Lucy and Ricky, Dwayne and Whitley, Monica and Chandler, Mitch and Cam. These are some of the iconic marriages in TV history. Ones that viewers aspire to mimic. As today’s consumers aspire for an elevated, proactive healthy lifestyle, the beverage market has its own iconic marriage ― flavor and function.
Since its founding in 2012, powdered hydration brand Liquid I.V. has prioritized the symbiotic relationship of function and flavor.
“Liquid I.V. is totally consumer centric, and its products are built around all the need states and usage occasions of its consumers, and Liquid I.V.’s Hydration Multiplier was created originally for the need state of supporting rehydration after exercise,” says Mike Keech, CEO of Liquid I.V. “What made Liquid I.V. so suited to break ground in the powdered hydration space was that it marries function and flavor, and people want and like to drink our product and it makes their daily lives easier.”
Although originally crafted with a goal of rehydration, Keech notes that Liquid I.V. quickly recognized that the powdered drink mix manufacturer could deliver hydration across a swath of functional attributes.
“As consumers look for their beverages to do more, we expanded our functional capabilities and look forward to doing a lot of that in the future,” he says. “We spend a lot of time speaking to our consumers really understanding what they need and want and we will continue to do so and believe that it is a key factor for our success and leadership in the functional hydration market.”
But harkening back to the iconic marriage of function and flavor, Keech adds that Liquid I.V. ensures that its delivery on both propositions is what resonates with today’s consumers.
“Liquid I.V. amplifies the power of water by providing hydration faster,” he says. “It works and people love the way it tastes — both of which keep them coming back for more. Unlike our competitors, Liquid I.V.’s products aren’t just functional, but they’re also really delicious which is something that’s a real unique selling point for us and keeps our consumers coming back for more.”
A foundation to build on
With Liquid I.V.’s founding roughly a decade ago, the powdered hydration category was in a prime position to support consumers’ healthy food and beverage choices when a major shift in mindset took hold three years ago.
“The pandemic really brought attention to overall health and wellness, and it wasn’t just publicly but also very personally,” Keech explains. “For today’s on-the-go consumers, powdered drink mixes that also offer benefits like increased hydration, supplemental vitamins and minerals for gut and immune support, etc., are all really key and they each play an important role in a different part in one person’s day.”
Keech notes that consumer demands for products that address convenience, wellness and sustainability have them seeking out functional beverages.
“A bottle of a ready-to-drink hydration product from a competitor is inconvenient/impossible for the consumer when going through airport security, but they can bring a reusable bottle and a couple of serving sticks of Liquid I.V. just about anywhere,” he says. “Couple that with an overall increased interest in the health and wellness space, and you make the perfect environment for innovation and creativity in both the powdered and functional hydration spaces.”
Another contributing factor to the embracement of the powdered drink mix market has been the blurring of category lines when it comes to functional hydration.
“There are so many new and innovative beverage brands — both powdered and ready-to-drink — that are pushing the boundaries with cutting-edge benefits on top of hydration,” Keech explains. “There are beverages that fulfill just about any need or want a consumer has. We’re now seeing products that focus on calming, stress relieving, mood lifting, skincare and cognitive benefits.”
All of these consumer trends coupled with the innovative and proactive approach by Liquid I.V. helped the brand become a leader in the powdered hydration market at a time when many are looking to enter the space.
“Since Liquid I.V.’s founding in 2012, the powdered hydration space has absolutely exploded in popularity,” Keech says. “Before Liquid I.V. entered the powdered hydration market, it wasn’t really a mainstream form of hydration at all. While Liquid I.V. is No. 1 in the space, there are a variety of new competitors entering not only the powdered hydration space, but also the functional hydration markets and they’re offering innovative products and benefits to today’s discerning consumers.”
Scaling for success
Given Liquid I.V.’s ability to not just tap into consumers’ needs but bring solutions to market, Keech is quick to give credit to the team working on the brand day-in and day-out.
“The team here at Liquid I.V. is just so talented and continues to accomplish so much,” he says.
Keech joined Liquid I.V. as CEO in December 2020, shortly after its acquisition by Unilever of that year. Keech’s career has seen him lead growth for iconic global beverage brands as well as other household consumer packaged goods brands like Ben & Jerry’s. This experience allowed Keech to apply some of the best practices and playbooks that he has learned over the years to a brand leading the way in health and wellness. And when looking at Liquid I.V.’s success, it looks as though that playbook is working.
“In our first year together, we’ve been able to grow the business by over 100% year-over-year,” Keech explains. “Since then, we’ve continued to scale exponentially, and we’ve grown four-fold and we continue to see an unlimited opportunity for future growth due to the sheer size and occasions available in the hydration space. I think our ability to listen to our consumers and the rate of innovation in response to that has increased just as quickly as our overall growth.”
Liquid I.V.’s promptness to integrate new innovations is exemplified by its new product releases in the past two years. As Keech notes, four new products were released in 2021, followed by six new ones in 2022, with three of these total ten being a functional hydration plus benefits release.
