out in the market. Such that when we do go to wider scale distribution later down the road, that we have people that are going to pull the product off shelf.”
And its digital-first strategy seemed to work, within a few months after launching, the company sold out of products leading to an over 2,000-customer waitlist.
It has since released its next run of product to the market to keep up with this better-than-expected demand.
While its channel mix is “90% direct-to-consumer”, Après is also stocked at several boutique fitness studios to drive trial and awareness to the product, McCracken added.
The company's recently secured $1.1m investment will be put towards continued expansion and consumer acquisition initiatives.
"We want to double down on that going forward," McCracken said.
Soylent paved a path
Après believes that the road to success that Soylent has paved in the complete protein nutrition beverage category has helped set the stage for its brand proposition.
“They’re certainly trailblazers and they did a really good job of building a community around the brand,” McCracken said.
“They’ve opened eyes of investors, here in Silicon Valley and beyond, to the potential for a beverage company going direct-to-consumer and really being more of a branded lifestyle play versus just a strict product play.”
Unlike Soylent, which bills itself as meal replacement at 400 calories, Après sees its brand as more of a snack replacement – “something to bridge the gap between a workout and your next meal or just be a really light on-the-go breakfast,” he added.
‘An Instagram waiting to happen’
In its pursuit to capture its intended audience of avid female boutique fitness goers, the product had to tap into visually-appealing branding that was ‘on trend’ without being too ‘trendy’, according to Jackson.
"While designed specifically for women, there’s nothing in there that would inhibit a man from drinking it," Jackson pointed out.
Focused on being a “digital-first” company, Après started its Instagram page a full year before launching to engage with their target market and hone in on key items that either she is wearing or that “she has on her kitchen counter,” Jackson said.
The company then honed in on marble and florals, two patterns that appear on each Après beverage.
“We wanted it to be something that she would carry in her hand that her friend would complement her on – an Instagram waiting to happen,” she said.
"Our overall ethos here is to be more implicit than explicit, because our consumer is smart, and at the end of the day she’s going to make her decision based on what’s on the back of the label rather than what’s on the front of it,” McCracken added.