Izze Beverage Co.: Spreading Good Karma
February 2002 kicked off a chaotic year for Todd Woloson and his friend, Greg Stroh. Over lunch one afternoon, the friends decided to become business partners with the idea of crafting a line of all-natural fruit juice and sparkling water beverages inspired by European sodas. But this venture wasn’t just about creating a great beverage, the pair also hoped to raise awareness and money to help struggling communities.
But before they could begin giving back, there was the matter of securing distribution. “We’d done our first run, but were still trying to set up a distribution meeting with a local group,” recalls Woloson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Izze Beverage Co., Boulder, Colo. “We were literally in the car, driving to meet with them while the trucking company was calling, confused about why they were loading trucks that had no destination. I told them, ‘Start heading toward Denver, I’ll have an address for you, I promise!’”
Woloson made good on his promise and the business took off, starting with four sparkling flavors - Pear, Lemon, Blackberry and Grapefruit - and adding Clementine, Blueberry and Pomegranate along the way.
Woloson says new flavor ideas originate with the desire to produce “understandable and identifiable” fruit flavors, but with a twist. “The interesting part is not presenting a complex flavor profile; the excitement for us is presenting the difference between an orange flavor and a Clementine flavor,” he says. “The deciding factor is how well we are able to get to the true essence of the fruit. Sometimes that’s tricky. Pomegranates, grapefruits and lemons don’t actually taste all that good on their own, but they have to have the right ‘soft drink-like’ mouth appeal while maintaining loyalty to the defining fruit. Some flavors just don’t make it because when you cook the fruits, the flavor profile changes.”
Izze’s Sparkling beverages do not contain caffeine, artificial ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugars. Instead of using preservatives, they undergo an hour-long tunnel pasteurization process whereby filled and sealed bottles are individually sent through sprays of increasingly hot water, until the juice inside reaches pasteurization temperature (about 60 degrees C). The bottles are then water cooled, gradually decreasing in temperature to prevent the bottles from breaking.
Driven by philanthropy
While many beverage companies are preoccupied with executing wild marketing concepts, Izze is busy partnering its energies with non-profits groups and sponsoring non-profit events.
The non-profit group nearest and dearest to Woloson and Stroh is their own, called the Global Education Fund (GEF). Helmed by Woloson’s wife, GEF builds libraries and orphanages in developing countries and is staffed and financially supported entirely by Izze. The idea arose from a 2002 mission trip to Honduras, where it occurred to Woloson that the economically depressed community he was working in happened to be part of a Dole banana plantation.
“Everyone there was part of the banana-growing community and I was pretty sure there were similar social problems in the communities where we were buying our fruit,” he says. “Many of the social problems stemmed from lack of education, which is why we are focusing on educational development in the communities where we source our fruit. We are committed to closing this loop, literally understanding where and from whose labor our fruit comes from.”
Izze’s dedication to helping those in need is part of the reason why Woloson thinks the beverage resonates with consumers. “Spreading good karma has been our priority from the outset,” he says. “We like to think it also creates a positive association with the brand.”
On shelf, the brand’s unassuming appearance, created by Boulder-based TDA Advertising and Design, was designed with a straightforward motivation. “These days, it seems the better mousetrap is new technology and everything is getting too complex, Woloson says. That’s why, from a consumer’s perspective, we wanted to create an honest, but ridiculously intuitive product. Fruit juice and sparkling water - it’s pretty hard not to understand what that is. There’s a look and feel about the product that appeals to consumers, too.”
Woloson said he was shocked to learn the degree to which Izze appealed to kids, considering kids aren’t the target consumer. “Weston Rinehart, a market research firm, did a market research study for Ad Age, and one of the questions asked was about the ‘coolest drink brand,’” he says. “Gatorade was No. 1, Pepsi was No. 2 and Izze ranked No. 3 on the list. It was all very shocking to us since we’re still pretty small.
“My hunch is that so many people are marketing to kids, that they find products not conscientiously marketed to them interesting,” he says. “There’s just something about the look and feel of the bottle.”
In September Izze launched its newest package, a 12-pack of 8.4-ounce cans (in Blackberry, Clementine and Pomegranate) which are sized for lunch boxes or to pair with snacks after school. Woloson says this format was originally developed for school distribution but it has since taken off in Target and Tesco stores.
The company also created a newsletter to share company goings-on with interested vendors, partners and consumers. “This business allows us to touch so many people and distribution points and it feels really important to share and create awareness,” Woloson says. “If you can create a positive message around your business and inspire people to do good things, it’s just awesome.” BI