When Ethan Hirshberg first launched his line of self-named apple cider vinegar and healthy juice shots almost three years ago with a mission to make organic, premium health-based products more accessible, he said they mostly resonated with a group of niche natural shoppers who already understood the health benefits and value of his products compared to fresh pressed juice shots that sold for a much higher price at boutique stores.
“At that time, when most mainstream shoppers heard ‘shots’ they though either alcohol or energy,” and we faced a “really steep education curve” that included retraining people – and retailers – about where to find or stock our products, Hirshberg said.
To make it easier for consumers to understand when, how and why to take “wellness shots” – a new category that Hirshberg said he and a few other emerging brands are trying to coin – Ethan’s rebranded this month with brighter colors and clearer call-outs about the benefits of each product.
Now each bottle explicitly states the function of each shot – Daily Detox for ACV, Fast Fuel for MCT and Immune Boost for the Fire Shots – and the key ingredients on the front panel.
While still new, Hirshberg said the impact from the rebrand has already “taken the brand leaps and bounds in terms of communicating with consumers,” who often make purchase decisions in seconds.
The right place at the right time
The rebrand began hitting store shelves when the coronavirus began heavily hitting the US – a quirk of timing that Hirshberg believes will help separate the nascent wellness shot category from the energy shot space and propel the new application of the format into mainstream.
“People are scouring the shelves for things with functional benefits, including immunity and energy, to help them get through [the pandemic], and so a lot of new consumers are discovering our Fire Shots [now Immune Boost] and they are going for it,” Hirshberg said.
As a result, sales of Ethan’s Immune Boost shots doubled at Whole Foods during the first week of March and since then have grown 200% week over week without demos, ads or any additional support from the company.
Unlike pasta and canned food, Hirshberg doesn’t believe that people are buying the shots “and stashing them,” but rather they are drinking them immediately and creating a daily habit that Hirshberg says he hopes will serve the brand well even once the pandemic is over.
At that point, he says, he believes that mainstream shoppers will better understand that shots can do more than offer energy. He added that he hopes this will prompt retailers to give the emerging category its own set.
“We think that wellness shots, such as our Immune Boost Fire Cider shot and other apple cider vinegar shots, should live in a refrigerated grab-and-go set,” even though all of Ethan’s products are shelf stable, Hirshberg said.
He explained that this is a space in the store where consumers are more likely to intentionally visit for health and wellness products and look for options that either are fresh or closely aligned with fresh.
Carving out space in the refrigerated space also would help Ethan’s set wellness shots apart from energy shots, which category frontrunner Five Hour Energy has trained consumers to look for at the front of the store by the cash register.
He added that he hopes this also would pave the way for sets in channels beyond natural, including mass, convenience and drug, where consumers increasingly seek health and wellness products but are also potentially more price sensitive and therefore might be drawn to Ethan’s shots, which at $4 for 2-ounces are substantially less than a similar product in a juice shop selling for $7 or $8.
Life beyond coronavirus
While Ethan’s immunity-boosting products are benefiting from the current pandemic, Hirshberg acknowledges that COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy is creating other businesses challenges.
He explained that smaller $1-$5 million brands run their businesses close to the wire in terms of cash flow, which means some won’t be able to produce enough inventory to take full advantage of the current climate. Similarly, others might not have sufficient funds for raising brand awareness and securing shelf space.
Ethan’s recently closed an investment round and has plenty of stock, so Hirshberg said he isn’t worried about those aspects for now. But he did say the brand is hitting pause or research and development of new products in order to focus on current SKUs and filling orders. He also worries how long the current buying spree will last and what will come after it. But for now he is taking the fast-paced changes in stride and one day at a time.