As a better-for-you, sugar-free beverage that delivers nine essential vitamins and minerals, KidsLuv was created with the ambitious goal of providing all families with an accessible alternative to many of the traditional children’s drinks that the company’s CEO says are laden with sugar and artificial ingredients. And while the pandemic has made it more difficult for the brand to build awareness and support its new retail partners, it also has set the stage for parents to seek and try products offering much-desired health benefits.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food, KidsLuv founder and CEO Ashi Jelinek shares strategies for building brand awareness during the pandemic and explains why Walmart and CVS Pharmacy are the perfect fit for the brand.
A strategic fit
With a mission to improve access to better-for-you products, which often have premium pricing and concentrated distribution in the natural channel, Jelinek said she was eager to expand the reach of KidsLuv beverages in the conventional channel through Walmart and CVS Pharmacies.
“When I first started the company … I felt that CVS was a really great partner for us from the standpoing of pharmacy. We are a health product. We are a better-for-you … vitamin enhanced beverage. So, for us it was very important to explore the pharmacy channel and to give parents that option,” Jelinek said, adding, “When I got into a CVS, I am looking for ways to get my kid healthy.”
She noted that KidsLuv will be included in a trend zone set at CVS with other children’s products – helping to set it part from the competition in the refrigerated beverage set.
Likewise, Jelinek said, Walmart’s extensive reach across the country but also willingness to test the product in select areas made KidsLuv’s partnership with the retailer a no-brainer. She explained that many entrepreneurs are daunted by Walmart because they think, incorrectly, they need to ramp up massive supply for nationwide distribution – but in reality the retailer is willing to work with emerging brands to take “baby steps.”
She explained, “I think [Walmart gets] startups, and I think they also know beverages and that you have limited resources, that you have to stay focused. So, actually, that conversation was pretty easy for the most part – it wasn’t like they were pushing for more.”
She also lauded the retailer for its innovation and willingness to share data with companies to improve distribution, marketing and other strategic business decisions.
Building brand awareness during the pandemic
Before COVID-19, many emerging brands relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with shoppers and large-scale expos to meet retailers and show off their products. But with the appearance of the highly contagious coronavirus, many of these options disappeared overnight.
“Before COVID, we were doing a lot of marketing opportunities in person – mommy affiliate groups in Southern California. I was going to meetings with moms, getting insights into what people are looking for and connecting with people. Obviously, unfortunately, that has been take away for now,” Jelinek said.
Now, she said, she hosts online video presentations and relies heavily on sampling with micro-influencers and influencers. She also has increased digital marketing, use of text message platforms and working with parents to film testimonial videos.
While launches of this size and caliber can feel all consuming even without an ongoing pandemic, they are only one aspect of KidsLuv’s strategy for expansion, which also includes a new flavor, new packaging and one day new products beyond beverages.
“My goal is to really grow this brand into a big national family brand – something that is recognizable” and loved by both parents and children, she said.