Roughly a year after Roar Organic first landed in stores, CEO and founder Roly Nesi is facing the problem every entrepreneur would love to have: he’s ahead of schedule.
Since pivoting away from the original version of Roar, which Nesi called a “loud, aggressive, straight-up sports drink,” to a female-oriented organic product, the New York-based brand has enjoyed rapid growth. The four-SKU organic line of coconut water-based electrolyte infusions has found room to develop in the white space between traditional isotonic sports drinks and premium functional drinks, such as alkaline water and kombucha. As the brand enters its second year, Nesi said he’s learning and adapting on the fly as Roar’s retail footprint — now at over 6,000 stores for the organic line — makes big gains faster than projected.
“As you grow, it gets frightening because you were never planning to be available in the state of Michigan this year,” said Nesi in a phone call with BevNET earlier this week. “You were planning to be available in California and New York, so how do you still create that brand awareness?”
Regardless of whether the recent gains have come early or not, there’s a clear sense of momentum around the brand. By the beginning of June, Roar will have 10 items in coolers at Target stores nationwide: six flavors of Roar Organic, including two recent debuts, and all four SKUs of its Roar Kids line. The brand is already in multiple regions of Kroger, as well as stores like Bristol Farms, H-E-B and Central Market, and is sold in over 85 airports around the country. Later this year, the brand is set to expand into new regions of CostCo after enjoying a successful trial run in Los Angeles.
Nesi explained that part of Roar’s success thus far has been how its branding and positioning has connected with millennial female consumers, a demographic he called “the most influential customer in America.” By creating an electrolyte beverage specifically for that audience, both in formulation and in design, Nesi said the brand has been able to distinguish itself from traditional sports drinks, which are typically masculine and based around high athletic performance.
“Buyers for [sports drinks] are not bringing in exciting products— they can’t, and it’s not their fault. The real estate sales per square foot Gatorade is delivering to that door is insane,” he said.
The idea was to intentionally push Roar Organic into a different set, closer to premium waters, coconut water and functional drinks, where it can be sold from as low as $2 in Target to up to $4.99 at airport c-stores.
“We would be the most expensive thing to ever hit a sports drink shelf, but at $2.49 in the sets that we end up in, we are a really good bargain,” he said.
Roar aims to continue that growth with the launch of two new flavors: Blueberry Açaí and Georgia Peach, both of which debuted at Natural Products Expo West 2018 last month. Nesi said that the new SKUs were formulated with the goal of providing more accessible flavor profiles to consumers who may not be inclined to purchase a coconut water-based beverage.
Outside of millennial women, Roar has also found an audience with children aged 8-12 years old with Roar Kids, a line of water-based low-calorie drinks that launched in July. Nesi said the product was always intended as a broad line item for mass retailers, and that buyers were particularly interested in a beverage that could serve a healthy transitional drink for kids as they age into teenagers.
Roar Kids’ association with Marvel Comics hasn’t hurt either; each flavor in the three-SKU line features a different superhero on the package — Spider-Man (Fruit Punch), Captain America (Grape) and Iron Man (Apple). All three of those characters will enjoy a brighter spotlight with the April 28 global release of Avengers: Infinity War, the third installment in the blockbuster franchise that has grossed over $2 billion worldwide.
But Roar’s newest Kids SKU — Black Cherry, featuring Black Panther — happened almost by accident. Last July, Nesi’s contact at Marvel suggested that the brand develop a flavor based on the character ahead of the release of the film Black Panther, which was released in February.
“When we got the heads up, we went into development on it but we didn’t produce the product, we just had it on a computer-aided design (CAD) [mock-up],” he said. “We showed it to Target and we got a call and asked for ‘all four SKUs,’ including Black Panther.”
With just a few months to get the product ready, the company went through a expedited development process to get it done and ready to ship this week as a Target exclusive item. Nesi said Roar’s ability to share in some of the spotlight of box office hits like the Avengers series and Black Panther — which is now the fourth-highest grossing film ever in the U.S., with over $655 million domestic and over $1 billion worldwide — has led to greater opportunities at retail.
“They keep us intimately informed about what’s coming out,” he said of the company’s relationship with Marvel. “It’s very helpful on the retail side of things; the first time I met with Target, [Marvel parent company] Disney sent a regional office manager with me and he put on this crazy video presentation for the buyers, showing them all this cool stuff.”
With distribution growing, Nesi said that the company now plans to deploy its resources to bolster its marketing efforts, including activating five to 10 “unique, highly followed” influencers on a monthly basis.
“As big as the big accounts are, we need to focus on brand awareness,” he said. “We’re going to be doing pop-up shops in New York and California, we’re going to be at Coachella Music Festival. We’re doing so many more things that we are now able to afford to do and I think that’s just going to help us even more.”