Iconic Protein Innovations Target Opportunities in Coffee, Kids

Having established a solid foundation for the brand with its core ready-to-drink shake line, ICONIC Protein is preparing to unveil a range of long-gestated innovations this year that highlight a shift towards caffeine-added, zero-sugar products.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based brand, founded in 2011, currently features grass-fed whey protein in both powders and the five-SKU line of RTD shakes, which are available in 11.5 oz. bottles at national retailers like Whole Foods and Target. Building the brand around those products has been Iconic’s primary focus for the last 18 months, according to CEO and co-founder Billy Bosch, providing the company with a retail platform on which to build the release of two brand-new lines — Collagen Coffee, available in both RTD and powdered format, and a protein shake for kids — as well as for adding new flavors to its flagship shakes.

According to Bosch, the popularity of Iconic’s Caffe Latte flavor with consumers influenced the decision to launch Collagen Coffee, available in 11 oz. slim cans in Mocha, Dark Roast and Salted Caramel varieties. Leaning into on-trend functional ingredients, each is non-dairy and contains 180 calories, zero sugar, 10 grams of grass-fed bovine collagen, 200 mg of caffeine and 5 grams of MCT oil, as well as a blend of functional mushrooms provided by Four Sigmatic, including lion’s mane and reishi, for added cognitive benefits. The drinks will retail for $3.99 each and $39.99 for a case. Collagen Coffee will also be available as a powder in 8 oz. tubs.

“This diversifies our brand beyond being just in the clean dairy world,” he said. “There’s not only interest from our current consumers but I see good long-term lift for collagen in things like beauty products, anti-aging, optimizing your brain and things like that. That’s where consumers’ heads are going as we move forward.”

Bosch is also confident that Iconic’s core proposition of grass-fed whey protein can work in a notoriously difficult category: kids beverages. Later this spring, the brand will launch Iconic Kids, a three-SKU line of zero-sugar naturally flavored shakes in 8 oz. Tetra Paks featuring 8 grams of protein per serving. The complete line — Vanilla Vacay, Fruity Fiesta and Chocolate Carnival, all 80 calories per serving — also contains one full serving of organic vegetables. The product will be available in singles ($2.29-$2.49) and 12-packs ($26.99-$29.99). As for why he’s decided to take on kids drinks, Bosch noted he was motivated in part by childhood battles at the dinner table with his own parents over eating vegetables, and by the lack of zero-sugar options within the set.

For Iconic, the market in which these new products will be released will be different from the one that greeted its shakes back in 2015. Protein, once a category unto itself, is now one of a widening range of functional ingredients and benefits offered by beverages stretching across all categories; against that backdrop, Bosch noted that his brand has honed in on several specific points of differentiation. Introducing more energy plays via coffee products is part of that strategy, as is moving all Iconic products to zero-sugar formulations that are naturally sweetened with monk fruit and stevia. He regards the move into cans and other packaging formats — such as Tetra Paks, offered exclusively in Target, and a single-serve protein powder in compostable film sleeve introduced earlier this year — as progress towards the company’s sustainability goals.

“Plastic is not going to go away, so how do we find ways to improve the materials we are using so you can find plastics that are biodegradable or harvested from the ocean,” he said. “Part of the diversification of our product line is getting into different formats and finding ways to get into compostable packaging and things like that.”

Along with the new lines, Iconic is also adding flavors to its core protein shake line (Salted Caramel) and its powders (Caffe Latte). The company is also making moves on a corporate level. Bosch said the company is closing a bridge round of financing to support the launch of innovations, and is set to begin distribution at Walmart in the next 30 days. A Series B round is “on the horizon,” he added.

“We did a lot of work with the core line getting it into different formats and channels, so now we have kind of a backlog of innovation that we’ve been wanting to get out to the market,” he said, noting the individual launches will be sequenced over a six-month period: Caffe Latte powder will launch online in the next two weeks, and followed by Iconic Kids in mid-May and then Collagen Coffee in late summer/early fall. “We’ll put all this stuff out there for market acceptance — maybe they don’t all survive, maybe we make changes. It’s part of evolving and staying innovative.”