Whynatte, which recently reformulated its coffee drinks to be made with natural ingredients, has landed one of the biggest retail chains in the country, having gained placement in 1472 Kroger and Kroger-owned stores across the U.S. Launched in 2008 as a hybrid coffee and energy drink and often promoted as a premium cocktail mixer, Whynatte is now positioned as a ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee, first and foremost, according to co-founder and CEO Jesse Altman, who said that the beverages will be sold in the natural food sections of Kroger stores.
Picked up by all 19 divisions of Kroger, Whynatte is now sold at Kroger banners including Fry’s, Ralph’s, Smith’s, King Soopers, Fred Meyers and Dillons, and carried in approximately 25 states stretching from California to Georgia. Armed with a national presence, Altman said that even moderate success at Kroger would be tantamount to “a complete game-changer” for his company.
While natural food sections of conventional grocers are not the most heavily trafficked parts of a store, Altman noted that the placement gives its some independence from other coffee brands, most notably Starbucks and its ever-expanding portfolio of RTD drinks.
Moreover, Altman said that Kroger has consistently placed greater emphasis on natural and better-for-you products, something that bodes well for his brand, which swapped artificial sweeteners sucralose and Ace-K with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol, all of which are natural and zero-calorie ingredients, in the reformulation. The company also removed energy ingredients, including taurine and B vitamins, in favor of naturally occuring caffeine — 90 mg per 8 oz. can — from coffee. The calorie and sugar count came down a bit as well; each can contains 90 calories and 6 grams of sugar.
Altman said that the reformulation “opened so many more doors,” particularly with natural distribution giants, UNFI, KeHe and DPI, that had previously been unavailable due to Whynatte’s use of artificial ingredients. The new blend was also part of a long-term play for Whynatte, with Altman noting that while on-premise sales as a mixer help for brand awareness, the retail side of the business is critical for true scale.
Whynatte will retail for $1.99-$2.29 at Kroger, a price that maintains its premium positioning, Altman said, while being an affordable option for most consumers. Altman said the next step for the brand is to gain placement in coolers at the retail giant, and though the relationship is still very new, he praised Kroger for its willingness to “court smaller, natural suppliers.”
“It was easier to get in front of the right people [at Kroger],” Altman said comparing the retailer to others. “They were easy to work with and haven’t treated us like the little guy.”
Altman did note that he wants to see Whynatte at Whole Foods, but that, so far, the natural grocer has rebuffed his efforts to land shelf space in its stores.
Whynatte will be able to meet the production demands needed to support the Kroger rollout, Altman said, and while a surge in supply is a costly endeavor, the company has solid financial backing. Altman cited actor Owen Wilson and director Peter Farrelly as investors in Whynatte, as well as a primary financial partner who he declined to name. Other noteworthy investors include Jonathan Kraft, the president of the New England Patriots, who in 2012 invested $300,000 in Whynatte. The company is also partly owned by AccelFoods, which describes itself as an “early-stage investment platform for innovative, high-growth food and beverage CPG companies,” and Incubation Station, an accelerator for small and early-stage companies.