When Pantone releases its color of the year ― Peach Fuzz for 2024 ― many are eager to see how fashionistas, home décor gurus and even food and beverage menus will integrate the “it” color into the mix. These efforts keep innovators engaged on the ever-changing zeitgeist of consumer interests.

Yet, for the energy drink market, adapting to the needs and wants of consumers extends beyond color choice as functionality and occasions have broadened the category’s appeal.

“The current wants and needs of consumers in the energy drink space are far reaching and ever-changing,” says Doss Cunningham, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Nutrabolt, makers of C4 Performance Energy.

And beverage-makers are meeting those needs, as exemplified by market performance.

“The energy drink market is a $20 billion industry that has grown 15% [year-over-year] ― and while there are several leading brands in the space ― C4 has proven to be one of the fastest-growing energy drink brands in the U.S., and the No. 1 global pre-workout brand,” Cunningham explains. “We’re thrilled to be recognized as a key player in the space.”

This comes as the company’s energy drink has diversified its portfolio, which features C4 Smart Energy, C4 Performance Energy and C4 Ultimate Energy, to meet the more specified energy needs of consumers.

Doss notes that the brand’s innovation and agility through these products has served as a growth driver in the category.

C4 Smart Energy
C4 Smart Energy went through a rebranding where it transitioned from a 16-ounce to a 12-ounce can format and introduced new flavors such as Strawberry Guava, Blood Orange Yuzu and Tropical Passionfruit. Image courtesy of Nutrabolt

“We offer a unique value proposition in that we have several key products under the C4 Energy umbrella that respond to unique consumer needs within the energy category, thus increasing our total addressable market,” he explains. “We are constantly assessing the market and ever-shifting consumer response to the category and are tailoring our innovation pipeline accordingly.”

As part of this diversification, C4 has seen its performance in the energy drink space rise to the occasion.

“In just two years, C4 Energy has gone from a Top 10 brand in the energy drink industry to the Top 5,” Cunningham says. “As a brand, we’ve had many wins over the past few years. A huge part of that success is due to a world-class sales team, and our strategic partnership with Keurig Dr Pepper, which has meaningfully increased retail availability and household penetration for the brand.”

What also has bolstered the brand’s reach and performance are the strategic partnerships and talent relationships that its marketing team has fostered, Cunningham notes.

“To name a few: launching C4 Smart Energy to develop an immersive, on-site experience for audiences to live in the world of Smart Energy; taking on the title of ‘Official Energy Drink of Summer’ in 2023 with 100 days of customized brand events and activations all across the country; our strong presence in the sports world with the launch of our ‘Energy That Hits’ campaign at the start of the 2023 football season featuring C4 athletes Justin Fields, Garrett Wilson, Bijan Robinson and CJ Stroud, as well as our partnerships with the WWE and Wounded Warrior Project ― both of which saw co-branded C4 Ultimate Energy drinks launch this year,” he explains.

Serving sports fans

In early 2023, Siena College Research Institute and St. Bonaventure University’s Jandoli School of Communication conducted and released a national survey of more than 3,200 U.S. residents, which found that 70% of Americans consider themselves sports fans.

Although there are varying degrees of sports fandom ― avid, involved, casual, etc. ― with such a broad reach the world of sports can offer brands a plethora of opportunities to engage with consumers. And C4 has done just that.

“C4 Energy has found a way to meet its customers where they already are,” Cunningham explains. “We’ve done this by leaning into the world of sports with C4 Performance Energy as one of the only NSF Certified for Sport energy drinks and the top choice for professional athletes, and our C4 Smart Energy line that responds to consumers who are demanding everyday mental performance benefits in their energy drinks.”

Cunningham notes that the company’s newly formulated C4 Ultimate Energy line is its fastest growing brand in the category. The brand is formulated for consumers who desire a higher caffeine and higher stimulant energy drink solution.

“We found that Ultimate Energy is emerging as a leader within the category with strong performance in C-store and mass retailers, and velocities outpacing key high-caffeine competitors suggesting that consumers are responding well to this 300 mg of caffeine product offering outside of physical or mental performance benefits,” he says.

However, part of what has ingratiated C4 to energy drink consumers are those mental performance benefits. In fact, Cunningham explains that “C4 Smart Energy line was created for the 68% of consumers that are demanding mental benefits in their energy drinks.”

WWE co-branded C4 Ultimate Energy drinks
Through its partnership with the WWE, a co-branded C4 Ultimate Energy drinks launched in 2023, WWE’s first-ever energy drink. Image courtesy of Nutrabolt

“With this product, we are filling a gap in the energy drink category, providing a beverage that is clinically shown to deliver mental benefits such as enhanced focus,” he says.

Last year, C4 Smart Energy went through a rebranding where it transitioned from a 16-ounce to a 12-ounce can format, updated its graphics as well as introducing new flavors such as Strawberry Guava, Blood Orange Yuzu and Tropical Passionfruit.

