Dispatches from Canadean Innovation in Non-Alcoholic Beverages, London

Vita Coco and Jimmy’s Iced Coffee on samples, meeting consumers and building a brand: 'You can't just slap a product on a billboard'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Festivals, sporting events, concerts, food events - where can you meet new consumers?
Festivals, sporting events, concerts, food events - where can you meet new consumers?

Related tags Coffee Marketing

Handing out free samples is not a new marketing strategy: but it’s an important one that’s been a key part of building Vita Coco coconut water and Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, say the CEOs behind the brands. 

Giving people the chance to meet the brand, talk about the brand, and actually taste the product builds a strong emotional connection with consumers. It also educates consumers about the product and brand, say the entrepreneurs.

Vita Coco’s European CEO Giles Brook; and Jimmy’s Iced Coffee founder Jim Cregan were speaking at Canadean’s Innovation in Non-Alcoholic Beverages conference in London recently.

jimmy iced coffee
Taste tests with surfers: Jimmy's Iced Coffee

From surfers to Selfridges: Jimmy’s Iced Coffee

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee was founded by ‘Dorset lad’ Jim Cregan, who was travelling in Australia when he fell in love with iced coffee. Having found no products he liked back in the UK, he launched his own brand with his sister.

The first carton was sold in Selfridges, London, in 2011. The brand now has listings with Waitrose, Ocado, Welcome Break, Budgens, Tesco and numerous delis and cafes.

Sampling was part of Cregan’s brand development in the early days: with basic packaging and branding in place he started getting people to taste the drink.

“We ran around for about six months begging people to try our product in their time of need.

"So the best time of need was finding surfers in the middle of February, coming out of the surf in a 7mm wetsuit with a stonking hangover and 9 ft longboard, sweating on the inside, freezing on the outside and we said: ‘Dude, would you like to try this iced coffee?’

“They’d say, do you know what, I really fancy a coffee but it was going to be too hot to drink, I’m really thirsty, that sounds like a great idea.”

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is positioned around its fun-loving, humorous ‘keep your chin up’ branding (its rap video, which you can watch below, has gained more than 469,900 views). But aside from the attractive branding it’s about getting people to try the drink, said Cregan.  

The company has just finished its summer marketing campaign, which wanted to encourage more people to try the product. Branded cars in London and Bournemouth were stocked with cool boxes of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, distributing the drink to a new audience.

jimmy iced coffee 2

It has to be cold, it has to be delivered, the brand message has to be put out there,” ​said Cregan. “And it has to be sampled within a stone’s throw of Tesco Express or Waitrose or BP because we’re trying to get into people’s routine.

“So if they’re coming out of their office at a lunchtime on a Monday we hand them a Jimmy’s and say: ‘Hey, you’re off to the park! Enjoy your Kindle, take that Jimmy’s Iced Coffee with you, if you like it you can get it from Tesco Express around the corner.’

“Hopefully if those guys like it, they’ll turn it into one a day, five a week.”

Persistence: Vita Coco

Coconut water is still an unknown for a lot of consumers, so tastings and samplings are vital to educate consumers, said Giles Brook, European CEO, Vita Coco.

The brand started in New York City and now reaches 24 countries across the world, as well as being the top selling coconut water in the US. It is considered a pioneer of the coconut water category – and that has meant educating consumers, said Brook.

“We built the brand the hard way, bottom up,” ​he said. “In the first two, three years we were going to 30 – 40 consumer shows. Because we realise you can’t just slap a product on a billboard and expect people to understand it.

“We went to lots of shows, festivals, stuff like that, we wanted to talk to consumers about what is coconut water, what are the benefits, and there was a huge amount of sampling as well.”

The brand has drawn on an emotional connection with consumers.

Vita coco beach

“In London, we basically put a beach in the middle of the city. It’s amazing watching that escapism behaviour. People come out of work, out of the banks, roll up trousers, take off shoes, grab a sandwich and sit in a deck chair with their feet in the sand. That’s an escapism moment. That’s the sort of connection we want to make with consumers.”

Getting out to consumers and creating an emotional connection has been favoured over other promotional methods to date, said Brook.

“People say: ‘you’re a big brand now, you’ve not put it on TV, why?’

“TV may become an option for us, but we do know taking our product to consumers and giving them a chance to talk about it is how we’ve won so far.”

But one of the biggest challenges for coconut water is persisting in talking to consumers who may not even like the beverage start with. On the first test, people are not always convinced by the taste. The conversion comes on subsequent tastings.  

“There are different events, festivals, sports, concerts, food events: we’ve gone to them and met consumers there, and trade as well,” ​said Brook. “What we’ve done is gone back to the same places, and invariably the same people have gone back the following year.

“We say: 'can you do me a favour, can you try it again?' That’s the point where we have a lot of people go: 'ah, we quite like this.'”

Why don’t you try this?

Both entrepreneurs stress it is vital to take care of any consumers that contact the brand.

vita coco pineapple

Brook says it’s important to respond to negative consumers, and send out alternative products to try. Vita Coco has coconut water with pineapple: offering a different flavour for those who don’t like the taste of coconut water but want the benefits.

“When somebody has a bad experience, we make sure we go back and do absolutely everything we can to change that perception,” ​said Brook. “Sometimes we’ll say, can we make a suggestion, why don’t you try this, and send it out free.”

Cregan’s strategy is similar. “You customers are the most important people,” ​he said. “If they tweet you, you need to get back to them pretty quickly. If they say they don’t like your product, say hey, I’m so sorry, can I send you another one?”

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