As the demand for healthy, functional, performance-based beverages continue their upward trajectory, OWYN is literally “owning” its share of the marketplace through truth and transparency. In fact, two independent third-party companies test every single ingredient before manufacturing and after production to ensure that the 100 percent plant-based, non-dairy beverages meets OWYN’s goal of providing uncompromised taste that also is free from the Top 8 food allergens.
Mark Olivieri, president of OWYN (Only What You Need) since October, has been with the company since its inception, originally in marketing. He notes that 35 percent of U.S. households, himself included, are actively managing a food sensitivity or intolerance, and the number doubles globally for consumers suffering from lactose intolerance, he says, citing the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
“There is a major food intolerance epidemic in front of us,” Olivieri says. “Most people realize this because nearly everyone knows someone that has a singular and often times multiple food allergy of some sort. However, the [consumer packaged goods] CPG landscape has yet to evolve.
“This is why OWYN is winning share from legacy competitors like Orgain, Muscle Milk, and fairlife Core Power — not only are we delivering a product that builds real trust with our consumers, but we are also delivering a product with exceptional taste and nutrition,” he continues.
Olivieri highlights that since launching on eCommerce in October 2017, OWYN has eroded shares of competitors in the Natural and Specialty channels as defined by SPINS, as well as in the company’s key direct-store-delivery (DSD) markets.
Containing 20 grams of plant-based protein in each 12-ounce serving, OWYN products contain 535 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and complete protein from pea, pumpkin seed and flax and organic greens blend using kale, spinach and broccoli. The brand’s 14 SKUs in four lineups also are winning the hearts of health-conscious consumers for what they don’t contain. The Non-GMO Project Verified beverages are free from gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. With just 4 grams of sugar, the beverages also are low in sugar and contain no artificial ingredients.
With about one-third of brand sales coming from eCommerce, OWYN Dark Chocolate 100% Plant Protein ready-to-drink (RTD) is the No. 1 vegan protein RTD brand on Amazon, according to Olivieri.
“Our Top 3 most popular RTDs are the Dark Chocolate, Cookies & Creamless and Smooth Vanilla. Among all single-serving SKUs in the Natural Channel, we have three flavors in the Top 10, and our Dark Chocolate is ranked No. 1 in dollar share,” he says.
In addition to Dark Chocolate, Smooth Vanilla and Cookies N’ Cream, Cold Brew Coffee and Strawberry Banana are other flavors in OWYN’s RTD lineup. The company also offers a Protein Powder lineup in Smooth Vanilla, Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Banana; the OWYN Meal Replacement line, which launched last summer, in Chocolate and Chai; and a Kids Dairy-Free Milk line in Chocolate and Vanilla.
Enter the non-milky way
In their quest to fuel their bodies with the cleanest nutrition, and tired of powering through chalky and grassy plant-based nutritional products, Jeff Mroz and Kathryn Moos, former professional athletes in football and soccer, respectively, developed OWYN to deliver the cleanest plant-based nutrition without compromising on taste, texture or nutrition, the company says.
The Fairfield, N.J.-based OWYN lineup also supports balanced nutrition and healthy living and can be a meal replacement solution for on-the-go consumers and for pre- and post-workouts, it adds.
Health and wellness, food as medicine and balanced eating also is driving growth in better-for-you plant-based beverages, particularly as 93 percent of millennials do not schedule preventative visits with a doctor, Olivieri states.
“We believe food is evolving to be medicine where a healthy diet and balanced eating today keeps the doctor away later,” he explains. “There is more research everyday linking inflammation to chronic disease and autoimmune disorders — this is why plant-based diets are becoming so popular. When you remove allergens from the diet, you reduce inflammation on the body, which could lead to longevity.
“Vegan trends are rapidly shifting to plant-based trends because most plant-based consumers are realizing that a vegan that eats French fries and Oreos is a vegan, but not necessarily plant-based,” he continues. “Therefore, plant-based is the accelerating segment of veganism.”
Winning the game
U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods continued to outpace overall grocery sales in the past year, surging 11 percent compared with 2 percent for total food, Oliveri says, citing data from SPINS. RTD plant-based beverages were up 23 percent in 2019, he adds.
“OWYN has positioned itself well to continue its upward trajectory due to underlying plant-based and medicinal trends,” Olivieri says. “We don’t see the trends slowing down because they are rooted in medical science, athletic performance and general longevity.
“Everyone on the operating team at OWYN is personally impacted by severe food allergies and intolerances,” the president continues. “Upon acquiring the brand, we decided to evolve the brand purpose of OWYN to stand for truth and transparency and position OWYN not just as a plant-based option, but as a riskless plant-based option.”
