A Worldlier Zola Keeps Growing

Slow and steady is helping at Zola, which will follow a 60 percent sales increase last year with between 70 and 80 percent this year, according to CEO Chris Cuvelier.

That growth has come from two places: improving fortunes for Zola’s more traditional acai offerings in supermarkets, where Cuvelier claims his brand has the top 3 fastest-growing SKUs, and also the company’s surprise move into coconut water earlier this year.

The early success of the brand’s canned 17.5 oz. coconut water line – it has national distribution in the entire Safeway family — is now being buttressed by a push into the more traditional 1 L tetra pak box.

The move into coconut water also has led to a marketing tweak: the brand is migrating its tagline from “Brazilian Superfruits” to “Fruits of the World,” a reflection of its current positioning and a growth-oriented solution to the problem presented by the fact that its coconut water comes from Thailand.

A short video featuring Cuvelier on his travels shows the new direction; his narration features the line “My approach to zola has always been to go there… you can’t be sitting in an office picking up the telephone saying send me the best coconut water, send me the best acai.”

With the growth has finally come a major marketing push behind the brand, Cuvelier said, as Zola is supporting its strong coconut water presence in Safeway with large displays and the opportunity to win a trip for two to Thailand. That promotion is also being advertised on the travel web site Expedia and is being run through Facebook.

The marketing spend is largely focused on the West Coast and is the kind of effort that Zola has resisted for years. But in a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Cuvelier told BevNET that the company has reached the point where it is at break-even from a financial perspective – which allows Zola more marketing flexibility than it has in the past, where owners Emigrant Capital insisted on accountability for nearly every dollar spent.

“Getting to breakeven, you control your own destiny,” he said. “There are other companies that have grown faster – we’ve been a little more slow and steady although growth is extremely strong. Our plan is to drive the business, build the brand, keep solid margin and if we do that, we’re going to have a lot of options.”

Still, he said, the brand spent “virtually nothing for four or five months” to save up for the Safeway promo.

Zola “runs mean and lean,” according to Cuvelier, with just 19 employees. He wouldn’t give the exact revenues but said the brand has passed the $10 million “plateau” point and is “closer to $25 million” than that $10 million mark.

Right now the brand is divided into three platforms: Brazilian Acai, which was the company’s original product and remains its biggest seller; a fast-growing coconut water line made in Thailand; and a line of superfruit “shots” in multi-serve bottles licensed under the Jamba Juice name.

The growth of the coconut water caused Cuvelier to alter the brands market positioning a bit. A new tagline will show “Fruits of the World” instead of “Brazilian Superfruits” – those with longer memories may recall that the Brazilian Superfruits tag was itself a shift from “Brazilian Acai” in early 2011 with the introduction of products containing cupuacu, mango, and acerola.

“For us, saying we’re fruits of the world gives us a license to go to various areas of the world,” Cuvelier said. “With the numbers we’re driving and the success we’re having, we think the Zola brand can be the one that bridges somewhat exotic fruits to the mainstream market – that’s the niche we can really own.”

Cuvelier credits his team of COO Matt Collins and marketing chief Kristen Eldridge with much of the group effort that has gone into giving the brand a higher profile in grocery stores, where, he said, Zola has the top three fastest-selling acai SKUs (albeit at only about 20 percent ACV – which he says indicates the brand’s room for growth).  The company also recently added Fantasia Juice Co. founder Brad Barnhorn to its board, a move that reinforces its highly strategic approach to growth.