Much as it did when it introduced its flagship offering, protein-infused water maker Protein2o is aiming to lean — but not necessarily dive — into an established beverage category with the launch of its first line extension, Plus Energy.
The Chicago-based brand, founded in 2013, announced the new three-SKU line yesterday. Plus Energy contains 125 mg of natural caffeine from green coffee beans and 15 g of whey protein per 16.9 oz. PET bottle. Available in Blueberry-Raspberry and Cherry Lemonade flavors, Plus Energy will complement the Protein2o core line of sugar free waters that contain 15 g of protein each and are available in nine fruit-flavored varieties.
The company’s entrance into the protein-energy market arrives at a time when momentum behind the category appears to be growing for so-called “performance” energy drinks positioned as high caffeine pre- and post-workout products. Fueled by 784.2 percent growth in dollar sales (over a 52-week period ended Dec. 29, 2018, according to Nielsen), VPX Pharmaceuticals’ Bang Energy — which contains branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine (which is the subject of ongoing litigation) and clocks in at 300 mg of caffeine — has done much to establish the viability of the segment, which also includes brands like Celsius and C4. Monster Energy, which recently announced its intentions to enter the “performance” energy stakes with Reign, also currently markets the protein-enhanced line Muscle Monster, while other companies such as Hiball have also played in the space.
However, similar to the core line’s positioning as a mainstream alternative to traditional protein drinks, Protein2o president and CEO Bob Kral said Protein2o Plus Energy will offer a slightly different proposition to products from Bang, Monster and other energy brands.
“We want to be protein first and benefits second, but of course we want those benefits to make sense,” he said. “We don’t see ourselves trying to compete with Bang or Monster. Protein is definitely what we do, and delivering great tasting low-calorie beverages is what we are about.”
While noting the product has natural appeal with exercise enthusiasts, Kral said Plus Energy will work to build on the gains in broader conventional and mass retail distribution with Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club and others achieved by the core line, rather than taking a narrow focus on fitness retail channels.
However, those stores have primarily sold product in multi-pack cases; according to Kral, by moving to a more immediate consumption occasion with energy, Protein2o has an opportunity to drive more grab-and-go purchases at convenience stores, gas stations and drug stores, such as Speedway and Rite Aid. He added that the new line could help steer female consumers towards the traditionally masculine energy drink category in greater numbers, echoing how the brand has made inroads with women in the protein segment.
“Our core consumer is 22-44 years old and female, and about 55 percent of our total consumers are female,” Kral said. “We definitely think that the product having protein as the primary appeal and energy as secondary will appeal to females as well as males. I think it’s going to tighten our grip on Protein2o as a low-calorie protein brand.”
Upon landing on store shelves, Protein2o Plus Energy will be merchandised (and priced in line) with the brand’s other products to create a billboard effect. Meanwhile, Amazon, where Kral said the company does about 15-18 percent of its total business, has been an effective platform for both driving velocities and introducing the brand to new consumers. While brick-and-mortar sales are still far bigger than in ecommerce, the growing competition between the two sides has influenced pricing considerations for the brand.
“Our pricing for the most part matches up in brick-and-mortar stores and on Amazon and Walmart.com,” he said. “The retailers are aware, and I think they are doing everything they can to compete with Amazon.”