The startup brand, however, needed some help to get this idea off the ground. Mroz and Moos turned to the operational, commercial and brand-building expertise of Fairfield, N.J.-based Halen Brands, an entrepreneurial company that seeks to “maximize the power of brand through craft, character and inspiration,” its website states.
“Halen Brands was so impressed by the initial concept and formula that they and their long-standing partner Clearlake Capital decided to acquire the brand in early 2017,” Olivieri says.
In just three years, OWYN’s 14 SKUs are offered in two-pack size variants, including BPA-free bottles, four-packs, 12-packs of single flavors in addition to mixed variety packs such as Chai and Chocolate in its meal replacement line.
OWYN RTD products are “absolutely dominating” Olivieri says. In fact, OWYN is the No. 1 brand in the natural channel for liquid protein RTD of a dollar velocity/SKU basis for the 12 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2019, he says, citing Chicago-based SPINS LLC.
“We are out turning the No. 2 brand by 11 percent,” Olivieri says. “Our flagship plant-based protein
drink line is top of the category in the channels we
play in. For example, in the latest 12 weeks ending
Dec. 29, 2019, OWYN is the No. 1 driver of growth in the specialty channel, by far — driving more dollar growth to the channel than legacy brands (Boost, Ensure, Premier, Muscle Milk, etc.) and emerging brands. We have proven that our plant-based beverage is mainstream.”
From the beginning, Olivieri and the 40-member OWYN team knew they had a hit. “Shortly after launch, the performance and repeat data exceeded anything we’d seen before — so we knew we had a winner through how rapidly consumers were not only adopting but also identifying with our brand purpose,” Olivieri says. “In early 2018, we began our brick-and-mortar push with key regional customers and the health and fitness channel. By the end of [the third quarter, 2018], we had three regions of Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Wegmans, etc. locked in and we were performing at the top of their categories.
“Now, we are the No. 1 liquid protein RTD brand in many of our key retailers including Sprouts, Whole Foods Market, and Wegmans,” Olivieri adds.
In 2019, OWYN expanded its flavor assortment and partnered nationwide with Whole Foods Market while opening select DSD markets through New York-based distributor Big Geyser.
Olivieri notes that OWYN’s mission to deliver truth and transparency has bolstered its success over competitors because of those companies’ misleading and exaggerated claims, deceiving nutritional quality and confusing marketing. For example, milk, yet non-dairy or protein claims with 20-plus grams of sugar, he adds.
“Larger than the nutritional category, you have brands developing plant-based or vegan solutions yet consistently have recalls or hide the fact that their products contain trace allergens (i.e., lactose, gluten, etc.) due to the manufacturing process that utilizes shared equipment,” Olivieri explains. “Most consumers do not realize that … having a ‘certified vegan’ claim doesn’t mean lactose can’t be detected.
“The detrimental health impacts of over-claiming and under-testing is not just a marketing issue, but also is a social issue,” he continues. “As brands, we have an obligation to all consumers and shoppers to be truthful and transparent to protect the health of our consumers and the environment of the world we live in. This is why OWYN is a riskless plant-based option.”
As a result, the company has more than 100,000 active users in its online consumer data platform, while its online Subscribe and Save program has a repeat rate north of 45 percent on its flagship drinks, Olivieri says.
From regular surveys of its customer base, the marketer-turned-president knows exactly why OWYN is resonating with consumers. For example, a third of those who drink OWYN do so for medical/dietary reasons to eliminate allergens and prevent medical conditions like Crohn’s disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. OWYN’s stringent allergen testing process also is crucial, with 77 percent of respondents noting that the third-party testing has fostered brand trust.
OWYN will continue to build its online, retail and DSD presence through its existing lineups and new products. In April, its kids milk line will be redesigned from a carton format to a bottle format and marketed with Big Geyser as “not just a kids drink,” Olivieri says.
A new line extension also is set to debut in June: 30G Pro Elite RTD. The 30G features 30 grams of high-quality complete protein with no sugar and no carbohydrates. Initially, it will launch in the New York metro area in Chocolate and Vanilla flavors.
“Like the rest of our items, it will be 100 percent plant-based and Top 8 allergen friendly,” Olivieri says. “Our Pro Elite RTD is for high performances that require post-workout recovery.”
OWYN is poised for the future as it strategically expands its national presence. “We have unlocked national DSD authorizations in 2020 in customers like Target, CVS, Walgreens, etc. and we are evaluating who our long-term partner will be to help us execute,” he says. “What I have learned throughout my career is that culture drives everything. Great brands win because of great culture. We have some of the smartest and innovative leaders in the industry on our team. 2020 is the year that we will further our mission of delivering truth and transparency for consumers that not just want it but require it.”