At times, people will use the idiom “to the core” to describe a person’s dedication to an ideal or the extreme nature of a situation. At CORE Nutrition, the classic idiom was reinvented and has become part of the company’s mantra.

“We have a lot of sayings at the company but our mantra is all about being true to yourself,” says Eric Berniker, chief marketing officer for the Los Angeles-based company. “We say when you follow your passions that’s being true to your core or true to the core.”

That passion is what helped Lance Collins, chief executive officer of CORE Nutrition, found the beverage company two years ago and recently helped its flagship brand, CORE Hydration, a 7.4 pH premium bottled water, gain national distribution in just two short years.

Collins — who many might know from his creation of Fuze teas and non-carbonated juices, Nos energy drinks, and BodyArmor sports drinks — was driven to bring a premium bottled water brand to the masses and did so by embracing a proactive approach to understanding the evolving desires of American consumers.

“What Lance did when he started the company was look at the marketplace and see that there are a lot of ‘me too’ brands out there and say, ‘how do we create that next-generation water experience for today’s consumer?’” Berniker says.

This philosophy led Collins to develop CORE Hydration, an ultra-purified pH-balanced water that undergoes filtration through a seven-stage proprietary process that includes ultraviolet light, carbon filtration, reverse osmosis and ozonation. However, the next-generation water experience wasn’t limited to the product, as Collins and his team took the same approach when designing the brand’s iconic packaging.

“With CORE Hydration, we started with the packaging [and] said ‘what is today’s modern consumer looking for?’” Berniker says. “They’re always on the go, at the gym or living a busy, connected lifestyle, so the package was really important to create something that would fit their lifestyle.”

This included breaking away from the standard bottled water silhouette and distancing itself from mountain and spring imagery.

“First, we created a countered bottle and the intent there was something for that on-the-go consumer,” Berniker says. “It fits great in their hand, whether they’re working out, running to work or just living their busy life. There’s a wide-mouth closure for faster hydration, and an iconic blue overcap that helps the brand stand out; it’s become a healthy accessory that people want to be seen holding, but it’s also very functional. People have come up with a lot of uses for it.”

For example, the overcap can be used as a sharing opportunity. Berniker notes that the company commonly hears from consumers about all the uses of the overcap such as sharing with children or even pets.

The drive that led Collins to create an iconic bottled water and packaging also helped to expand the presence of CORE Hydration.

“He’s always trying to push the envelope and innovate,” Berniker explains. “His personal motto, which he tells the team almost on a daily basis, is that it’s not the big that eat the small; it’s the fast that eat the slow. One thing that he reminds us of is that no matter how big we get, how many new accounts we land, and how large of a geography we cover, we have to maintain that sense of urgency, and we all take that to heart in everything that we do.

“We see that as an advantage of the company and part of the fabric of what we are all about,” he continues. “We embrace that motto and incorporate it into our product development cycle as well as we continue to innovate and push the envelope to create new products and new categories under the CORE umbrella.”

This mindset has propelled CORE Hydration to become the No. 3 premium bottled water brand in the convenience channel as well as the No. 4 overall premium bottled water in less than three years time, Berniker says.

With its national presence, thanks to relationships with independent distributors as well as an expanded partnership with Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, CORE Hydration is embarking on its first national advertising and marketing campaign: #TrueToTheCORE.

Connecting passion points

Just as the company’s mantra is about following one’s passion, the marketing and advertising campaign is seeking to highlight that and tapped one of its A-list investors: multi-platinum recording artist Ellie Goulding.

“#TrueToTheCORE, the campaign, is all about chasing your passions while living a balanced, healthy life, and we bring that to light in the campaign by showing how CORE fits into Ellie’s life and how she shares her passion for music, fashion and fitness,” Berniker says.

Berniker explains that when the company was looking to launch its national campaign, Goulding aligned with the messaging and reach the brand was seeking to accomplish.

“First and foremost, it was important that she was already a fan of the brand. She discovered the brand on tour last year and started drinking it and asking for it, for a lot of the reasons that our everyday consumers do,” he says. “But besides her just being a fan of it, she really fit that brand mantra of being true to your core because she has a lot of different passion points and she’s really not afraid to put in the hard work to make it a reality.”

Although Goulding is known for her music hits like “Love Me Like You Do” and “Burn,” she also has become a fitness and fashion icon.

“She works out hard-core and does some real amazing fitness things, and she’s also had partnerships with other brands around fitness because it’s something that she believes in,” Berniker says. “Recently, she also launched her fashion shoe line in Europe.”

