Chrish Graebner has seen what it’s like at both ends of the beverage market; as head of marketing for energy drinks giant Red Bull Australia and since 2011, as a small business owner trying to break into the market with a range of high magnesium lemonades.
He has covered a multitude of FMCG along the way, having started out with sales and marketing of beer at Altria Corp, energy drinks at Red Bull and ‘better-for-you’ beverages.
However, the now managing director of Level Beverages said that it took some time for him to realise how much harder it is “down in the trenches”.
“Small brands most likely die in this industry. It’s not because they don’t taste good or they’re not pretty enough. It’s because they have no distribution. By the time they realise how hard it is, they have spent all [the money] they have to get this one launch customer, which often isn’t enough to sustain the business,” Chrish told Inside FMCG.
Chrish began his journey with Level Beverages, then Calidris 28, back in 2011. The Level portfolio boasts the market leading iced tea brand in America, Arizona Iced Tea, and 28 Black, a range of natural energy drinks from Germany.
While he has learnt a few hard lessons along the way and says he could write the book ‘FMCG – how to not do it!’, he’s feeling a lot more optimistic about his latest product launch. By selling Arizona and 28 Black over the last seven years, Chrish and his small team were able to establish relationships with pretty much every main account in the industry.
“Now I stand a fighting chance with a truly new product, as at least I will be given a chance to present to the various decision makers – and that is rare for a small business,” said Chrish.
Level Lemonade is a sparkling soft drink range that capitalises on a growing trend in the supplements market – magnesium. Magnesium is known to benefit bone, heart and brain health, and supplements are very popular with sports enthusiasts to prevent muscle cramps and spasms.
It is the second-highest-selling mineral in the US, just behind calcium, which it is expected to surpass within the next three years. Level Lemonade combines a full daily dose of magnesium and vitamin C with a low sugar sparkling soft drink appeal.
“Better for you is the major trend now and magnesium is popping up everywhere,” Chrish added.
And Graebner may have already discovered an unlikely market for his new beverage.
“Elderly people take magnesium. It’s good for your ticker! There’s a great market there… the convenience store that sold out the fastest was the one in the retirement home,” said Chrish.
Another lesson Chrish learned on his journey as a small business owner is that you always start at the bottom – of the shelf that is.
“Don’t fantasise that you will have a high level position, you’ve got to start at the bottom,” added Chrish.
He learned this with 28 Black as customers viewing from above, did not pick out the indistinguishable silver cap. He later changed it to gold to draw attention to the product. For Level Lemonade, he added a quirky design at the top to tackle this problem. The drink is already in Caltex, with plans for a larger promotion in May. Chrish is optimistic that he will have 3000 shops selling the drink by summer.
“I believe there is a corner in the market for me… it’s a big call [when you consider] Coke has thousands of people in R&D. A small business has to come up with the whole idea.”
He believes with persistence and a little bit of luck, success is in reach.