New Age "Infusion"
Fuze Beverage Founder
Lance Collins says he got into new age beverages five years ago because he
was at a point in his life when he was looking for healthier food and
beverage options. Like every good “idea guy,” he used that
interest as an opportunity to make his own mark on the category. With the
tagline Healthy Infuzions, Collins launched the Fuze brand, and in a
relatively short time has infiltrated key markets nationwide, built a team
of new age sales veterans, and partnered with some of the biggest
distribution names in the business. Beverage
Industry recently joined the Fuze team in its
largest market, Tulsa, Okla., to see firsthand how the company has
“infuzed” the marketplace with its presence, and why Fuze has
resonated with consumers.
At first glance, Tulsa might seem like a surprising location to be the lead market for a beverage
with a decidedly healthy message. This is America’s heartland, after
all, not southern California or another traditional health food market. But
Collins, who is based in Englewood, N.J., says people in that market, and
all over the country, want to be healthier and are receptive to products
with a healthy message.
“People don’t want to get sick,” he
says. “They want to live longer, healthier lives. They’re
watching what they eat and drink, and they want to make the change.
It’s happening here [in Tulsa]; it’s happening everywhere.
It’s a cultural shift.”
Of course, the company’s choice of a powerful
distribution partner in Great Plains Coca-Cola is as important as any
healthy desire among consumers. The alliance helped the brand take over the
top seven spots in the new age category, according to ACNielsen, and the
No. 2 spot in ready-to-drink tea in its first year in that market. In
total, the company has moved more than 400,000 cases through the area.
Collins says the company’s increasing maturity
also helped the successful market launch. Learning
from its early new age competitors, Fuze avoided SKU overload by launching
only its top-sellers in the market.
“We’ve evolved as a company as far as SKU
rationalization, and as we’ve evolved, we’ve refined our
company to 12 really great-selling SKUs,” he says. “So Great
Plains launched with our best SKUs, plus the dominance they have in the
The Fuze lineup includes the Slenderize platform,
which quickly is becoming its best-selling line; the dairy-based Refresh
flavor platform; fruit-flavored Essentials; ready-to-drink green and white
teas, which were introduced this year; and the new NOS energy drink.
All of the Fuze products contain a hearty dose of
vitamins and minerals. Slenderize also contains a metabolism-boosting blend
of Citrimax, chromium and l-carnitine, and the Refresh line adds calcium.
The tea products also contain folic acid and natural polyphenols — in
fact, they carry the ORAC symbol (which measures the Oxygen Radical
Absorption Capacity, or antioxidant activity, of a product) and claim to
contain the equivalent of three servings of fruit or vegetables. They also
are formulated to contain less sugar than most ready-to-drink products,
with 60 calories per 8-ounce serving.
Collins, who has a background in the beer, wine and
spirits industry, is the driving force behind Fuze’s product
development, and says the Fuze products differ from other new age offerings
in that they contain more juice and are sweetened only with crystalline
fructose or sucralose. In addition, the company takes special pride in the
product’s packaging. Design partner Paula Grant helped found the
company, and is responsible for the eye-catching product labels. This
year’s White Tea introduction, which combines flavor, high nutrient
levels and art-like packaging, is an example of what Fuze does best,
“We’re very proud of what’s in
there,” he says. “Look at the vitamin and flavonoid content.
It’s second to none. I think it embodies our spirit and our mission
“We spend a lot of time on our formulas and a
lot of time on our taste,” he continues. “It’s very
tricky to get a product to taste good if it’s got so many
nutraceuticals in it. That’s key. Once we get it tasting good, then
we design it.”
A Fuze product has about a year to prove itself before
it is bumped from the lineup, and the company frequently evaluates its
products to ensure they are working in the market.
“We do SKU rationalization as a team,”
Collins says. “We know what’s selling and what’s not
selling. Some stuff sells well in one region and not another, but we make
our decisions based on what our sales team wants.”
