Wet Planet Beverages: The Original Energy Drink Keeps it Current
By SARAH THEODORE
When Jolt hit the market back in 1985, the category of energy drinks did not even exist. But the product, which was created for the up-all-night crowd and promised twice as much caffeine as the leading cola brands, forged a path for what has become one of the most popular industry segments today.
“People were working longer, playing harder and sleeping less... and suffered from occasional exhaustion. So we saw back in the ‘80s that there was a real need for a stimulating beverage,” says C.J. Rapp, president and chief executive officer of Wet Planet Beverages, Rochester, N.Y.
Rapp prefers to think of Jolt as an “exhilarating beverage” that is part of a broader group than just energy drinks and encompasses products such as soft drink/energy drink hybrids and oxygenated waters. But there is no doubt that it has been the energy drink phenomenon that has had the biggest impact on the brand.
“Jolt was marketed for more than a dozen years before the first energy drink was ever introduced to the U.S. market,” Rapp says. “There is no denying that the collaborative efforts of the creative energy drink companies captured consumers’ imagination in the late 90s and sales of energy drinks came at some expense to Jolt.”
In January 2005, the company gave the brand a shot of energy with new packaging. The Battery Bottle, as the new container is called, is a 23.5-ounce re-sealable aluminum bottle resembling an alkaline battery. Rapp says consumer and retailer response to the new bottle has been “overwhelmingly favorable.” It also has added a 16-ounce “Battery Can” and an 8.4-ounce “Quick Fix” can to the mix and reformulated Jolt to include ingredients such as ginseng, taurine and B vitamins to allow it to more closely compete with today’s energy drinks.
“Through extensive consumer testing we have verified that our core target demographic loves the Jolt name, package, taste and imagery,” Rapp says. “Yet even our most loyal of Jolt drinkers want Jolt to have the same stimulating effects as energy drinks.”
Jolt is available in five flavors, including the original Cola flavor; Jolt Blue, a blue raspberry flavor; Jolt Ultra, a no-calorie version; Cherry Bomb, a cherry cola flavor; and Jolt Silver, a lemon lime flavor. In addition to Jolt, Wet Planet carries a line of gourmet soft drinks under the Napa Valley Soda Co. brand as well as wine products under the Autumn Frost and Thornwood Estates names.
From surviving to thriving
While Jolt managed to maintain its place in the “exhilarating beverage” market during difficult years, Rapp says the recent enhancements to the brand have pulled it out of survival status and into an accelerated mode. “As word has begun to spread, we are experiencing two recent phenomena,” Rapp says. “We are gaining new distributors and we are successfully convincing existing distributors to apply greater focus on Jolt than they have in the past few years. Secondly, Jolt’s strong performance at retail has led to new chain store authorizations. The net effect is why Jolt today has gone from surviving to thriving.”
The company works with a variety of distributors nationwide, including beer distributors and soft drink bottlers. It was among the first non-alcohol companies to seek distribution through the beer wholesaler network back in the 1980s, helping create the “new age” distribution system that exists today. Rapp knows a bit about distribution himself as a second-generation participant in the beverage industry — his father once operated a soft drink bottling company in Upstate New York.
“There is something to be said for being first — the first to be an exhilarating beverage and the first to get into the new age distribution system,” Rapp says of the staying power Jolt has exhibited. “We worked with more than 400 beer distributors in the United States, and those were the beginning and formative years of new age. The fact that we helped pioneer a new age distribution infrastructure and the fact that Jolt, as a brand, has a very authentic pedigree all contribute to Jolt’s ability to thrive.”
The company expects to gain further distribution clout with a new agreement with Cadbury Schweppes’ Snapple Distributors Inc. The partnership begins this month and will include metropolitan New York and surrounding areas. The distributor previously carried Hansen’s Monster Energy Drink, but had to replace the brand when Hansen’s signed a distribution deal last year with Anheuser-Busch.
“The simple truth is that Cadbury could have had the energy drink of their choice,” Rapp says. “Cadbury’s SDI division in New York chose to represent Jolt because they felt it is a brand with an equity, strong upside potential, and they liked our business plan.”
The old and the new
Wet Planet maintains Jolt’s brand equity with marketing intended to court new consumers as well as retain traditional Jolt devotees. Some of the original Jolt fans were Internet and video game enthusiasts, thanks in part to a publication called Dr. Dobbs, which featured Jolt shortly after its introduction as the beverage of choice among computer programmers.
“Jolt is uniquely popular in the gaming community and among Internet enthusiasts of every kind, so we do a lot of parties, and Jolt is [featured] in a number of video games,” Rapp says. “We try to nurture that special bond that exists between the computer and gaming industries and Jolt. Also, the new Jolt Web site is already in contention for a recognition for excellence.”
The brand is popular among college students and the company puts special emphasis on campus distribution and marketing. It also is a sponsor of the X-Dance Film Festival, an action sports video tie-in to the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The brand appeals to a wide audience today, Rapp says, thanks to energy drinks’ acceptance among mainstream consumers. And, he says, “We went to great lengths to make sure Jolt is no longer a beverage that a young consumer outgrows. When Jolt first came out, it was undeniably popular among high school and college students. As the brand matured, we came to learn that consumers would often say, ‘I used to drink Jolt when I was in college.’
“Part of that was the packaging, the logo and the overall marketing approach,” he continues. “We amended all three of those to improve Jolt’s sophistication. I think we’re starting to enjoy the benefits of that strategy because we’re hearing from people in their 30s and 40s that continue to drink Jolt.”