#TrueToTheCORE is a 360-degree marketing campaign with more than $6 million in media value, which includes print advertisements in key lifestyle magazines such as ELLE, Cosmopolitan and Shape, Berniker says. Those ads feature three separate executions: music, fitness and personality. The program also features a video that helps bring these executions to life and highlight Goulding’s perspective about her passion points.

Social media channels for Goulding and CORE Hydration are promoting #TrueToTheCORE and, in select markets, will feature field marketing teams to help bring passion points to life for consumers in those areas, Berniker says.

“We’re asking consumers how they’re true to their core in different activations across the country; so it’s an open community of sharing how and what they’re passionate about,” he says. “We want to be the brand that helps fuel consumers’ passions with our products, but also one that can bring [them] to life with our brand ethos.”

However, one of the key highlights for the promotion is its text-to-win, in which participants can enter for a chance to win a workout with Goulding.

Berniker notes that the timing of CORE Hydration’s first national campaign aligns with the completion of its national distribution. “This is our first campaign at CORE,” he explains. “One of the main reasons why this is the right time for us [is] because it’s based on our going truly national and our increased distribution. We want to make sure we really get behind and support all the increased distribution and activity out there and complement the field marketing and activities that are currently going on. The ad campaign helps provide that air support, if you will, to the expanded distribution at national accounts [such as] Target, CVS and Walgreens.”

He adds that CORE Nutrition’s completion of its food, drug, mass and convenience distribution network was finished about a year ahead of schedule.

“We really put together first-class, top-notch independent distributors around the country, so now we’re fully covered from coast to coast and we can handle easily and effectively national accounts,” Berniker says. “I think that’s why a lot of national accounts are excited to partner with us at this point, because they see the strong performance of the brand and they know we have top distributors that can service them well. So I think at this point, we’re ready to continue to focus and maintain our incredible momentum across the country.”

CORE Nutrition also helps support its distribution partners through programs and tools that can be locally accessed to ensure that the brand message remains strong.

“[We’re] doing demos at retailers, lifestyle and fitness events that help build the brand image and awareness of the brand while driving people to retail,” Berniker says. “We’re surrounding consumers in the marketplace both from a national standpoint and a local standpoint with feet on the street to help support them in the execution at retail.”

Badge of health

Although CORE Hydration accounts for more than half of the company’s sales, CORE Nutrition also is appealing to consumers’ desires for organic products. In 2016, the company launched CORE Organic, a line of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic beverages that contain 5 calories and less than 1 gram of sugar in each serving.

The decision to develop an antioxidant-packed lineup stemmed from the creativity of Collins. “Lance is a serial innovator looking for what’s next and what’s the opportunity and what consumers are looking for; and he loves when he hears that something can’t be done and goes out to solve that problem,” Berniker says. “... What we’ve done here is pull together the three things consumers were looking for but couldn’t find together: great taste, low calorie and something that was truly healthy.”

Berniker explains that with time, the definition of what is healthy has evolved. Right now, consumers are defining healthy as organic, he notes.

“Organic is seen as the new badge of health,” Berniker says. “The reason for that is the word natural doesn’t mean anything anymore because it isn’t regulated. Organic, with Gen Xers starting to raise their kids on organic foods and beverages, and millennials being raised that way too, organic is now mainstream.”

Berniker notes that this motivated the company to develop a line that hits on three key attributes: low calorie, great taste and organic.

“There’s a lot of brands that do two of those three things, and they do them well, but there wasn’t anyone who was doing all three, so we developed CORE Organic,” he says. “It took a fair bit of time to work on it because it’s challenging to develop a product that meets all those attributes.”

The initial launch of CORE Organic included Pomegranate Blue Acai, Peach Mango, Watermelon Lemonade and Tropical Coconut. Then, in late spring, the company started rolling out its latest varietals: Strawberry Banana and Wild Blueberry.

With its expansive distribution network and established portfolio, CORE Nutrition remains bullish on its 2017 performance. Contributing to this assessment are the increasing opportunities to meet the needs of today’s progressive consumer.

“In general, we see the brand connecting as a functional beverage meeting consumers’ needs, but more so as a lifestyle brand connecting with [consumers] on a higher level,” Berniker says. “We’re seeing incredible velocity at retail along with a lot of increased distribution across the country in key influential national accounts. We’re also seeing a lot of interest from potential partners wanting to do things with the brand — be [it] celebrity investors, properties or events; they see us adding real value to those events and bringing a ‘moderness’ and ‘premiumness’ that shows that they are connecting with consumers today. 

“With Lance continually focused on innovation, we’ll look at what opportunities are there to meet consumer needs with our current portfolio of products as well as adjacent or related categories,” he continues. “I think at the end of the day, we’re going to continue to keep our heads down and move fast and eat the slow, and deliver what consumers are looking for.” BI