The Swedish start-up launched its green tea-based drink in Stockholm about a month ago. It aims to be an alternative to coffee but without the sugar and caffeine of energy drinks – and, unlike most energy drinks, something people would want to drink at work at ten in the morning.
Von Grebmer has a very clear idea of the drink’s target market: Young, ambitious urban professionals aged 25 to 40.
“We wanted to start with the customer needs rather than technical novelty,” he told FoodNavigator. “We wanted to create a product that would help achieve their dreams in a way.”
The zen monk story
Lukas von Grebmer will be speaking at FoodNavigator's Business Leaders Forum on April 23. For more information, and to register for the online event for free, click here.
Matcha green tea was the drink’s inspiration, used by monks who meditated five or six hours a day. Von Grebmer says he meditates himself but finds it hard to maintain focus for more than about an hour at a time – and he says some research suggests matcha tea could indeed improve focus. However, the drink carries no health claims.
“We can claim that the vitamin B and C contribute to normal cognitive function,” he said, but added, “We would rather work with the zen monk association rather than the health claim. We want to convey an emotion.”
According to von Grebmer, this is the crux of successful new product development: Involving the target consumer in the process and talking about the story of a product rather than its precise ingredients. Right from the start, the company produced a prototype and sought feedback.
“At the beginning we thought it would be awesome if our product actually really looked like matcha green tea,” he said. Matcha comes as a green powder, which is stirred into hot water giving a cloudy effect.
But the product’s target consumers had other ideas.
“Customers said it looked like spinach soup,” he said. “We immediately realised we had it totally wrong.”
The product’s attributes changed direction several times before they finally arrived at a drink that their target consumer liked.
Novelty vs. innovation
The drink has only 18 calories per bottle, which is similar to a cup of tea or coffee with a splash of semi-skimmed milk, and von Grebmer describes its taste as “a fresh, fruity tea flavour”.
It is very lightly sweetened with fruit sugar and stevia, but has “overall less sweetness than everything else on the market”, he said.
“It’s about novelty versus innovation. People are really looking for innovative products but that means products that give them a benefit…It’s easy to create something on paper that’s really awesome, but if your customers don’t see added value then it’s not really innovation.”
The most difficult element for Akuō’s founders was understanding the beverage industry, von Grebmer said, as none of the team had any experience in drinks before developing the product.
They worked with Sensient Flavours to get it to market, with an astonishingly quick turnaround from initial concept to market entry: Akuō started life as a brief in mid-April last year and was a finished product by October.
“In the long term, we want to preserve the innovative nature of our company,” said von Grebmer. “We want to become the next success story.”