“With that, C4 Smart Energy marks a bold new chapter in C4 Energy’s beverage journey,” Cunningham says. “C4 has traditionally served athletes and fitness enthusiasts with the brand best known for products like C4 Performance Energy formulated to enhance endurance and muscle recovery. However, C4 Smart Energy represents the brand’s targeted efforts to optimize mental performance alongside physical wellbeing. We’re broadening our audience reach, bringing new consumers to the brand and even the category as a whole.”

With the three entities as part of the C4 Energy collection, Cunningham notes their unique positions is aiding in the brand’s growth. “We have seen that 19% of our growth volume has come from consumers new to the energy drink category,” he says. “Creating clear product benefit offerings that meet unique consumer needs has led to high growth and high velocity for the brand.”

Successful collaborations

C4’s unique offerings as well as leaning into sports have played vital roles in their growth, but as Cunningham explained earlier, the partnerships that its marketing team put together offered an avenue for consumers to engage with the brand.

“We’ve had several successful strategic licensing partnerships in the past few years, including our collaboration with WWE that launched this past summer during their most watched and highest grossing SummerSlam in history,” he says. “It is WWE’s first-ever energy drink, and to really drive this collaboration home, we enlisted WWE Superstar talent for a truly unique creative brand campaign. We found the campaign resulted in a 57% unaided awareness lift, putting C4 Energy center stage for this massive audience.”

The company also found success in its collaborations with Mars Wrigley with its candy-inspired beverage flavors as well as Perfetti Van Melle for its BCAA products.

“We pride ourselves on our delicious flavors, and to be able to nail the unique candy flavors of these iconic brands in our products, and to see consumers reacting favorably to them, is incredible,” Cunningham says. “So many consumers are looking for nostalgic products that they can easily incorporate into their current routines and the products they consume, which is why we think our Skittles and Starburst energy drinks and XTEND Airheads BCAA powders have hit home so strongly.”

He adds that the partnerships are designed to serve as awareness drivers, creating greater visibility for the brand and expand its total addressable market.

“In addition, they support awareness at the point-of-sale level where consumers are making purchasing decisions, ensuring that we are creating consumer touchpoints through both our scaled marketing efforts and in-store,” Cunningham says. “We have seen tremendous successes through these partnership efforts, and I am excited for our future collaborations, including the C4 Performance Energy x Popsicle flavors that you’ll see hit the shelves in 2024.”

XTEND Healthy Hydration
The XTEND brand has allowed Nutrabolt to meet the hydration and pre-workout needs that consumers are requesting. Image courtesy of Nutrabolt

Addressing hydration, active nutrition

Although C4 has been a driving force for Nutrabolt’s success the past few years, the company recognizes the diverse needs of consumers.

Noting the growing demands for hydration solutions, Cunningham says its XTEND line has become a leader in the space and is looking to build upon that positioning.

“We challenged ourselves to continue our leadership position with the launch of XTEND Healthy Hydration in 2022 to present to the market new better-for-you electrolyte powder packs with zero sugar,” Cunningham says. “And, as I previously mentioned, we also launched a BCAA powder collaboration with Airheads earlier this year, making hydration more fun than ever before.

“Something Nutrabolt excels in is innovation, which is key in this highly competitive landscape,” he continues. “You’ll continue to see new innovations come to fruition from XTEND in 2024 to help define how consumers integrate hydration and recovery into their daily routines.”

Given the success of C4 Performance Energy and XTEND Healthy Hydration, it can divert media attention from Cellucor and Nutrabolt’s Active Nutrition business. However, Cunningham highlights that as the brand that got it all started more than 20 years ago, this is the lifeblood of its brand portfolio.

“Today, the Cellucor and C4 Pre-workout brands still remain as top legacy products within the category with constantly renewed focus on leading with scientifically proven product innovation driven by consumer needs,” he says. “In recent years, our product line expansion and formula enhancements in pre-workout, hydration and wellness supplements has provided consumers with a trusted source for the best-quality supplementation to meet their health and fitness goals. We aim to continue this narrative in the years to come.”

Priding the company on its nimble, responsive nature, Cunningham prognosticates that Nutrabolt’s Active Nutrition business will continue to embrace this mindset as needs and wants evolve.

“In the coming years, our innovation pipeline will not only be adaptive but really showcase what we do best ― innovate and lead,” Cunningham says. “In the next two years, you can expect to see a lot more newness from new product innovation, new enhanced formulas, new exciting flavors, new partnerships, new endorsements and more. The C4, Cellucor and XTEND brands are taking hold of active nutrition culture in a meaningful way as the industry leaders we’re known to be.”

For this year, Cunningham expresses excitement and teases “a really big year for the company and brands within.”

“We have several new launches, collabs, and partnerships coming down the pike,” he explains. “You will see new faces represent the brand, and we will massively expand our influencer partnerships capabilities, and drive a constant content machine. You’ll see us doing more in the sports realm ― particularly with football and boxing ― and we’ll continue to show up at major consumer and cultural events.

“We’ll also be exploring new avenues to appear in media where our audiences are ― like in podcasts,” he continues. “Additionally, we’ll continue to expand our sales and distribution capabilities to make our products more accessible to consumers with our innovation pipeline fulfilling their needs in the ever-changing energy drink and active nutrition space.