How a Four Loko Co-Founder Became the Leader of a Plant-Based Protein Beverage Brand

How a Four Loko Co-Founder Became the Leader of a Plant-Based Protein Beverage Brand

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Chris Hunter helped give you the controversial caffeinated alcoholic drink. Now he is the CEO of Koia.


7 min learn


On this ongoing column, The DigestEntrepreneur.com Information Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with meals entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their merchandise into the mouths of consumers.

Chris Hunter is among the guys chargeable for 4 Loko, the previously caffeinated alcoholic drink that was blamed for inflicting a number of deaths, and which the federal government then cracked down onerous on.

4 Loko continues to be available on the market at the moment — and apparently promoting nicely — however Hunter, who was 25 when the model was created, has since moved on to different companies. His present pursuit is main Koia, a plant-based protein beverage firm. Fairly the profession pivot, proper?

The beverage model launched nationally in Entire Meals in 2016 and has since expanded to the cabinets of greater than four,00zero U.S. shops. It expects to have $10 million in gross sales for this yr. Koia’s merchandise embrace 5 flavors of its authentic protein beverage, in addition to three fruit infusion flavors. The corporate plans to introduce a keto line in January.

Associated: How This Alcohol Trade Newcomer Created a Japanese Whiskey Model for the U.S.

Entrepreneur requested Hunter about his profession shift, what him about Koia and his recommendation for launching a product.

Chris Hunter

Picture credit score: Courtesy of Koia

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

How did you go from 4 Loko to Koia?

My life had developed. I used to be in my early 30s and my first son was born. Life was simply totally different than it was again then. I used to be searching for one thing I used to be a bit extra aligned with. Craft beer was actually well-liked on the time, and it nonetheless is, so I discovered a small craft brewery exterior of Chicago that was creating an alcoholic root beer. I shaped a relationship with the creator and founder — primarily we introduced on this firm and model beneath a subsidiary of [Four Loko parent company] Phusion Tasks — and we created the model Not Your Father’s Root Beer. We ended up promoting that model to Pabst shortly after.

At that time life was altering once more, and my second son was born. He was born dairy illiberal, so we turned a dairy-free family. My spouse was finding out to be a nutritionist. We have been beginning to eat quite a bit in another way. My exercises have been altering from once I was youthful, from typical gymnasium days to now doing yoga and triathlons. I used to be way more conscious of well being and wellness on the whole.

I began investing in some small, better-for-you corporations and merchandise, from meal supply kits companies to a product known as Uncooked Nature 5, which was the unique type of Koia. It simply so occurred that the product was in my gymnasium, and I had been consuming it.

Why was a gorgeous product to you?

As I began to do my due diligence, Uncooked Nature 5 was a extremely unhealthy identify, and it had this actually unhealthy bottle and label. Nevertheless it was promoting rather well. It was solely in 30 shops in Chicago. I began to dig into it a bit bit extra. One retailer advised us it was their best-selling product, and it was promoting for six bucks a bottle. I ended right into a Entire Meals and seen there was an excellent quantity of shelf area devoted to this product. As I used to be standing there, I watched a shopper principally pitch the product to a different shopper.

A bunch of trade veterans, together with Mark Rampolla who created Zico, invested within the product, so I invested alongside them. I used to be the native man who had some entrepreneurial expertise, so I shaped an excellent relationship with Uncooked Nature 5’s co-founders. As they began transferring alongside, the corporate acquired right into a troublesome state of affairs — it was working out of cash.

Picture credit score: Courtesy of Koia

We collectively determined to drag Uncooked Nature 5 off the cabinets, as a result of it wasn’t a scalable product at that time. There wasn’t a course of in place to promote it nationwide. However I believed within the product a lot, so me and different buyers determined to take a position what was a major quantity for us. I talked about eager to guess on myself and take the reins. So I got here in to assist pivot the corporate and co-found the brand new firm and new product, which we collectively rebranded as Koia.

Associated: 5 Methods Switching to Plant-Based mostly Eating regimen Boosts Your Productiveness

What can different entrepreneurs be taught out of your expertise of launching into Entire Meals?

There’s a number of methods to go to market. I do not know what’s proper and what’s improper. Lots of corporations will saturate one explicit market like New York or L.A. or wherever and show out their story after which launch nationally. We have been lucky that we had a chance to launch nationally with Entire Meals. You possibly can’t actually flip that down, nevertheless it’s an costly strategy to go. We needed to tackle funding and develop the corporate shortly.

My recommendation would simply be to suppose by means of what you need the ultimate final result of your organization and product to be and what path to market most closely fits that, whether or not it is a regional construct or nationwide rollout.

What has been the corporate’s best problem, and the way have been you capable of overcome it?

The pure meals beverage trade has a ton of latest merchandise launching, so it is a crowded area and there is numerous noise round it. It is a troublesome path to market. How we overcame it’s we added a rare quantity of help to any retailer that we have launched at. Once we had the chance to launch with Entire Meals, we did not have the mentality of, “Oh nice, we’re performed, now let’s sit again and watch what occurs.” We employed merchandisers. We did numerous in-store demos. We did value reductions. We did every thing in our energy to make it possible for shoppers have been uncovered to the model.

We made positive that the labeling actually spoke to our promoting factors that there is 18 grams of protein and solely four grams of sugar in your complete bottle. That pulls folks in instantly. They’re intrigued. We have been assured that after folks tried our product, they want it and turn into repeat purchasers. That is an costly factor to do, however I consider that is the proper strategy to go to market.

The place does the identify Koia come from?

As we got here up with the identify Koia, we used a branding company, and seemed into our perception as an organization and what we needed to face for. We honed in on blue zones — locations on the earth that folks stay longer than others. What we began to have a look at is there’s these 5 widespread traits with those who stay in blue zones. Considered one of them is that they eat a primarily plant-based food plan, which clearly match with Koia. It matches with our mentality as an organization. The identify Koia is derived from a type of blue zones, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Associated: This Beverage Entrepreneur Bought His Begin by Merely Asking a Huge Firm to Let Him Promote Their Merchandise

What’s the most uncommon factor about working on this explicit area of interest?

What’s attention-grabbing to me that it is such a small trade. It looks like everyone is aware of one another, nevertheless it’s additionally such a pleasant trade. I am simply shocked at what number of different corporations and types we collaborate with are open to doing that. Different corporations we discuss to share their tales of successes and failures, and we attempt to determine issues out collectively.

How do folks react to your previous with 4 Loko?

Individuals need to perceive how I went from that to this, as a result of it is fairly reverse ends of the spectrum. To me there is not any proper or improper. I am not ingrained in a technique of consuming or consuming versus one other. It is about choices. What it finally boils right down to that I prefer to work on issues I am aligned with, and Koia is aligned with my life and my way of life proper now.

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