Profile: With C4, Nutrabolt Steers Sports Nutrition to Mainstream

Texas-based supplement company Nutrabolt, founded in 2002, had a long-established track record in sports nutrition built on a range of powdered products under the C4 brand long before it launched its first ready-to-drink product, a still sports drink called C4 On-the-Go, in 2015.

That product now does $50 million in business annually, according to Nutrabolt chief marketing officer John Hardesty. But in making the jump into the competitive energy drink space with the launch of a carbonated C4 On-the-Go in April, Nutrabolt is betting that the brand’s existing audience — the over 5 million customers who have purchased its products, according to Hardesty — will follow along with them. Beyond building the brand’s equity in a new category, the move also allows the company to introduce ideas and ingredients from sports nutrition products to a broader base of consumers.

“Going into the energy drink category with a ‘performance’ angle is kind of that first step for the consumer into sports nutrition,” he said, noting increased competition in the pre-workout plus energy space from products like Bang and Celsius. “They can learn about things like CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine, which helps with muscle endurance, or creatine, or things besides caffeine that can help with your workout or your performance in life.”

Along with the aforementioned CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine, a proprietary ingredient which the C4 product label says “is designed to delay the onset of fatigue,” the C4 On-The-Go carbonated line contains 200 mg of caffeine per 16 oz. can, as well as other active ingredients aimed at promoting endurance and mental alertness. The drink, designed with a yellow-and-black “caution tape” look, is formulated to replicate a full dose of C4 pre-workout powder and is available in seven flavors: Frozen Bombsicle, Orange Slice, Midnight Cherry, Twisted Limeade, Strawberry Watermelon Ice, Purple Frost and Tropical Blast. Hardesty said that although the brand’s current consumers aren’t asking for natural and clean label energy alternatives, Nutrabolt will launch a new C4-branded line for the natural retail channel in the near future.

“We are starting with our current customer, who is more concerned with receiving fully dosed ingredients that they’ve used for years and that they know what to expect from,” Hardesty said. “But we have plans for a product that will be more like something you would see in Whole Foods or Sprouts. It has more of a white label, a more clean approach, with natural ingredients like caffeine from coffee berries and green tea extract.”

To reach the company’s goal of being in at least 45,000 doors nationwide by the end of 2019, Nutrabolt is taking the same aggressive approach it used to market its powders, Hardesty said.

C4 On-The-Go Carbonated is currently in approximately 15,000-20,000 doors across the country, with DSD operations growing on both coasts. Earlier this year the brand signed on with distributor Haralambos to service over 1,000 locations in Southern California, not including gyms and specialty retailers. New Age in Colorado will also begin distributing product by the end of this year. Hardesty said the company is committed to building a nationwide DSD network and then filling in any geographic gaps with key national accounts that will start coming online by the end of Q1 2019.

To further increase sales, Hardesty said the Nutrabolt is aiming to more than double the amount of sampling activations from last year by sampling over 2.5 million cans in 14 markets in 2019. Along with seeking out new consumers in yoga studios, fitness centers and other outlets focused on health and wellness, C4 On-the-Go will also be marketed to office parks, military commissaries, police and first responders and on university campuses. The brand has also partnered with its retail partners in select areas on an incentive program; once a certain amount of velocity or penetration is achieved, certain marketing activations, such as one with traffic navigation app Waze that directs drivers to nearby stores that sell the product, are unlocked.

Over the past year, Nutrabolt has brought on an array of talent to achieve its sales and distribution targets. Greg Moran joined the company as Director of National Accounts, the same position he held previously at cold brew maker High Brew. Former Talking Rain sales manager Joe McCoy came on as Regional Sales Director of California, while Pat Graney is operating out of Southern California as the company’s VP of Beverage, West. Meanwhile, Declan Duggan, also formerly of High Brew Coffee, is leading up East Coast sales. The hiring streak is set to continue over the next 12 months, as Hardesty said the company would be hiring 25 people over the next eight months to bolster its beverage division’s standing as a dedicated unit within the company.

“We are not a supplement company that has a beverage product; We are a supplement company that now has a beverage division,” he said. “This product is really us saying that we know we have consumers who need our products and who could benefit from them. I think we’ve struck a chord.”