“I came across ROAR as I was looking for what was next [after leaving Chef’s Cut in October],” Silvestro told FoodNavigator-USA. “Industry contacts reached out and said there’s an up and coming brand you should look at, so I tried the product and thought it tasted great, while the aesthetics of the brand also seemed different to what else was out there in the space.
“So I met the founder and potential investors [led by Accelfoods, which subsequently closed a $5.6m round in December 2018] and immediately liked Roly because he was completely honest about what he knows and what he doesn’t know.
“It was really important for me to be able to work in partnership with the founder, and that there would be good chemistry.”
‘The product ticked all the boxes, but we also needed human capital and funding’
But is it hard for some founders to relinquish control to a CEO from the outside? Perhaps, said Silvestro, but in Nesi’s case, he said, he wanted to be freed up to focus on the brand rather than the day to day firefighting that comes with running a business.
“He has great vision for this brand and is very dialed into the trends and the flavor profiles and consumers and he will be the spokesperson for the brand on the customer calls,” said Silvestro. “But he doesn’t want to be involved in the day to day minutiae and problems.”
The brand also needed to bring in an operator to attract investment, he added: “The ROAR Organic brand is only about 18 months old, and it was growing really fast, but as Roly started to look for institutional money, the feedback he got was that you need to bring in an operator.
“I’ll say to anyone, I’ve never developed or innovated my own product, but I’ve operated different brands, that’s my skillset. The product ticked all the boxes, but we also needed human capital and funding.”
‘Historically this is a category that has been really male-focused and athlete focused’
A shelf-stable electrolyte-infused caffeine-free low sugar organic beverage made with coconut water, juice, salt, and B vitamins and sweetened with, erythritol, sugar, and stevia extract, ROAR Organic contains 10 calories per serving, and is designed to appeal to men and women, said Silvestro.
From conversations with shoppers during sampling events, he added, “A lot of our consumers are kombucha drinkers and people that are looking for organic beverages in the cool case, and have been willing to spend four or five dollars a bottle, and we are offering something that’s half that price.
“There are brands out there like Nooma and KRā [that have built sports brands with less sugar and cleaner labels], but historically this is a category that has been really male-focused and athlete focused, full of sugar and chemicals and dyes. ROAR embraces females but doesn’t alienate males.”
The original ROAR beverage - launched by Nesi in 2014 - was more directly competing with the likes of Gatorade, but he soon realized that he could carve a more distinct niche in the category by going after a different consumer, said Silvestro.
“ROAR was always a better-for-your product, but it still had that sports drink vibe, and it was a constant battle on price when Gatorade was always on 10-for-$10 – you can’t compete with that and make money.
"So he [Nesi] looked at millennial females, and saw his wife spending exorbitant amounts of money on Lululemon yoga pants and going to Soul Cycle and Barry’s Boot camp, which is completely different from going to Equinox or LA Fitness and wearing regular sweats, and he said let me design a drink that aspires to the same consumer, he wanted to create Lululemon in a bottle, and that’s where the idea [for ROAR Organic] was born.”
Organic kids’ beverage to launch around time of Expo West
ROAR is also discontinuing its ROAR kids line (which involved a tie up with Marvel] in Q1, and launching a new organic clear kids’ beverage at Expo West made with water, natural flavors (blue raspberry, watermelon, and orange), sea salt, cane sugar, citric acid for flavor stabilization, and vitamin C.
“We’re probably going to start with this in the natural channel, maybe with one national grocer and one national big box club store to test the waters," said Silvestro. "But everyone is every excited to see a kids’ beverage that’s a better alternative than what’s out there.”
‘There are opportunities in all channels’
Right now, ROAR Organic is in some high-profile retailers including H.E.B. Meijer, Kroger, CVS, and Target, and has been “in and out of Costco,” he said. But there are opportunities in multiple channels, from natural, grocery, drug, and club channels, to corporate offices and fitness/yoga studios and gyms.
“In March 2018 they did a 14-store, 30-day test with Costco, but it did so well, they rolled it out to more than 300 stores and ran it through the end of August, and we’re in talks with Costco to go in again.”
ROAR Organic is usually placed next to coconut water and brands such as Bai and Vitamin Water in the shelf stable sets, but is also getting placed in the grab & go cold sets, he added:
“We’ve been through the review process with Safeway Albertsons, 7-Eleven and we’ll be getting some placement in the next few months, so there are opportunities in all channels. The feedback we’re getting is that people are drinking ROAR as an everyday beverage, not just pre- and post-workout. People are enjoying this with their lunch and at multiple occasions throughout the day.”