CPG Playbook   //   March 22, 2023

Zevia’s CEO on the better-for-you soda’s rebrand

A better-for-you beverage brand from the early aughts is trying to gain better visibility among Americans. 

This month Zevia, a naturally sweetened soda brand that was founded in 2007, announced a rebrand to overhaul its retro can design, complete with a new logo and brightly-colored cans. The company went public in June 2021 and last summer, brought on former Red Bull CMO Amy Taylor as CEO to spearhead the new direction.

Zero sugar has become a big selling point among soda makers, as evident by Pepsi and Coke’s recent growth of their no sugar products. That, combined with the emergence of new better-for-you-beverage brands like Olipop and Poppi, means Zevia is operating in a category that’s more crowded than ever before. And so the company is trying to reach more customers through new flavors, like vanilla cola soda and tropical pineapple tea, along with new packaging formats and an increased focus on the convenience and food service channels. Lastly, Zevia is also in the process of changing its “zero calorie soda” tagline — a relic of the early 2000s low-calorie diet fads — to instead say “zero sugar soda.”

Zevia expects 2023 sales to be in the range of $180 million to $190 million, an increase of 10% to 16% compared to 2022. This will be largely helped by the upcoming revamp and expansion.

Taylor told Modern Retail that, over the years, the company’s product innovation has kept up with key wellness trends by expanding into teas and energy drinks. “But the next step is to go beyond that and build a brand,” she said.

Since taking over the CEO spot, Zevia has made some changes at a leadership level to bring in outside talent to scale the supply chain and sales operations. So far, that’s resulted in this latest brand refresh, which rolls out into retail in the coming months. “A brand refresh is arguably, dollar for dollar, the most impactful move you can make,” Taylor said. “But you can only do it once in a generation.”

Expanding presence beyond grocery stores

“Until now there’s been this small, loyal consumer base with strong repeat rates and strong loyalty,” Taylor said. But generally, the company hasn’t invested in splashy campaigns or top of the funnel marketing to build awareness and help drive broader distribution.

“All these years, Zevia has grown on the back of the multipack business,” Taylor said, referring to the company’s six and eight soda packs. Now the company wants to drive immediate consumption through impulse and check-out purchases, which Taylor says is critical to expanding the user base beyond grocery.

“We’re already the number one carbonated soft drink in the natural channel, which includes retailers like Whole Foods and Sprouts,” she said. Zevia products are currently sold at over 32,000 retail locations in the U.S. and Canada, and is the top-selling carbonated carbonated soft drink on Amazon. 

However, Taylor said there is still a big opportunity to expand Zevia into more conventional grocery and club chains. Taylor also said that single-serve grab-and-go cans is the next area of focus for the company, which includes convenience stores and restaurants. 

Zevia has been testing this concept with its slim cans over the past 12 months, which are sold in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and delis and retail for $1.79. “With that move, we’ve grown our household penetration by 28%,” she said. “These skinny cans are also quickly getting into the high teens and close to 20% of the mix in any given grocery store.”

This strategy has been adopted by many beverage startups over the past few years – with brands like Olipop and Poppi starting out selling single cans before introducing multi-packs. 

Taylor said Zevia won’t be spending millions of dollars on paid digital advertising anytime soon. Instead, the company will apply the scrappy on-the-ground sampling strategy for getting cold cans in hand — a tactic made popular by Red Bull years ago. “We’ll be focusing more on social and editorial for word-of-mouth,” she added.

A brand overhaul to better reflect the better-for-you value proposition

The updated design also informed Zevia’s new packaging, Taylor said. The overhaul is not only to help modernize the brand, but also better position Zevia as a healthier alternative to traditional soda.

In the early years of Zevia’s growth, Taylor said that beverage companies were still unsure whether zero sugar would be a passing fad or become a new standard among brands. With the health trend cemented in the past decade, Zevia can double down on its portfolio of zero sugar drinks and lead the marketing with it. 

Currently, Zevia’s six packs are bound together by plastic rings, which can obscure the logo. “Going forward, we’ll have a clean logo overwrap the cardboard that creates a really nice billboard effect,” Taylor said. “Now we have a brand look and feel that looks premium and holds its own on shelves.” 

Product SKUs have also expanded to bring nostalgic flavor profiles for more modern tastes. About 18 months ago, Zevia launched its sugar-free creamy root beer, which is now one of its fastest growing flavors. Last year, the company added a vanilla cola to the cola line, which also includes classic, caffeine-free and cherry cola. “As a brand, you’ve got to continue to optimize your portfolio to make sure that every square inch works as hard as possible for the retailer,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said the price point is another draw for people choosing from endless healthy beverage brands; Zevia’s eight-packs retail for about $6.99. Through all the recent innovation, Taylor said the industry “has made a lot of better-for-you beverages that are not affordable, that are for rich people.” 

So far, the reaction to the rebrand from retailers has been positive. “It’s driven a conversation around bringing new shoppers into the mix,” she said. The new look has also triggered some interest in categories that have been nascent for Zevia. “Now, mainstream retailers are saying: ‘tell us about your energy drink,’ which, by the way, isn’t new,” she said. 

As the better-for-you beverage category continues to expand, packaging is quickly becoming an important differentiating factor.

Ashwinn Krishnaswamy, founder of branding agency Forge Design, which works with a number of CPG startups, said that brand refresh is a popular move among established companies trying to appeal to today’s shoppers. 

“This type of rebrand also speaks to how the better-for-you aesthetic has shifted over the years, as it’s being pushed along by emerging CPG startups,” he said. With so many companies wanting to cater to health-conscious customers, Krishnaswamy said the marketing language is constantly changing to reflect the latest wellness trends. This can sometimes lead to fatigue as potential customers try to figure out the differences between all these brands. “At the end of the day, consumers just want to know what the product tastes like.” 

Taylor said that as Zevia’s product portfolio expands, the company will stick with its mission to reduce sugar consumption through affordable beverage alternatives. “We’re making sure that we have the right package, the right price and the right route to market going into food service and convenience,” Taylor said.