By GREGORY ZELLER //
Consider it a beta version of Alpha Wolf.
Responding adroitly (and not cheaply) to sales patterns and customer feedback, founder Michael Chalavoutis’ Carle Place-based beverage maker has both reformulated and rebranded, with a new exclusive focus on natural ingredients, the end of two “traditional” flavors and a new “exotic” blend splashing onto shelves.
There are new bottles, new packaging and a new slogan, too – all part of the same course correction for the 2015 startup, according to Chalavoutis, a standard-issue molecular biologist/personal trainer who paused his medical studies to commercialize a personal blend of mental and physical supplements.
The innovator first created a series of beverages – “post-workout, high protein, blood-flow antioxidant stuff,” he told Innovate LI – to boost himself, then decided to turn the foul-tasting concoctions into tasty sports drinks marketed as “the focus beverage.”
Finally securing manufacturing and distribution deals in 2016, Alpha Wolf LLC began flowing. Early patterns and customer feedback provided a wealth of market data, according to Chalavoutis, who paid close attention and wasted little time.
“We changed everything,” the CEO noted. “The flavors, the look of the packaging, the messaging.”
Alpha Wolf’s new life starts with the death of two of its four founding flavors – Lemon and Fruit Punch, the “traditional” tastes that helped introduce the mental-acuity beverage line to markets in New York and New Jersey last year.
“The millennial consumer seems to want more exotic flavors,” Chalavoutis said, noting other established Alpha Wolf tastes – Passion Fruit Pineapple and Goji Pomegranate Mango – were holding their own, but “there was a large gap between those and the traditional flavors.”
The entrepreneur was determined to have a minimum of three flavors on the market – “You want to have at least three for shelf presence,” he noted – and returned to the drawing board. As of Alpha Wolf’s re-launch in June, the old standbys have been succeeded by Watermelon Strawberry Coconut, “which right now is looking like our new favorite flavor,” Chalavoutis added.
Equally significant to the flavor fix is the company’s new focus on all-natural ingredients, scuttling the manmade supplements Chalavoutis incorporated into early formulations. The three current flavors are all vegan, gluten-free and non-genetically modified, while still making the same claims about mental and physical revitalization.
And “just the process of being all-natural helps it taste a lot better,” Chalavoutis noted.
“The Millennial customer is looking for that,” he said. “They care more about what they put into their bodies and they’re looking for a healthier lifestyle.
“And being all-natural helps us get on shelves,” Chalavoutis added. “It opens up the whole channel of natural markets. The standard markets are less open to new brands, but the natural channels are more accepting.”
The customer feedback on taste and the marketing wonders of “all-natural” were the key entrepreneurial lessons learned in Alpha Wolf’s first go-around, according to the founder, who came to understand the importance not only of doing what you set out to do, but modifying your strategy to “go with the trends.”
“If I had Pepsi money, I could make an unnatural product and put it everywhere,” Chalavoutis noted. “But you have to understand what makes the consumer happy, especially when you’re launching in the New York market.”
Trumpeting all of this is Alpha Wolf’s rebranding effort, which starts with colorful, streamlined bottles – replacing the blocky, monotone rectangles of 2016 – and delicate artwork, including whimsical sketches of fruits and flowers.
Even more important: a new product slogan, “the focus and revitalizing beverage,” replacing the older “focus beverage” motto, which Chalavoutis described as too limiting.
“We couldn’t really get the idea across that this was more than something you drink when you’re sitting behind a desk,” he said. “The ingredients are multifunctioning. You can drink it before the gym, or after, or in the morning, or when you want to concentrate.”
Of course, new bottles, new labels and new flavors all cost money – another reason Chalavoutis decided to consolidate from four mixed-review products to three strong ones.
The CEO also inked a new bottling deal, this time with Florida-based filler Southeast Bottling & Beverage. While terms of the deal were undisclosed, the Dade County co-packing specialist offered exactly what Chalavoutis was looking for: a “trial program” producing about 35,000 bottles for proof-of-concept purposes.
That limited run has basically sold out in markets in Florida, New Jersey, Manhattan and the East End (including shelves in Port Jefferson, Patchogue and the Hamptons). But there are enough palettes left for another soft opening in Connecticut next week, according to Chalavoutis, who’s planning a 100,000-bottle run – and deeper market penetration – for the end of this month.
“We’re just trying to stretch it for the next few weeks,” he said, a problem the entrepreneurial bodybuilding biologist might not have envisioned after last year’s lukewarm launch.
“The rebranding is in a very early stage,” Chalavoutis added. “But so far, there’s been a lot of positive feedback.
“We’re doing really well.”