When Steaz launched its first beverage products back in late 2002, the brand of Doylestown, Pa.-based The Healthy Beverage Co. LLC was working to create a healthy beverage alternative. “We started seeing all of these articles about schools throwing sodas out of vending machines … and we thought we should come up with a true healthy alternative to what’s being kicked out,” recounts Steven Kessler, co-founder of Steaz.
The brand decided to use an organic green tea base to offer consumers the benefits of green tea and Fair Trade ingredients in a great-tasting beverage for health-conscious consumers of all ages, he says. In the past 12 years, the brand developed its product base to create its current lineup of unsweetened, lightly sweetened and zero-calorie ready-to-drink (RTD) iced green tea segments and organic green-tea-based energy drinks.
Following a year in which it achieved more than 68 percent growth for its overall RTD tea line, this year the brand added four new RTD tea products, with at least one targeted toward each of its three tea segments.
For these releases, the brand’s focus was on creating unique flavors that remain in line with its great-tasting flavor standards, Kessler says. “When we innovate, we always try to set ourselves apart for people to value the uniqueness of Steaz as opposed to developing another me-too flavor or product line,” he says. “Earlier on, we of course had to hit those common marks so the consumers would try it.”
However, Kessler notes that since launching its very successful Lightly Sweetened Super Fruit variety in 2013, the brand has worked diligently to differentiate itself from other products in the market. For example, the 2015 addition of Goji Blackberry to its Zero Calorie line and Grapefruit Honey to its Lightly Sweetened line represent two flavor combinations that are unique to the market, Kessler points out. “Based on the response at [Natural Products] Expo West, we think they’re both going to be home runs,” he says.
Steaz’s Zero Calorie RTD teas are sweetened with stevia, and its Lightly Sweetened products are sweetened with pure organic cane sugar, resulting in 80 calories in each 16-ounce can, according to Chief Executive Officer Linda Barron.
The brand also added Passion Fruit and Dragon Fruit varieties to its Unsweetened RTD tea line. “We have found that there’s an underserved consumer base that’s really looking for zero calories but may not like a stevia-sweetened drink, and so they really want zero calories, zero sugars and zero sweeteners,” Barron explains of the Unsweetened line. “With them in mind, we added two new unsweetened varieties to our iced tea lineup this year.”
Priced at $1.69 a can, all four new flavors were introduced in more than 400 Whole Foods Market stores across the country in March.
In addition, these flavors, like Steaz’s other iced green teas, might be expanding distribution throughout the year. The brand announced in March that it secured
a distribution agreement with Minneapolis-based Target Corp. to sell the products in more than 1,700 stores nationwide. This expansion builds upon the brand’s distribution with Costco Wholesale Corp. in which the Issaquah, Wash.-based club store began carrying the brand in its Northeast region stores in March 2014 and its Midwest stores in August 2014.
As a result of this increased distribution last year, the brand boasted a record-breaking year with 41 percent growth in net sales and double-digit growth in same-store, same-item sales within its existing retail partners, Barron says. “To me, that speaks to the integrity of the brand and how well the brand resonates with the consumer,” she says.
But before the brand expands into any new retailers, it uses a very specific channel strategy to ensure that the new partnership is a good fit for the brand. “Most importantly, we really like partnering with retail partners who understand our DNA and also have those DNA traits in their core value lineup as well, primarily understanding the value of offering organic and Fair Trade-certified products in their merchandising mix for the consumer,” Kessler explains.
Beyond the moral fit with the brand, the Steaz team also looks at a retailer’s consumer base to make sure it aligns with that of the brand, which predominantly is active females in the 25-44 age group who are interested in healthy lifestyles and care about the brands they share with their families and friends, Barron says. After review, Steaz found that both Costco’s and Target’s consumer demographics aligned with that of the brand, she notes.
Through distribution and other efforts, the brand hopes to make 2015 just as successful as 2014. This year, the brand plans to focus on expanding brand awareness and activating consumers through social and digital media as well as guerilla marketing and sampling efforts, Barron explains. The brand also launched a new website in February to better tell the brand’s Keep it Steazy story and clearly communicate its mission of offering organic, Fair Trade beverages, Kessler notes.
“Today’s consumer is much more curious about why a brand exists,” he says. “Consumers read the stories on the packages when they try something new … [and] they go to the website and learn about the brand. So, aside from our product being great-tasting, we then always fall back to the importance of our Fair Trade, socially responsible DNA and, in turn, that’s why we feel that we’re a brand with a purpose.”
Bringing brand personality to life
Just as Steaz is particular about finding retailer partners that share the brand’s interests in organic, Fair Trade products, the brand looked for the same qualities in its new brand ambassador, Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets.
What made the partnership even more authentic was that Revis reached out to Steaz first, Chief Executive Office Linda Barron says. “The interesting part is that we didn’t choose Darrelle; Darrelle chose us,” she says. “Darrelle has been an avid Steaz fan for three years now. After he had gotten injured and tore his ACL, he became really health conscious in terms of what he consumes. He’s a Whole Foods shopper, he found Steaz on the shelves at Whole Foods, and he loved the brand.”
Barron notes that, at the time, Steaz did not have any intention of finding a brand ambassador, but Revis showed that he is a true fan and is genuinely interested in the brand. “Darrelle is committed to the long-term success of the brand,” Barron says. “It’s not an endorsement deal. We didn’t write Darrelle a big fat check to run around and carry cans of Steaz. Darrelle carries cans of Steaz because that is honestly what Darrelle drinks every day. So, for us, we couldn’t be happier that an athlete of Darrelle’s caliber and nature understands our brand; understands the value of healthy, of organic, of better-for-you; and is such a great supporter.”
To further highlight the authenticity of the relationship, Co-Founder Steven Kessler notes that, in a New York Post photo published March 12, Revis is pictured signing his contract with the New York Jets with open cans of a Steaz ready-to-drink iced green tea and a Steaz energy drink to his left. “Please trust me when I tell you that we did not tell him to place them there,” Kessler says. “That’s how invested he is emotionally in the brand Steaz.”
Thus far, Revis has attended Natural Products Expo West with the Steaz team, and Barron says the brand plans for him to join Steaz at other events in the coming months.