Working at PepsiCo as a consumer insights manager before leaving to work at Latin-American bev tech company Beliv, OCA global CEO Gabriela Ramirez spotted an opportunity to develop a cleaner alternative to the energy drinks without a laundry list of synthetic ingredients that dominated much of the category.
And as a non-coffee drinker, Ramirez was looking for a better-for-you product that could give her an energy boost without the dreaded crash or jitters that came with some other energy drink brands touting up 240mg of caffeine per serving.
'Buyers from the retail side were looking for new ideas...'
"There was a lot of opportunity for us to present a healthier version, and also buyers from the retail side were looking for new ideas and a healthier solution," Ramirez told FoodNavigator-USA.
"I worked for two and a half years listening to consumers on how to create the perfect energy drink."
Ramirez found ingredient inspiration from the cassava root, a plant native to the Amazon in South America that was consumed by local populations as a healthy source of carbohydrates and energy.
In OCA, the brand uses an extract -- tapioca syrup -- of the cassava root, which Ramirez said works in combination with the other ingredients including the caffeine green coffee extract to provide a long-lasting energy boost. It also gives a hint of added sweetness to the beverage.
The end result was a product with a much paired down ingredient deck compared to other players in the category: at 60 calories and 9g of added sugar per can, OCA drinks contain sparkling water, organic tapioca syrup, organic agave syrup, organic gum acacia, organic fruit flavors, citric acid and organic caffeine (from green coffee or green tea), and organic stevia.
Ramirez added that the taste profile and exotic flavor selection -- prickly pear lime, berry açai, guava passion fruit, and mango -- is another differentiator for the brand.
Who's drinking OCA?
Ramirez noted that oddly enough the pandemic was actually the perfect time to launch OCA since so many consumers had to balance multiple new roles and tasks, like moms who worked from home but also had to take on the role of a proxy school teacher for their kids.
And unlike many other brands in the energy drink space, OCA is winning favor with a growing audience of female consumers, said Ramirez.
"If I were to put it into numbers, we’ve definitely seen more of a female consumption focus of consumers between 18 and 34 years old. I think younger females are making more conscious decisions about what they put into their bodies and how they do it," she said.
$1bn brand ambitions
OCA has also won key retail accounts including nationwide distribution with Kroger last year and upcoming distribution with "super big, well-recognized chains in the US," said Ramirez, whose ultimate goal is to turn OCA into a $1bn brand.
"It's a big dream, but what drives the most is to make a change in the category," she said.
To get there, expansion is key, she said.
"We have five countries already in our footprint in Latin America and the US. We have a lot of opportunity for Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK. We started the year with 3,000 point of sales, and we’re planning on ending the year with 15,000 points of sale based on the approvals that we already got," Ramirez said.
From a product innovation standpoint, Ramirez shared that OCA will soon be launching a zero-sugar formulation of OCA this summer.