By Jennifer Friedlin, Founder, Hungry Marketing
Romy Raad and Natalie Neumann's foray into the food business started with an idea for a meal delivery company. But over time they refined their idea until they landed on Metabrew, a coffee-based energy drink that is both vegan and paleo. During a break from bottling, Raad shared the ups and downs of bringing a beverage to market and the joys of finally making headway.
HM: What is Metabrew?
RR: Metabrew is a bottled beverage that contains fair-trade coffee, raw organic cacao, small-batch cashew butter, MCT oil, and a tiny amount of stevia to give you long-lasting, feel-good, and focused energy without the crash or jitters of your normal cup of joe. It’s also paleo and vegan friendly.
Metabrew is for the “health-conscious, productivity junkies;” people whose lives are versatile, hectic, exciting, and more than anything, demanding. To cope, they use physical activity to balance their mental challenges. Our product is engineered to appeal to people who are already cognizant of the positive effects of nutrition, and need a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ to keep ‘em going.
HM: Clearly, you have your message down. Are you marketers by background?
RR: My partner Natalie and I have design backgrounds – I am a graphic designer and Natalie is an industrial designer – and everything we do from shipping to production to financing to messaging is based on design thinking.
Design means “to make sense of things” and having this background helped make it easier. It means we can do the branding, label, website, and messaging ourselves. We don’t have to depend on third party and translate our ideas. That said, we talk to people all the time to get feedback and then we iterate. Recently, we got feedback from brand consultants who suggested we simplify our site. There was so much we wanted to say about the product, but what did it boil down to? What is the one phrase that will make the product sellable?
HM: How did the idea for Metabrew come about?
RR: I came from Lebanon and, Natalie, who is half German and half American, came from Germany to get our masters in strategic design and management at Parsons. We both come from backgrounds where clean food is a given but when we got to New York we had problems with our stomachs because of all the preservatives and additives in the food. We started working on the concept of MetaMenu, which was going to be a meal delivery service that provided clean, tasty food. We didn’t have the resources for this concept, so we decided to focus on one aspect of it, which was Metabrew. Originally it was a pudding that then became a shake that then became a drink made with ghee. We had people at school try it and we tracked their use and responses and iterated over time until we arrived at the current vegan formula.
HM: How do you sell your product?
RR: Right now we are knocking on doors trying to get into stores. We are in 29 right now and you need to be in at least 20 – 30 before distributors will take you seriously. Every week we add a couple more stores. With some places, like Union Market, we started out in one outlet and now they want to expand to other markets.
HM: How did you get into your first store?
RR: We tried cold calling. And we got rejected many, many times. Then we decided to take the product and give samples. We offered free fills, meaning we provide the product for free to sell so that they will put it on the shelf. Most of the stores actually expect free fills.
The free fills that we brought sold out from three-quarters of the stores and most stores have gone on to order regularly. It has been amazing to see such a reaction without us pushing it too much.
HM: Did you always intend to sell this way?
RR: No! We originally intended to sell this fresh made in small batches because we didn’t want any processing. Our plan was to only do online sales. But you need so much traction and investment in ads and marketing and we didn’t get enough results in online orders.
We were stubborn for some time and didn’t have enough knowledge about natural processing options, which got in the way. But when we realized we either needed to shut down or step it up – it was a wakeup call. So we started looking into HPP [high pressure processing], which would allow us to bottle and sell in stores. We learned that the HPP process is actually easy and it opened up so many possibilities. We also learned that, contrary to our fears about processing, HPP makes the product safer and you simply can’t distribute to stores if you don’t do this.
HM: How is it going now?
RR: We work with a company, whose name we prefer not to disclose, and it’s going pretty well. The product now has a shelf life of 84 days. That’s a game changer. Every 60 days we do one big production. And this has helped the company in so many ways. Now, we don’t have to do production every week; we channel all our energy into a few days and then we have a month to focus on sales and marketing. So it actually helped us move forward, build traction and revenue and gain more confidence in the product. Now people are just finding us and some want to be our brand ambassadors. There was a shift.
HM: What’s next?
RR: We’re now looking to raise $50k - $60k to help us cover expenses associated with ramping up. We’re also trying to close some contracts.
HM: Any good resources you would recommend?
RR: Start Small Think Big has been a great resource for pro bono legal help. Through the program we have access to lawyers for all parts of the business. That has been a huge, huge help for things like what claims can we make about our product to trademark.
Brooklyn FoodWorks has been another great support for Metabrew. We have been able to scale our production and drive traction with their valuable mentorship. Fun fact is that Metabrew sells well at the co-working space itself! They are our number one fans!