Once stocked exclusively at natural food shops and farmers’ markets, kombucha brand Health-Ade has spent the last few years trying to expand its audience beyond health obsessives. Now, it’s ramping up this mission to win over mainstream soda drinkers with a new approach to marketing and distribution.
Health-Ade began life when Daina Trout, Justin Trout and Vanessa Dew quit their day joys to brew kombucha and sell it at farmers’ markets in 2012. The brand now employs 200 employees, sells in more than 26,000 stores across the US and raises a significant amount of funding; in June, it confirmed a $20m equity investment from The Coca-Cola Company.
Its success – in spite of two recent lawsuits – can be traced back to the founders’ approach to brand, Daina Trout believes. The chief executive, who has been “fermenting things” since grad school, believed back in 2012 that “we weren't a kombucha company – we were a marketing company”.
This led her to design the liquid’s brand as one far removed from the others on the market at the time, which were primarily advertised to health extremists.
“The other kombuchas were using squiggly lines and om symbols,” she recalls. “We used angular fonts and tried to be more non-gender specific with our messaging. Everything down to the colors the fonts that we picked – and the simplicity of the label – was very much on purpose.”
The design has remained consistent, but Health-Ade’s messaging has since fluctuated. In the beginning it targeted an easy-to-reach market – the consumer interested in the likes of natural products, probiotics and organic living. Then it began speaking less about science and more about kombucha’s taste, in order to widen its consumer reach.
One of its taglines during this time was ‘Kombucha means delicious in English’.
“Our whole concept there was to try to attract people that were maybe thinking about kombucha, but maybe were a little bit weirded out by the name,” says Trout. “Then we started to tap out on the conventional accessibility.”
This third era of marketing resulted in ‘You Brew You’, Health-Ade’s biggest push into the mainstream drinks market. Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of its co-founders, the initiative aims to position Health-Ade as a healthy lifestyle choice for a younger, busy and go-getting audience.
The Kennett Creative campaign has launched as the brand gets sold into more and more convenience stores – places where workers on the move might historically have purchased a soda. Health-Ade wants to present as that healthier, if more expensive, alternative.
“There's a good chunk of people, that have ... stopped drinking soda but they're not drinking something else yet,” says Trout. “I call them health adjacent. They're interested in health, but it's not their number one driver in life.
“I would say a chunk of people are willing to pay up for a beverage that makes them feel good too and that they know is good for them.”
To reach this consumer, Health-Ade has evolved its trial-driving marketing tactics of the past into a comprehensive media plan led by its first chief marketing officer, Jeff Rubenstein. The company once spent 80% of its media budget on field – now, it spends the same proportion on brand, with ‘You Brew You’ spanning out-of-home, digital, social and print.
Influencer and celebrity relationships will still remain critical reaching both new consumers and stakeholders. As Trout explains, “when you have a picture of Cameron Diaz holding your product ... a store buyer, even if he's in the middle of Ohio, is more likely to say yes to your product. And that buzz also attracts investors.”
Health-Ade’s internal marketing team, which comprises PR, advertising, social, field and influencer, is unlikely to grow for the time being. What Trout really needs right now is expertise in the world of convenience and Health-Ade’s next big mainstream target: the restaurant business.
“We've got to understand the buyer again [because] they're going to be very different than like the Target buyer, or the 7-Eleven buyer,” she says. “We've got to resource that team appropriately and understand things like menus and cocktails.
“It's a totally different game. So, really, it's just a matter of money and focus ... and from a sales standpoint, I'm going to need a lot of new people there.”