Poppi closes $13.5m funding round led by CAVU Ventures and backed by celebrity investors: 'Poppi is the modern soda for the next generation'

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Poppi
Photo Credit: Poppi

Related tags: functional soda, CAVU Ventures, Prebiotic

Poppi, an emerging prebiotic soda brand, has closed a $13.5m funding round led by CAVU Ventures and further backed by a star-studded investor pool including Ellie Goulding, Halsey, Kevin Love, and Olivia Munn, which will go towards supporting the company's over 500% year-over-year growth since launching in March 2020.

Other investors in the music, film, and sports industries participating in the investment round include Russell Westbrook, the Chainsmokers, 24kGoldn, Kygo, and Nicole Scherzinger alongside a number of high-profile social media personalities.

Poppi achieved explosive growth shortly after a major rebrand of the apple-cider-vinegar-based product that husband-and-wife team Stephen and Allison Ellsworth would make in their home kitchen and sell at local farmers markets in their home state of Texas under the brand 'Mother'. 

The brand landed an investment from CAVU Ventures co-founder Rohan Oza after pitching their business on the celebrity investor show, Shark Tank. Oza helped the couple create a new colorful and exciting brand image that 'pops' off the shelf and "screamed flavor,"​ said Allison Ellsworth, who up until their investment from CAVU hadn't had the time nor bandwidth to think about branding.

Poppi_Stephen x Allison 1
Poppi co-founders Allison and Stephen Ellsworth

"If you think about Nike and Asics, both have really great sneakers, but Nike has the brand, and that’s who everybody knows, and that’s who we want to be,"​ she said. 

After roughly eight months of working with CAVU's internal creative agency, Poppi was ready to take the functional soda category by storm, she said.

"Whereas a lot of brands try to figure out the branding as they go, we came out the gates really strong in March of 2020."

Funding growth

The $13m investment couldn't come at a better time, said the Ellsworths, who said they will use the funds first and 

J Lo Poppi

 foremost to secure essential inventory (such as hard-to-source aluminum for its cans) for the business and building out its team which has grown from two to 50 people within 18 months.

"Some of it will go towards making sure we don’t go out of stock and that we bulk up on inventory with such high growth that we’re having,"​ said Allison Ellsworth. 

"We’ll close the year out pushing closer to 60 [people]. Then in 2022 that number will be closer to 85 or 90,"​ added Stephen Ellsworth.

Retail growth: 'We're killing it...'

Playing in the functional soda set (the fastest-growing beverage category, according to SPINS latest 52 weeks MULO set by SPINS), Poppi has grown to be 1.6x larger in dollar sales than its closest competitor in the category, claimed the company.

The company also reported a +5,624% increase in sales in MULO for the four weeks ending 8/8/21 vs. the same time four-week period last year. 

In terms of distribution, Poppi has secured listings with Whole Foods, Target, Safeway, Kroger, HEB, Ahold, Walmart, 7-Eleven and Publix. The better-for-you soda's brand's average velocities are over 200 units/store/week, and at Whole Foods that average is over 1000 units / store / week in top stores, the company reported.  In conventional grocery, velocities are 100 units per store per week at Kroger Fred Meyer and HEB.

For instance, said Allison Ellsworth, "We're really killing it at Target. We sold through a three-month order in three days; the buyer said they had never seen anything like it."

According to the Ellsworths, the brand's top-selling SKUs are strawberry-lemonade, raspberry rose, orange (which reminds consumers of Fanta), and watermelon (a limited seasonal SKU that the company has made available year-round due to its wild popularity, said Allison Ellsworth).

Up next for Poppi's portfolio will be a line of classic soda flavors including 'Doc Pop', classic cola, and root beer, rolling out to select retailers in September.

Who's buying Poppi?

Poppi is sourcing volumes from various categories across the beverage spectrum, said the Ellsworths.

"If you think about the consumers that we’re pulling from it’s kombucha, it’s sparkling water, and it’s your lapsed soda drinkers,"​ said Stephen Ellsworth.

"And the new age (Gen Z) drinkers who didn’t grow up on soda,"​ added Allison Ellsworth who said as parents, they happily give Poppi to their kids because, "at the end of the day it's healthier and has less sugar than apple juice,"​ she said. 

"The thing that gets Alison and I really excited is the opportunity to be the first soda that this new generation is trying. They no longer have to grow up on Coke, Diet Coke, or Dr. Pepper. Poppi is the modern soda for the next generation,"​ said Stephen Ellsworth.

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