One of my favorite things to do as an energy drink expert is highlight products that prove how much the energy drink market has evolved. Oh sure, terms like “nutraceuticals” and “functional food” were around in 2003 when I started my college studies in biochemistry, but the stereotypical energy drink was the only energy drink. My, how far we’ve come.
Behold CEO – an energy drink in disguise meant to both energize and hydrate. But wait, aren’t those counter-productive? No, See the ENERGY DRINK OF THE MONTH Review of CEO for more details (coming April 13th).
Currently Watermelon Coconut is the only flavor available, and it’s exactly as refreshing as it sounds! There are 70 mg caffeine per bottle and this is clearly marked on the label (hurray!).
I had the privileged to meet the brains behind CEO in 2015, before the product had become a reality. By Natural Product Expo West 2016, their product was making its East Coast debut and I got to take my first sips of CEO. I also got a chance to ask CEO Founder Jason Petrou a few questions.
GEG: How did you come to decide you wanted to launch a beverage, and was there a turning point where an idea became, “YES! We are DOING this!”?
CEO: As someone who is into fitness/working out quite a bit, I tend to try a lot of different drinks, supplements, etc. I found myself drinking too many artificial energy drinks or sugary sports drinks, neither of which I felt great about.
I really wanted a healthier option that could provide both an energy boost and hydration.
I didn’t come from the beverage industry so I began researching beverages in general, learning as much as possible about branding, manufacturing, marketing, etc. I attended several BevNet events and began reaching out to people in the industry for advice. After about two years of tweaking ideas, concepts, formulation, etc. I attended Natural Products Expo West in 2015 for the first time to walk the show and get feel for it. I was awestruck at how huge it is and the amount of production that does into it!
After leaving there, I knew that this was the space I wanted to be in and made it my mission to come back this year with a finished product in-hand. So for the next nine months I really went to work and tied all of my ideas together to create CEO.
GEG: During development, what aspects of making a beverage were most important? What were the MUST HAVE’s in terms of ingredients, market space, etc?
CEO: The idea of a clean, natural energy drink that also provided some hydration was really appealing to me with my active lifestyle. The first things I tend to look at when purchasing beverages is sugar and calorie content. I wanted to create something that was pretty low in both, but also had a solid percentage of juice with great flavor. Adding caffeine to that wasn’t easy because caffeine has a bitter taste. In order to produce what I had in mind I worked with the brand/formula development company, MetaBrand. They really helped make the process much more cost effective and efficient.
As I add sku’s the flavors/ingredients will change, however, the general must haves for me are:
- A moderate, smooth boost of energy.
CEO contains 70mg of caffeine from organic green coffee bean extract. The quality of the source of caffeine makes a big difference. By using organic green coffee bean extract, you get a smooth, alert boost as opposed to a huge jittery spike then a crash with lower a lower quality caffeine/overly caffeinated drinks.
- A low to mid calorie formula.
I wanted to create something that I could feel good about drinking myself on a daily basis. The first version of the formula ended up having about 125 calories and 22g of sugar per bottle…not terrible, but I didn’t feel great about it so we went back to work. I didn’t want a zero calorie formula either. They kind of weird me out. How can something be a natural product, taste great and have no calories? My initial reaction is that I don’t trust it. I asked a lot of people that I would consider a target audience what they thought was the idea calorie count and around the 50 or so calorie mark seemed to be the most popular choice.
- A single serving nutrition facts panel.
I hate when I look at the nutrition facts of a drink and it says 80 calories, then surprise! there is 2.5 servings in a bottle that you will clearly drink the entire amount in a fairly short time. In my opinion it is deceitful and a way to trick consumers into thinking the product is better than what it really is. Step your game up and make a better formula so that you don’t have to hide anything.
- A fairly low amount of sugar.
There is 11g of naturally occurring sugar in the entire bottle of CEO, none added.
GEG: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced prior to first (full scale) production?
CEO: I would say the biggest challenge was raising the initial capital to produce the first run. Even though I did a fairly small run, it still required a decent chunk of money. Getting people to put up money before I had anything tangible wasn’t easy. Another big challenge is coordinating all of my materials to arrive at the co-packer at the same time. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a one stop shop to get all of the required ingredients, bottles, labels, etc. so dealing with approximately 12 different suppliers especially for the first time was no easy feat.
GEG: Who is your target consumer?
CEO: Our target demographic is both men and women, ages 20-50 who are “Modern Professionals”: Active, health conscious and on-the-go individuals who work hard and play hard.
GEG: What is your (Steven Covey-esque) Mission Statement?
CEO: I really want to help create awareness and encourage consumers to read and understand the nutrition facts label of the products they are buying. Know how many servings you are consuming and know that just because something looks healthy doesn’t mean it is all that good for you! I am in favor that all beverages that come in single serving size bottles should be required to label the nutrition facts as one serving.
In regards to the CEO brand and message behind that, CEO’s are leaders and decision makers and I encourage our consumers to become leaders in their own lives, to make better decisions with their health and wellness which can lead to overall better quality of life.
GEG: Where do you hope to be in 1 year? In 3 years?
CEO: A year from now I would like to have CEO distributed throughout the east coast, especially in the north east area (where I’m from and the company is based). I plan on adding two additional flavors in addition to the watermelon coconut one that is currently available.
In three years, I would like to have national distribution with the beverages and begin to develop other products (possibly bars, powders, etc.) The Clean Energy On-demand name lends itself well to several potential line extensions.
Ten years from now I’d like to be playing golf and drinking Mai Tai’s in Maui.
After talking to Mr. Petrou about his food safety program, I am confident in the safety and quality of this product. I’ve tried it myself and, while your taste preferences may differ, I highly recommend trying this drink! Unless you live in Boston, you can get it here on the CEO site.
CEO featured in Food Navigator’s “Beverage Entrepreneurs and Trends to Watch”