In its first year, functional shot maker Ethan’s established itself in the natural channel with a line of apple cider vinegar shots launched in 2017. But founder and CEO Ethan Hirshberg said he never intended the brand to be boxed into a single category, and is expanding the platform with a new line of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) products that launched in Whole Foods last month.
The company announced the new four-SKU MCT Shot line last month, including Coffee, Matcha, Orange Cacao, and Turmeric Ginger varieties. Each product uses a base of 8g of MCT oil with added organic ingredients. The coffee and matcha flavors are caffeinated. The products are currently available exclusively at Whole Foods nationwide until November 1, retailing for $3.99 per 2 oz. bottle (a $1 increase from the apple cider vinegar line, which Hirshberg said is due to higher ingredient costs).
Hirshberg, son of Stonyfield Farm co-founder Gary Hirshberg, said a wider expansion is slated for early 2019 and he plans to closely observe the line’s performance to determine which SKUs to push in the winter.
“We’ve only been on the market for about a year so there’s a lot of people to meet who we haven’t met yet,” Hirshberg told BevNET in a phone call. “But for the people who have been on us since day one, in their minds we’re an apple cider vinegar company. So shifting our image more toward us as a shot company has been a little bit of a challenge with those people, but one that I don’t think is going to be super difficult.”
MCT oil has emerged as a rising trend in ready-to-drink beverage, bolstered by brands like Bulletproof 360 and Picnik and diet trends such as keto that favor the ingredient. According to Hirshberg, himself and other Ethan’s employees became interested in MCTs after trying homemade smoothies made with the ingredient. While there are ready-to-drink beverages with MCT oil on the market, the ingredient is commonly sold to consumers in premium-priced bottles and Hirshberg wanted to create a more convenient delivery system via shots.
Although other brands have helped fuel a demand for MCTs, Hirschberg said the company has made an effort to educate its current consumers via social media that the new shots do not contain vinegar. Hirshberg said he hopes to position Ethan’s as a “mini functional beverage” brand, but the MCT line also has retailers confused as to whether the products are beverages or supplements.
“It’s been interesting to see what space we’re playing in exactly,” Hirshberg said. “Is [the line] a mini-Bulletproof? Although only one of the products is coffee. Or is this more of a functional dosage supplement?”
Regardless of categorization, Hirshberg said the line has hit the ground running, with sales in the first two weeks on shelf far outpacing the launch of the apple cider vinegar line.
However, the apple cider vinegar line is continuing to grow, Hirshberg said. In recent months the brand has entered Sprouts, Earth Fare, and Fresh Thyme. Now the company is planning to move from the natural channel into conventional with launches in Kroger banner stores including Fred Meyer and King Soopers in the fall.