Hobarama LLC: 10 Years and Counting
By ELIZABETH FUHRMAN
Nov. 14, 2006, marks “Bawls Guarana Day” in Miami. The proclamation by the city’s mayor kicks off the celebration of Hobarama LLC’s Bawls Guarana’s 10 years in the beverage market.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Hoby Buppert generated the idea for Bawls Guarana during his senior year of college. He always has loved caffeine, but was not a coffee drinker. (One of Buppert’s claims to fame is that he’s never been inside a Starbucks.) Even though he wasn’t originally from Miami, Buppert launched Bawls Guarana in that area because of its lack of seasonal weather fluctuations. In addition, the product’s main ingredient, guarana, originates from South America, and Buppert figured there would be more South Americans in Miami who knew what he was trying to sell.
Hobarama has been growing every year since its founding. About three years ago, the company launched its sugar-free product Bawls Guaranexx, which was its first line extension. Hobarama also came out with a frozen product, which it sells at 7-Eleven stores under the brand name SnoBawls. Then two years ago, the company released a caffeinated carbonated mint candy, Bawls Mints, that it will rebrand Bawls Buzz and relaunch in January.
With all the other energy drinks on the market, the Bawls product line is differentiated by using guarana as its flavor. The Bawls flavor profile is a citrus-infused cream soda, and offers the same amount of caffeine as coffee and nearly three times that of traditional sodas due to the naturally occurring caffeine of the guarana berry, Buppert says.
Packaging that sells
For most of its existence, Bawls also distinguished itself by being bottled in glass. “Glass really is the star of our show,” Buppert says. “Glass is what people recognize the brand for.”
While Buppert feels glass packaging holds temperature better and offers the look and feel the brand portrays, the company extended its line this year into an aluminum can.
“It came first with our growing involvement with paintball,” Buppert explains. “A lot of the venues were having some issues with the glass, so we worked on a couple versions of the can to come to the one we finally arrived at this spring.”
The company rolled out the new Bawls can at its sponsored paintball events, and the response from the customers was fantastic. “At that point we didn’t even have a UPC code on it because we didn’t plan on selling it,” Buppert says. “Then the can made it into the hands of some of our distributors who were basically begging for it.”
Hobarama test marketed the can this summer with three distributors in the Midwest, and since August has rolled out the new packaging to about 70 percent of its distributors.
With packaging considered very important to the Bawls brand, the company sought Crown Holdings Inc., which was able to print with textured inks to replicate the feel of the bumps of Bawls glass bottle, Buppert says. A special foaming ink was spot-applied in small circles all over the 16-ounce can, creating a unique velvet feel for consumers as they grip the package.
Because Hobarama recognized Bawls tactile packaging was something consumers associated with its brand and the fact that it maintained that equity in its new packaging format, Beverage Industry’s sister publication Brand Packaging selected the Bawls Guarana 16-ounce can as one of the best new consumer package goods packages of 2006.
Guarana and games
Buppert attributes Bawls 10 years of success to creative product development, and to the adoption of non-traditional marketing tactics. Hobarama has been careful in adopting potential fans, rather than choosing a mass marketing approach. The company has taken on sponsorships of niche industries, including video gaming, paintball and fashion. Bawls sponsors more than 1,000 PC gaming groups, and is the official energy drink of the National Professional Paintball League, Olympus Fashion Week and Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion.
“We do anywhere from 30 to 40 events every weekend,” Buppert says. “We look for opportunities where really no other beverages are involved. It gives us an opportunity from the ground level to get in and really develop a strong and loyal consumer base.”
Interestingly enough, one of Hobarama’s strongest retailers is CompUSA, for which the company supplies a custom 12-pack. “It’s been a great relationship for both of us,” Buppert says. “We draw in the consumers they are looking to get. And it’s a great billboard for us because we drop a pallet in every store and there are no other beverages there.”
For the past three years, Bawls has found a following among paintball players as well. While its paintball sponsorship fits Bawls target of 18- to 34-year-old males, Bawls Guaranexx, the sugar-free version, is being marketed at the fashion-related events. “We don’t want it to become his and her versions,” Buppert explains. “We’ve actually found a real upswing of our sugar-free product at paintball events. It’s been about 50/50.”
Bawls can be purchased in every state, but it has a solid foundation in about 38. “We’re very strong in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest and Florida,” Buppert says. Next year, the company plans to focus on growing in New England and California, and upgrading and increasing distribution in its current markets.
Every year Hobarama has seen significant double-digit growth, and Buppert predicts the company will continue to see that next year, with new retailers offering Bawls. For example, the energy drink has been available in Target Superstores for about six months and will make its way into the entire chain in the second week of January.
Bawls Guarana’s 16-ounce can was chosen as one of the best new consumer packaged goods packages of 2006 by Beverage Industry’s sister publication Brand Packaging, and is featured in Brand Packaging’s Design Gallery book. More information on the book can be found at brandpackaing.com