Over the past five years, the natural hydration category has been driven by coconut water and little else, with Vita Coco, Zico and O.N.E dominating the billion dollar industry.
But while existing brands continue to innovate through the introduction of new flavours and product designs, one British startup has been busy developing an alternative to the potassium-rich beverage, in a bid to diversify the burgeoning natural refreshment category.
What A Melon, a 100% natural watermelon water, packed full of re-hydrating electrolytes, launched in May this year. Stocked at Whole Foods and Planet Organic, the product has been generating as much of a buzz among investors as it has on Instagram, thanks in part to Beyonce’s investment in American sports drink brand, WTRMLN WTR.
Hype aside, What A Melon co-founder Oliver Bolton is confident his product has what it takes to shake up the sector, and he’s going after the mass market.
“We’re not targeting the really dedicated health and fitness follower,” explains Bolton, who isn’t completely new to the healthy drinks category.
“With our marketing we’re trying to be inclusive. Watermelon is a fun fruit and it’s made for sharing, so with all of our marketing we’re trying to be collaborative wherever possible.”
Instead of focusing on yoga studios and healthy delis, which Bolton argues has stopped a lot of healthy products from gaining mass market appeal, the strategy at What A Melon rests on the opportunities that are present outside of London’s wellness bubble.
“It’s not just people in the capital who want to lead healthier lifestyles. Most people want to make changes that are in a healthier direction, but the branding, marketing or the price is stopping them from doing so,” he comments.
Using a flash pasteurization technique has allowed What A Melon to create a product with a six month shelf life, driving down the cost of the beverage, which retails at around £2.50.
This also means the drink is more accessible than its main rivals WTRMLN and Mello, both of which use chilled distribution, cutting the shelf life down to approximately 30 days.
“What A Melon’s shelf life gives it mass market potential from a logistics and pricing perspective,” explains Bolton. “It also means we can send the product over to America, the Middle East and Asia.”
Having worked in the beverage sector for over a decade, previously launching popular health drink Alibi in 2008, Bolton understands the challenges involved in bringing a new product to market, especially when it comes to securing distribution.
With What A Melon, the entrepreneur isn’t packing any punches. Last month the beverage launched in every Itsu store across the UK, and Bolton says securing a listing at one of the major British supermarket chains is next on the agenda.
“We’re focusing on getting full distribution in one of the big supermarket’s front of store chillers, rather than going into all of them and sitting in the back of the store in the ambient aisles,” he says.“That’s our strategy at the moment, and we feel it will serve us better in the long run.”
And Bolton’s ambition hasn’t gone unnoticed.
As of today, the business has raised more than £100,000, winning £50,000 as part of the 2016 Crowdfunder Award in conjunction with Virgin’s pitch competition, VOOM.
Chosen as a winner because of its hugely creative marketing strategy and growth potential, What A Melon ran one of the most successful Crowdfunding projects in the competition, raising investment from more than 100 backers.
“Bringing true innovation into the health drinks world is what excites me and what I’m really passionate about,” explains Bolton, who along with his team is already working on new product development.
Collaborating with a biotech company called Aurum Switzerland AG, Solution Sciences (What A Melon and Alibi’s parent company) is developing a drink that will carry a new and patented, immunotherapy ingredient that’s currently going through regulatory approval.
In the interim, Bolton plans on growing the What A Melon brand. “Wherever Vita Coco is sold, we want What A Melon to sit next door,” he reveals.
On course to generate a £1m turnover in its 2nd year, Bolton says the business is projecting a turnover of £12m by year three, a figure he believes is ambitious but realistic.
“Currently, if you go into a petrol forecourt in the middle of the countryside, aside from water they’re still full of conventional carbonates. So, for us it’s about getting our health drinks into that mainstream space,” says Bolton.
“Vita Coco has managed to do it in terms of distribution, but after speaking to hundreds and hundreds of consumers we believe that the taste of the product is stopping them from achieving real mass market distribution, and that’s where we hope to step in with What A Melon.”