“I think that really speaks to our innovation capabilities and our intention,” he says.
Those capabilities can be found across Liquid I.V.’s portfolio, which currently is made up of 17 varieties.
“Our most in demand flavors are Lemon Lime that’s the original one, followed by Strawberry, Watermelon and Passionfruit to round out the Top 4 with Golden Cherry and Concord Grape coming in great competition for fifth,” Keech says of the brands most popular varieties. “My personal favorite is Piña Colada. It’s like a tropical vacation in every sip. There are so many different flavors and I think that’s what creates so much appeal for Liquid I.V., is the sheer breadth and depth of the product range and we try to keep that going and keep people excited and bringing them into the category and growing the category that way.”
With the Hydration Multiplier serving the core product line, Keech notes the limited need states associated with the line. As such the company has added Sleep Multiplier, Energy Multiplier, Hydration + Immune Support Multiplier and the Hydration + Probiotic Kombucha Multiplier to the mix with a focus on functional attributes.
“Since the launch of Sleep Multiplier Blueberry Lavender in 2019 to now, our function-based formulas helped Liquid I.V. increase its household penetration by 200%,” Keech explains. “They have also supported in brand awareness with our consumers, Gen Z and millennials.
“We are offering consumers more chances to use our product by helping them address other aspects of their wellness, like their gut and immune health, their sleep, and their ability to feel energized and focused,” he continues. “This allows Liquid I.V. to both appeal to broader audiences, and also get more space and different placements on the shelves of retailers.”
Liquid I.V. also has employed limited-releases to give consumers something new to look forward to. Earlier this year, the company released its Mocktails bundle featuring Cucumber Mojito and Smoky Paloma.
“We saw a trend both with Liquid I.V. consumers and society right after the pandemic,” Keech explains. “People really care about what they’re putting into their bodies, and they have a drive to take better care of themselves and that includes drinking less or no alcohol at all. As I said, we listen to our consumers really closely and we heard them loud and clear on the need for tasty non-alcoholic beverages and thought it was a perfect next step for us and our flavor innovation strategy so we thought mocktails would be an amazing way to bring some excitement to the category and we listened and we delivered.”
Keech adds that the limited-time offerings allow Liquid I.V. to connect with consumers differently. Through this approach, the company can learn what consumers want to see from the brand.
“A really great and timely example is our Hydration Multiplier Seaberry launch,” Keech says. “This particular flavor, launched on Liquid-IV.com at the end of February, was originally a limited time offering in 2020. Due to consumer demand, we brought it back as a permanent flavor within the Hydration Multiplier category. We are a very consumer-centric brand and we listen to what our customers request and want more of. Then the Liquid I.V. innovation team makes it happen.”
Embracing omnichannel shopping
Much like how consumers are approaching health and wellness differently since the pandemic, shopping patterns also have evolved with omnichannel shopping more common with today’s consumers.
For Liquid I.V., this bodes well for the brand as it plays well in eCommerce and brick-and-mortar channels. In particular, the company thrives through its direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution, which also serves as an opportunity to test its latest innovations.
“Our strong direct to consumer side of the business has proven to be an amazing testing ground as it allows us to launch new and different product lines alongside unique value propositions to a group of loyal members of our community,” Keech explains. “We test what works and what doesn’t, and we gather that data and that helps us inform our innovation strategy across product, function and flavor to figure out what should come next.
“For our marketing teams, this has been integral to understanding how our full funnel approach is performing,” he continues. “We’re able to deeply understand the consumer journey from the ad stage to the purchase and figure out what ads are driving sales and what products or combination of products.”
Given the value that eCommerce offers brands and consumers, Liquid I.V. also maintains a strong presence within Amazon.
“We know that eCommerce is a cornerstone of how consumers are buying today, convenience is critical to any product on the market right now,” Keech says. “We have to make sure that we lean in on that need and want from the consumer, which forces us to be available on the best purchasing platforms. As a result, Amazon does equate a significant portion of our business and we look to continue to expand our business and relationship there.”
But just as impressive as its eCommerce sales is the exponential growth that Liquid I.V. has realized in traditional retail channels.
“Liquid I.V. has expanded from being carried in just 100 stores to over 40,000 stores in less than five years and we’ve already made significant headway in the brick-and-mortar space and you can find us at most retailers nationwide now,” Keech explains. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a continued eye on our expansion. There are so many occasions where hydration is needed, for instance, travel, exercise, a late night out, beauty and heat.”
In addition to those merchandising sets, Keech notes that Liquid I.V. also wants to serve more niche manner instances.
“The real beauty of Liquid I.V. is that our product can sit in the beauty aisle, and it can sit in the travel size and personal care aisle at the same time. Ultimately Liquid I.V. wants to be available wherever consumers are in need of hydration,” he says.
Given all this activity, Liquid I.V. is looking to continue its exponential growth rate in the year to come.
“We have a huge and exciting goal to hit $1 billion in the near future and we have a lot coming up that will support this effort,” Keech says. “Be sure to keep an eye out.”
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