‘A key part of our expansion is the reach to universities’: Naka’s ‘drink to think’ approach

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

The bottle's enso circle design: 'Zen monks draw these after meditating' Pic: Naka/Press
The bottle's enso circle design: 'Zen monks draw these after meditating' Pic: Naka/Press

Related tags Caffeine functional beverage beverage

Swedish functional beverage brand Naka (formerly Akuō) is dubbed as a ‘drink to think’, and its reach to universities has been one of the keys to its success so far.  

The drink, a green tea, guarana and ginseng blend that offers an alternative to coffee or energy drinks, counts ‘students in high-pressure environments and thinkers at fast, innovative companies’ ​as its target consumers. It wants to attract modern and health-conscious consumers, who are early adopters and trend-setters.

Fritz Rabeler, CMO and co-founder, told BeverageDaily the brand (whose founders met at Stockholm School of Economics) is particularly good at communicating and interacting with students.


Naka (then Akuō) was formed after the four co-founders met at Stockholm School of Economics. Co-founder Lukas von Grebmer was named BeverageDaily’s Personality of the Year 2014.

The team now includes Jon Widegren (Founder of Stockholm’s Flippin’ Burger restaurants), Ingmar Larsson (former head of sales at Carlsberg & Coca Cola), and Lisa West Åkerblom (formerly of Tobii Technology).

In 2016 it has gained distribution deals with Martin & Servera, reaching 4,000 sales points, and HÖRS group, reaching 170,000 students. 

lisa naka  brand
Lisa West Åkerblom (pic: Katarina Waldenstrom/ KWOSHARE)

And he believes this target group will help the brand expand naturally over time as the students go on to become young professionals.

Naka recently launched its latest round of crowd funding to help it boost sales and distribution and prepare for expansion both in Sweden and abroad.  

‘A small slice of the functional beverage market is huge’

Naka is a functional beverage brand​ which offers consumers a healthy alternative to coffee and energy drinks, blending green tea, guarana and ginseng to offer today’s busy consumer a ‘zenlike focus.’

The functional drinks market is a billion SEK market in Sweden and is predicted to grow by 40% by 2019. Naka says that, with this market, ‘even a small slice is huge.’

The brand sees growth in functional beverages coming from natural alternatives and new consumption environments catering for modern, health-conscious consumers.

“A key component in our expansion is the reach to universities,” ​said Rabeler.

“Among many other sales points, we will have access to 14 of the universities in Sweden, which have 170,000 attending students in total. That is almost 90% of all students in Sweden.

“We believe that we are better at cost-efficient, targeted promotion at universities than other beverage companies and we intend to use that advantage as much as possible.

"We have got a close connection to several key universities already and we have continuously sponsored student union events there and created our own events. This has led to so many recommendations that we managed to close our current distribution deal based on this background.”

In any part of business, ‘simply being better’ is the most powerful competitive advantage, says Rabeler. In the case of communicating with students and sampling, he believes this is what they do better than others.

“We understand the interaction. We never just give out bottles, we select context (pre-exam at the university library for example), target (those who need focus), and we make every interaction special.

“Being personally selected and communicated with, we find, is very powerful.”

So powerful, in fact, that the brand will replicate this method as it expands into Germany and further abroad.

“Students are also a great target group because they graduate and become young professionals - so through targeting students as a core, we can also expand naturally over time,” ​added Rabeler. 

Brand revamp

The brand has rebranded from Akuō to Naka, one reason being that it is easier for Swedish consumers to pronounce.

“Naka means ‘relationship’ – our brand is all about balance, the equal relationship of two things. We stand for increased mental alertness & focus, but balanced by sustainability, healthiness and calmness,” ​said Rabeler.

Green tea, guarana, ginseng

“L-theanine from tea, caffeine from guarana and ginsenosides from ginseng have extraordinary benefits: increased cognitive ability, stress resistance, and no crash-effect often associated with artificially caffeinated products with high levels of sugar and taurine” - Naka

“The new design reflects our brand better: We have an Enso Circle on our bottle – Zen monks draw Enso circles after hours of meditation in one stroke and one breath to express their mind in that moment.

“A closed circle stands for perfection and a finished thought. It also means lack of progress. An open circle stands for imperfection and stands for continuous movement.”


Naka has found success with previous crowdfunding campaigns and has now launched its latest round on fundedbyme​. To date it has raised 83% of its 1.5m SEK (€161,000 / $184,853) target, with 1m SEK launched in the first three days.

The money will be used to boost marketing and branding, with a focus on sampling and event marketing to core customers, and sales and distribution with new sales points.

For Naka, 2016 is about nationwide sales and gearing up for expansion abroad.

Next year will be focused on the expansion into Germany, and Naka plans to be in seven markets by 2020.  

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