BUBBLY & BUZZING – THANKS TO INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS FESTIVAL
Fizzy, colourful, carbonated drinks get a bad rap, especially the high energy kind. But there’s a massive global market for them, worth a cool $40bn.
Wake Drinks are based in Chester. They make and sell Wake, a premium active lifestyle drink, with a blast of energy and berry flavour. The brand is currently going strong in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, South America and now China.
The secrets of their success are a compelling British brand, smart product, global outlook and well, partly us, International Business Festival.
Wake Drinks CEO, Alex Buckley registered to join International Festival for Business 2016 with one ambition, to break into China. We helped him achieve this goal and a few others too.
We met up with Alex recently to discover more about his success and give you a real-life example of how International Business Festival can add some serious sparkle to your global ambitions.
So Alex, how did Wake Drinks come about?
“I was living in South East Asia at the time and I was keen to start a new business, something with mass appeal that I could enter the international marketplace with. I had always been interested in the drinks market, especially the energy and active sports drinks sector, because of its huge market potential. So when I returned back to the UK I created the Wake brand.”
You diversified your product, tell me about that.
“Yes, our formula now contains less caffeine and sugar than our competitors and we’ve added more beneficial ingredients like green tea and guarana, which help to give people a smoother release of energy.”
Was this for health reasons?
“Initially it was to meet overseas regulations and protect the brand, but we’re also keen to make a product that satisfies more health conscious consumers. Unlike our competitors, we limit the size of our cans to 250ml and our price point is slightly higher, which means people tend to consume less. We’re a premium brand and what’s really interesting is that our Asian customers see us as an affordable, luxury product, which we love.”
The brand has got the Union Jack all over it. Why was this selected?
“Asian markets really buy into British products. They see it as a quality standard and appreciate the lifestyle and heritage that Britain represents and there’s nothing more quintessentially British than the Union Jack.
“The British flag is recognised the world over and it really stands out on a shelf. That’s important in a crowded marketplace. With this kind of product, you want to grab people’s attention. There’s no room for subtlety and it works."
Sweet, carbonated drinks often get a bad press. What’s your take on this?
“It can be justified. When you make products for public consumption you have to be responsible. I think Jamie Oliver’s sugar tax campaign is a great idea, but we need to educate people about the sugar levels in all product, not just drinks.
“There’s almost double the sugar and caffeine in a skinny latte than most energy drinks on the market, but most consumers wouldn’t think anything of having one or two lattes a day. But Wake is really for active people who need's hydrating and are looking for something to deliver that extra release of energy.”
Tell me about your involvement with International Festival for Business 2016.
“We joined International Business Festival because we wanted to connect with overseas distributors and the Festival delivered. Through the Festival, we were also fortunate enough to be introduced to a company called GSD, a multi-award winning design agency, with clients including Apple, Rolex, Rolls Royce and now us! They’re now responsible for all our digital brand development, which is great because it allows us to concentrate on sales.
“International Business Festival really shows you the value in making the right connections. It wouldn’t have happened without the Festival.”
What about China? Did the festival help you get a foothold there?
“It certainly did. Through the festival’s brokerage programme we met buyers from Shandong Province’s Kingdom Shopping Centre and we’ve now sold 20,000 cans through their stores in under two months.
“The festival gave us easy access to the people and companies that could really take our business to the next level. That small step into Shandong Province has opened up new business opportunities for us in the surrounding provinces. So it was a big deal for us and we’re very grateful to International Business Festival for that.”
Many businesses struggle to take that first step towards international trade. What advice would you give to them?
“It’s taken us three years and an awful lot of hard work to get where we are today. It doesn’t happen overnight. It's been small baby steps all the way but gradually you make progress and you look back at those years and you can’t believe how far you’ve come.
The UK is our brand platform, but the UK market can be quite difficult to penetrate, it’s actually the most sophisticated market in the world. It was smarter for us to establish the brand in Hong Kong. Companies don’t always think about that; they tend to launch where they’re based.
“In terms of advice, I think you have to be open to trying new things, that can be new markets, but it can also be new opportunities as well. One small opportunity can lead to a big one.
“We were the very first active lifestyle drink to feature in Vogue magazine, for example. They approached us to appear as ad-editorial in their Jubilee themed edition. An important overseas buyer saw the advert and got in touch, this led to us being snapped up by another high-end retail store in Hong Kong. So you have to be open to new opportunities and not be too risk adverse.
Your marketing is interesting. What can you tell me about that?
“We’ve closely aligned the brand with sports, but specifically more inclusive mass-market sports. Red Bull and Monster have taken the extreme route, to great effect, but not many people go wakeboarding or cliff jumping and we want to reach a wider demographic.
“Wake’s now associated with sports like tennis, cycling and activities that are accessible to a lot more people. We also love to highlight the achievements of sportswomen because 40 per cent of our consumer market is female, which can surprise people. We also target aspirational sports such as polo, skiing and sailing, because they help to communicate our premium brand positioning.”
What’s next for Wake?
“China is the biggest consumer of food on the planet, so we’re focussing most of our efforts there and further refining our Chinese strategy, so we can grow our market share. The USA and Australia are also in our sights. Wake could really take off in both those markets. I’m sure we’ll be talking to you guys about that in 2018.”
China, USA and Australia? Sounds good to us. They’d better keep their energy up.