Fuze’s current retail mix is tipped toward the
grocery channel thanks to the popularity of Slenderize among female
shoppers. Its grocery sales increased 121 percent during the past year vs.
a more measured, but still impressive, 34 percent in convenience stores.
The company plans to roll out multipacks for grocery next year using new
PET technology with hidden heat panels, and the convenience channel can
expect to see a new male-targeted energy
Knowledge of the market
Helping Fuze ignite the marketplace is its sales team,
most of whom hail from new age predecessors such as SoBe and Snapple.
Two-thirds of Fuze employees are spread throughout the country, working
with distributors and retailers. The company is divided into three regions
— a western division; the Midwest, which stretches south through
Texas; and the eastern division. The veteran team has created a hybrid
distribution system consisting of soft drink bottlers, such as Great Plains
Coca-Cola, and beer wholesalers.
“The regions are very decentralized,” says
Bill Meissner, chief marketing officer at Fuze. “There are SKU
nuances unique to each region. By decentralizing flavor [SKU] selection and
promoting autonomy in those regions, we can take advantage of regional
flavor preferences, leveraging the breadth of SKUs.”
The company makes use of aggressive sampling and
grassroots marketing to reach consumers, and is beginning to move into more
traditional mass market advertising.
Todd Gibson, vice president of Midwest sales, who
oversaw the effort in Tulsa, says Fuze and Great Plains used consistent
marketplace execution and sampling opportunities get in front of consumers
in the area.
“The product sampling was huge,” he says.
“We brought in two full-time people and all they did was sample. We
sampled more than 400 accounts in the first 40 days, and the second 40
days, we went back. We didn’t just touch them once.”
Fuze has eight sampling teams around the country and
plans to increase that number to 20 in the coming year. “We recruit
marketing talent locally. Once hired we bring them to New York where we
indoctrinate them in Fuze culture and train them to be great guerilla
marketers,” Meissner says. “During the weekdays, our marketing
teams focus on retail, and on the weekends, we’re showing up at
The company also plans to team with big-name marketing
partners next year such as a well- known late-night TV personality and the
Island Def Jam Music Group.
“I’m certain that Fuze is now to the stage
where we have to think about driving more lifestyle into the brand,”
Meissner says. “This late- night personality is a property that a lot
of women on the younger side of our demographic really identify with. The
Island Def Jam agreement is for a series of events — parties and CD
releases or when they have a hot new band breaking out. We’re going
to try to align ourselves with artists that match our messaging and
One demographic that is new to the company is the
energy drink consumer, particularly the race-car-loving demographic of its
new NOS energy drink. NOS was the brainchild of the eastern region Fuze
sales force, led by John Kenneally, and while there were a few people who
initially worried that the product did not fit with the Fuze brand,
Meissner says, “It’s been a real hit for us.”
NOS stands for Nitrous Oxide Systems, which are used
in hot-rods and various other motor sports to provide an extra power boost.
Fuze licensed the NOS logo, which is well known to racing fans, for its new
energy drink, and made it available in regular and sugar-free varieties.
“When we came out
with this, we had instant success,” Gibson says. “This is the
single fastest-growing SKU we’ve ever had and there hasn’t been
a lot of marketing behind it. It’s selling on its own
Collins says the company’s ability to take an
idea, such as NOS, and run with it is its greatest strength.
“We’re small enough to listen and large enough to react
fast,” he says. “In terms of speed of innovation, we’re
by far the leader. I peruse every container company and ingredient company.
If we want to do it, we do it. It’s not like we have 20 or 30 focus
groups. If we have an idea, chances are, it’s going to come out.”
Collins says the typical time from concept to store
shelf is three or four months. On the drawing board for early next year is
a line of flavored waters called Fuze Water Plus. “It’s going
to be an enhanced water, with state-of-the-art proprietary
packaging,” Collins says. While he didn’t elaborate on details
of the product, it’s a safe bet that it, like everything else Fuze
has done, will take the idea of “better for
you” to another level. BI