Originally targeted towards adults with a better-for-you, ready-to-drink bottled lemonade (inspired by founder Melanie Kahn's lemonade pregnancy craving), Poppilu pivoted in 2020 by transitioning into pouches to target the kids beverage segment, specifically the overlooked kids lemonade set.
"Poppilu is the kids lemonade segment," Kahn told FoodNavigator-USA.
"Although other kids lemonade SKUs exist, we’ve been the first kids brand doing ready-to-drink lemonade exclusively. There’s a great opportunity there, and for those who think lemonade is too narrow, I’d suggest looking at Calypso with their dozens of lemonade SKUs. It’s a flavor profile that crosses all age groups but has been sorely lacking in the kids space, unless you consider the artificial powdered stuff we all mixed in our kitchens with wooden spoons as kids — but no doubt I envy their margins!"
'I’ve seen several kids beverage start-ups come and go...'
Approaching six years on the market, Poppilu has managed to cut through the competition with its low-sugar, bold-citrus lemonade flavor that satisfies kids' tastebuds and parents' keen eye on nutrition at 7g of sugar (sweetened with organic monk fruit extract) and 30 calories per 6-ounce pouch available in original lemonade, blueberry, and peach flavors.
"We’ve purposely stayed relatively small, being careful to manage cash and not outstrip what we can afford by going to big too fast. We’ve focused distribution on a few thousand stores in the central and eastern US, at strong regional retailers like H-E-B, Schnucks, Giant Eagle and others, as well as Target and Walmart," Kahn told FoodNavigator-USA.
But even with its disciplined approach and subsequent distribution success of gaining distribution at major retail accounts such as Target and Walmart, the journey to acquisition has not been for the faint of heart, said Kahn.
"Beverage is so competitive, and even in the narrower kids space, I’ve been told many times that it’s impenetrable and the dominant brands will just crush you. And to a large extent that’s true as I’ve seen several kids beverage start-ups come and go and have always wondered whether I’d meet the same fate," Kahn told FoodNavigator-USA.
"So it’s a real honor that Harvest Hill believes in Poppilu and is getting behind the brand to further its growth."
For Harvest Hill Beverage Company, the acquisition of Poppilu is a welcomed update to its current juice portfolio which includes nostalgic brands such as Juicy Juice, SUNNYD, Little Hug Fruit Barrels, Veryfine, Guzzler, and Big Burst.
"Poppilu makes a great addition to our existing portfolio and helps expand our strong foundation of kids' beverages. We are especially excited that the product was crafted by a mom with kids in mind, which comes through in the bold taste and better-for-you benefits that will resonate with consumers," commented Ilene Bergenfeld, chief marketing officer of Harvest Hill Beverage Company.
Kahn shared that she will be assisting with the transition in the near term to make sure that Poppilu is set up for long-term success under Harvest Hill.
Future of the category
Kahn acknowledged that there's been a positive shift slowly happening within the broader kids beverage segment towards more better-for-you options available that is setting a new standard for all brands including Poppilu.
"When you look at heavyweight Capri Sun which recently reformulated their juices to reduce sugar to just 8g and to include monk fruit, it’s a major shift that resets the bar for the category. Newer entrants will now use that as the benchmark to match or beat, and that’s a good thing. Poppilu has just 7g sugar, which used to be far less than Capri Sun but which is now a negligible difference," noted Kahn.
"So in our current formulation, Poppilu will need to leverage other competitive strengths to win. But what is going to be the biggest sugar-related challenge for all competitors is how to make juice healthier without sacrificing taste, and watered-down juice (as some brands do) doesn’t cut it for a lot of kids beyond toddler years."