Clearly Canadian: Back To Its Roots

By Sarah Theodore

The offices of Clearly Canadian Beverage Corp. might look a bit more like a movie studio these days than a beverage company. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company will soon star in a reality TV show about the trials and tribulations of running a beverage company and fighting for distribution and shelf space. The company is well versed on the topic, as it has seen its share of ups and downs since it was founded in 1988. As one of the first new age beverages to hit the market in the late ‘80s, the company reached soaring heights. But it later floundered in an onslaught of competition from some of the industry’s biggest players.
Under new ownership and management for the past year and a half, the Clearly Canadian brand has gone back to basics to try to recapture its former glory — and thanks to Nick Davis Productions, television viewers will be able to observe the process on high-definition cable network INHD. The series is expected to air early next year and the company says the film crew will follow its executives and distributors at promotional events, trade shows, distribution drives, meetings with national retailers and acquisition negotiations.
Trading on the name
For several years, Clearly Canadian struggled to maintain relevance in the sea of new age competition. The company’s new management team felt the key to a turnaround was to play up the product’s “clear” attributes and Canadian background.
“The company had gone away from the core product, with its roots being a clear, sparkling beverage in a clear package,” says Brent Lokash, president of Clearly Canadian. “The whole strategy that we’ve done with the beverage is trading on the name.”
Product packaging has gone from shrinkwrapped labels to clear glass bottles with colorful fruit images and embossed maple leaves to convey the product’s Canadian source. The company believes U.S. consumers view products from Canada as “clean” and natural, which ties in well to Clearly Canadian’s new age positioning.
The company also returned to its original product formulation. During the low-carb craze, Clearly Canadian reformulated the product as a mid-calorie beverage containing Splenda. “We felt it didn’t satisfy anyone,” Lokash says. “Those who drank diet drinks didn’t like having any sugar, and those who don’t like diet didn’t like the Splenda. So now we offer our original full flavor, and then the full diet version with Splenda.”
Lokash says the company’s target market has remained the same from the beginning — those ages 20 to 45, with a slightly female skew. The majority of Clearly Canadian’s business comes from the United States, but its home market of Canada has taken on greater importance.
“A big focus of ours is to even that out more,” Lokash says. “We think there is a big potential in Canada. A lot of beverages don’t try to exploit that because when you look at Los Angeles, you get close to the same population as all of Canada. But we think there is a loyal customer base here.”
New partners in the market
As part of its effort to get Clearly Canadian back into broad distribution, the company has begun finding new distribution partners such as Big Geyser in New York; Central Beverage Corp. in Chicago; DTM Distributing in Minneapolis/St. Paul; Folsum Distributing in St. Louis; and Palmentere Brothers Distributing in Kansas City. A partnership with Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group for the Midwestern United States was dropped earlier this year.
“We’re really refocusing our distribution efforts,” Lokash explains. “DPSU is great; it was a great relationship. It sort of came to a point where we need more focus from independent distributors.”
This month, the company also will introduce a new line of flavored, non-carbonated waters available in three varieties — Daily Hydration, Daily Vitamin and Daily Energy. The Daily Hydration line features unsweetened organic Orange and Lemon flavors, while the Daily Vitamin line is available in lightly sweetened Blueberry and Tropical flavors that have 25 calories per 20-ounce bottle. Daily Energy features energy-enhancing ingredients such as caffeine, taurine and B vitamins, and is available in Pink Grapefruit and Raspberry flavors.
Lokash says it was a challenge to formulate the Daily Hydration line without sweeteners of any kind. “That is the holy grail of flavored water,” he says. “It took a long time — almost a year — to engineer it, and we really got the taste down to where it’s like someone just dropped a lemon in their water.”
The Daily Vitamin and Daily Energy products contain crystalline fructose as their sweetener, and none of the products contain preservatives.
The company also added non-beverage products to the mix this year, with the acquisition of DMR Food Corp., a maker of organic and natural snack foods in Eastern Canada. Under the name Sweet Selections, DMR offers dried fruit, trail mix and nut products, and Lokash feels the natural products connection is a good fit for the brand. He points out that the beverage/snack combination is a proven mix in the industry, noting the synergies provided by PepsiCo’s beverage and snack products. The company hopes Sweet Selections will help Clearly Canadian gain entry in the natural foods retail channel, while Clearly’s traditional distribution will help the snack company gain hold in more mainstream outlets.
“Part of our strategy was to say, ‘What can we do with this brand name? How can we leverage it? Is it solely restricted to beverages?’” Lokash says. “We felt the consumer views Clearly Canadian as a good-for-you product. We want to build on that image and take that beyond beverages … providing healthy snacks is just natural.”
National ties
Another natural for Clearly Canadian has been its strategy to team with famous Canadians to remind consumers of its tie-in with the Great White North. It signed two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash to a three-year endorsement contract, and will use Nash’s image on in-store displays, the company’s Web site and some packaging. The Phoenix Suns player hails from Canada, as does Clearly Canadian’s second celebrity spokesman, Minnesota Twins player Justin Morneau. The American League MVP also recently signed on with the company for a one-year contract.
Celebrity doesn’t necessarily make a brand, but Clearly Canadian is hoping the combination of two famous Canadians, plus the company’s own starring role in the yet-to-be named reality TV show will shine a spotlight on the brand and remind consumers of why they liked the brand all those years ago. Consumers remember the brand positively, Lokash says, which is what led the new management team to believe it could have a second chance at success.
“What’s really been enlightening for us is the response we’ve gotten to our company and our brand name,” he says. “It’s just a great brand name that needs to be brought back to prominence, and we’re kind of heartened by the fact that we get the same response from consumers.”