Speaking with NutraIngredients, Gary Lavin said the product was about a simple decision to switch from high-sugar drinks to a low-sugar drink with vitamins. "I didn't want to make any outlandish health claims, I just wanted to put as much health into a bottle while it still tasted great."
Each product contains less than 35 calories with no added sugar and 100% of RDA (recommended daily allowance) of eight vitamins.
Lavin says a key step in the brand's development was changing the brand name to VitHit from Vitz. After five profitless years, a marketing group test revealed Vitz invoked the idea of a German drink not vitamins as he had hoped. Telling consumers what the product was in 0.2 seconds was key for small companies with small marketing budgets, he said.
The Irish brand just announced deals with UK retailers Boots and Superdrug, listings that added to that with supermarket Tesco. The firm also had expansion plans in the US state of Virginia and South Africa and within Europe in Norway and Denmark. Holland and Belgium could also be on the cards.
He said the company would be gravitating towards countries with “young mind sets” and health-conscious consumer cultures. Meanwhile markets like Spain and France wouldn’t work, he said, because drink flavours there remained rooted in traditional heavy juice drinks and branding was ‘old’.
The self-proclaimed “lifestyle drinks brand” was targeting the mass market with its vitamin-loaded range, not specialist health markets.
Making vitamins taste good
“We’re going for mass appeal because when I started the business over 15 years ago we were a very niche product and only people in niche retail outlets were picking up on the fact they wanted low calories and vitamins and three cups of tea in every bottle. That was back then, but now everybody wants reduced calories and extra vitamins.”
Moving to a low-sugar option did not have to be a “sacrifice”, but flavour was key in this. Lavin said he used his own “middle-of-the-road Irish taste” to find what most people in Europe would be likely to like too.
Taste was tricky considering the amount of vitamins in each drink, he said. One of the hardest vitamins to formulate is vitamin B6.
“You can cover the taste of a blend of vitamins with sugar no problem, but the fact we don’t have a sugar lends to a problem.”
About a year was spent on each flavour, which now includes ‘Berry, Ginseng and Rooibos Tea’, ‘Dragonfruit, Yuzu, Zinc and Ceylon Tea’, ‘Citrus, Ginseng and White Tea’ and ‘Apple, Elderflower, Matè and L-Carnitine’.
Lost in translation?
Taking this concept global meant changes though, he said. “Each market is different and they should be treated differently.”
This was not a take-home product but one that would be grabbed on the go, and so lent itself to convenience stores. In the UK supermarkets had convenience sections at the front of stores that made this an easy
sell, in countries like Ireland and Norway this was not the case and therefore was more challenging.
Changes were also already being made to packaging and even formulation for different markets.
In the Nordic countries the products were reformulated to contain less vitamins since RDAs were lower there compared to most of the EU. He said about half of the vitamins in the EU-version were 50% over what was allowed under Nordic rules.
For the US it was reformulated to strip out the amino acid L-carnitine – not allowed in liquid products across the pond but allowed in Europe.
In South Africa, where it is currently negotiating a partnership, the product would be repackaged in a slim can.
“The slim Red Bull kind of can is really popular down there, they drink ice teas out of it, they drink Orangina, Appelitizer. Everything comes out of cans down there.”
He was also talking to interested distributors in Australia and Dubai, but emphasised that finding the right distributors was key when growing.
Lavin said the company had seen a growth rate 440% over the past year, with annual retail sales set to reach just over £7m by August.