It’s been a breakout year for Bai and its line of coffee fruit infused beverages. The brand started 2011 on a torrid pace, generating a substantial amount of interest at the Natural Products Expo West show in March and widespread acclaim for its flavor profile and clean, sharp packaging. Additionally, Bai developed partnerships with powerful regional DSD distributors from some NIDA affiliates and also the Honickman Group, getting it access to a number of key markets in the Northeast, Southeast and West Coast.
But despite those wins and the stakes in the company taken by some high-profile investors, Bai has yet to hit the nationwide distribution targets that its founder hoped to achieve this year. In recent months, some retailers and distributors have voiced concerns about how the company intends to educate consumers about coffee fruit, an ingredient with significant antioxidant benefits, yet one that that most Americans are not familiar with.
For example, Lou Ferraro, the owner of Preferred Beverage and a longtime beverage distributor in metro New York, expressed some hesitation when asked if he would consider carrying a coffee fruit beverage.
“I just don’t know,” said Ferraro, who specializes in entrepreneurial beverage companies. “You’ve got to keep it simple. It’s got to be self-explanatory. I have to explain the product to a retailer and he has to explain it to 500 customers. If you have to spend 20 minutes explaining – it’s not something that retailers will carry.”
Ben Weiss, the founder and CEO of Bai, has acknowledged that the message of coffee fruit and its functional benefits can be “complicated and even alienating” to the average consumer. Weiss continues to believe that Bai needs to focus on distribution, get the product into stores, and eventually into the hands of consumers to allow the product’s packaging and flavor to win converts. From that point, a greater push toward consumer education about coffee fruit would follow gradually and organically.
“Years one and two, for a small emerging brand in this space, it’s all about building distribution equity,” Weiss said. “The product just delivers in the bottle. It tastes [so] good that it inspires consumers to read more and learn more. And in the first two years keeping that [coffee fruit] message somewhat muted was good for us. I assure you though that in 2012, it’s all about coffee fruit for us. We have some big plans.”
In an interview filmed at the recently held NACS show in Chicago, John Craven, the founder and CEO of BevNET.com, spoke with Weiss about the company’s distribution and marketing plans for Bai and Bai 5 – the brand’s low-calorie line – in the coming year. Weiss also gives a quick tutorial on coffee fruit – including its background and origins – as well as how the company sources its key ingredient.