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07/06/2017

STRATEGY: Sunniva Super Coffee Rebrands, Relocates to NY; Adds Dora’s as DSD Partner; Brings on Happy Tree Cofounder Finkelstein

Lotsa action at Bulletproof-style RTD coffee called Sunniva launched less than a year ago by 3 college-athlete brothers out of Rockville, Md (BBI, Nov 11 2016).  In a nutshell, trio have rebranded and repositioned entry, relocated co to NY and signed on Dora’s Naturals as DSD distributor in that market.  The brothers, Jordan, Jim and Jake DeCicco, have also brought onto team Happy Tree maple water cofounder Will Finkelstein, who’s parted amicably with his partner there, Ari Tolwin, and has picked up finance and operations responsibilities previously handled by ceo Jim on temporary assignment that could lead to permanent role.  The moves come as it’s emerged that Bulletproof itself seems to be planning launch of RTD version of its concept this fall (BBI, Jun 23).  Core of concept is mixture of coffee, coconut oil (for MCT acids) and grass-fed milk stemming from Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey’s longstanding effort to bio-hack himself to cure fatigue and weight issues.

Having pushed hard into Baltimore/DC and then Philadelphia, since Jordan launched brand out of his dorm room, the 3 brothers figured next frontier is NY, Jim and Jordan told BBI in discussion earlier this week.  Deciding that will take full-fledged effort, they’ve relocated co from WeWork shared workspace in DC to WeWork live/work space on Wall Street in NY, where they’ve wangled year’s worth of free rent on 3-bedroom space in exchange for coffee and event activation in local WeWork spaces.  Jordan, basketball player at Philadelphia Univ, has gotten lift from Peter Thiel Fellowship, unrestricted $100K grants from tech entrepreneur that encourages bright kids to drop out of college to pursue their own commercial ideas.  Besides providing funding, fellowship offers connections to Silicon Valley, potentially rich both in customers and funding sources.

By now Sunniva has entered chains like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Wegmans, to encouraging velocities, Jim said.  But since it’s brand that was created by college students for college students, they’re aiming to build major presence on campuses.  As key step to that goal they’ve signed on with college-targeted units of foodservice giant Compass USA.  Since signing 3-year contract with Compass in Apr, Sunniva has cracked 85 campuses, where it’s not uncommon for brand to do 75 cases per week.  They’ve also landed corporate accounts like Facebook’s Austin campus and healthcare customers like Mt Sinai hospital in NY.

The bros also are making targeted DSD push, signing with likes of ABS (Atlantic Bingo Supply), which was early house behind Bai in Mid-Atlantic region, as Jim noted, and now Dora’s in NY, which kicked off this week.  (Brand has been produced at sister unit of Dora’s, Steuben Foods.)  With Bai Brands shedding sales staff in recent months following acquisition by DPS, it’s been good time to bring on seasoned talent, including Jake DiMeglio as rep to manage NY push.

The rebranding stemmed in part from judges’ comments the founders received while participating in BevNet Live Beverage Showdown last year: judges said they couldn’t quite tell what it was or why it’s different.  That led to conclusion that key to success won’t be just the combo of coffee, coconut oil and protein but co’s founding ethos as tired college athletes selling to their student peers.  So brand has downsized the Sunniva brand name (which means “gift from the sun”) and greatly upsized “super coffee” designator, while using side panel to call out that brand is peer-focused, brings positive energy, has powerful vibe and contains nothing artificial, rather than belaboring its 10 g of protein and other product attributes.

New labels shed dark earlier look with view to reflecting “positive energy and powerful vibes,” Jim DeCicco said.  “Our job is to make it cool to be healthy.”  New look employs matte white background with spot gloss metallic finish in order to pop off shelf in what otherwise is retail coffee set dominated by packages steeped in earth tones.   

DeCicco brothers have also tweaked recipes, replacing carrageenan with gellan gum and moving entire line (except for Creamy Black) to maple syrup as sweetener instead of agave.  Existing maple syrup entry, Hudson Valley Hazelnut, has been renamed more straightforwardly as Maple Hazelnut after “Hudson Valley” proved mystifying to many consumers.

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue #: 89
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