Founder of better-for-you soft drink brand Bobby, Kristian Johannsen, wanted to create a soft drink that tasted good and was good for you. His plan? To “remove the bad and add more of the good”. The result is a soft drink range in seven flavours and three more on the way this summer.
Johannsen certainly had his beverage credentials sorted before turning to his own label, with a resume including Minor Figures and Capi.
He said his mission is to redefine what soft drink is with a drink that doesn’t compromise on health or taste. He’s not alone on that quest, with the Australian functional beverage industry worth $491 million, driven largely like big players including Asahi, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, and Remedy Drinks.
That said, the market is fragmented, with energy and sports drinks claiming a large portion. Enhanced water, fermented drinks, and other health beverages fall in behind.
But a brand like Bobby straddles to realms – the functional and the soft drink. In the latter market, it’s worth noting that in 2022, leading non-alcoholic soft drink companies said lo/no sugar varieties were now accounting for 50 per cent of sales.
Johannsen said his focus was on creating a soft drink that had full flavour, low calories, low sugar, and added prebiotics. To do that he would, “remove the bad and add more of the good”.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea was born from seeing the success of US brands like Oli Pop and Poppi taking on huge companies like Coca-Cola head on.
At the time, Australia offered plenty of better-for-you drinks but what I noticed was that these brands were too focused on being healthy and not focused enough on having flavour. So, I created Bobby to simplify the product offering by emulating the soft drink flavours we know and love, just in a better-for-you and healthier way.
We strive, through our true-to-type flavours, to convert full sugar soft drink consumers over to a healthier product without them knowing.
What did the R&D stage look like?
Our R&D process was relatively simple, we knew the exact flavour profiles we were targeting, so finding a suitable soluble fibre was key. Because we are completely flavour focused, we needed to find a prebiotic that virtually went unnoticed when consumed in the drink. Sunfiber was able to deliver that for us.
The more difficult part was achieving those flavours using all-natural ingredients, while keeping them low in sugar and calories. The drinks we have based Bobby off contained anywhere from 40-50 grams of sugar per serve, whereas our target was five grams of sugar per serve.
And production? What was that timeline?
We started making the liquids in June and July of 2021, with a complete mindset of not continuing with the business plan and launch if we weren’t able to get them to a level that we thought could really impact the current better-for-you soft drink market here in Australia.
We signed off on the flavours in September 2021 but didn’t launch until May the following year after multiple delays on some of our raw materials mainly pertaining to the supply of printed aluminium cans.
What was the thinking behind the flavours you chose?
To put it simply, we are going after the corner store classics. From many sources of grocery data, we were able to determine the longstanding bestselling flavours which were Cola, Orange, Lemon, and Mixed Berry soft drinks. It seemed like a really good place to start, and the market feedback confirmed this.
Our mission is to own the word soft drink and to redefine it in the minds of Australian’s nationally; traditionally a ‘taboo’ word associated with unhealthy diets and rotting teeth, we take great pride in the ability to challenge that framework.
This mission led us to recreating traditional indulgent soft drink flavours like Creaming Soda, Ginger Beer and Passion Fruit. We have been completely overwhelmed by their success in the market with all three in our top four selling SKUs.
Excitingly we’re weeks away from releasing another three flavours for Summer 2023 which will push our brand even further into the soft drink category. Vanilla Cola (a well-known twist to one of our best performing drinks), Dr Bobby (a modern spin on an international classic) and Lemon-Lime (our version of a famous drink that rhymes with kite).
Who are your suppliers?
We try to use as many local suppliers as possible. I think it’s imperative for F&B companies in 2023 to nail the Australian market first before expanding abroad.
We use multiple suppliers across our raw materials. From a liquid perspective we use Doehler, Mildura Fresh Juice, and Connell to name a few.
For our aluminium printed cans, we use Orora and for our cardboard packaging we use Opal & Inke Packaging – depending on what we are producing. All our design work is done in house.
We are committed to minimising our ecological footprint and fostering a greener future. It was important to us to set sustainability standards right from the start, making it an integral part of our business model.
Our packaging is fully recyclable, featuring recycled aluminium cans and cardboard slabs. We’re continually exploring ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
What about production – inhouse or with a contract manufacturer?
We use a contract manufacturer who we have a great relationship with, but this wasn’t always the case. Contract manufacturers are approached daily with the ‘next big thing’ and everyone is always wanting the best price and the most attention.
The reality of this industry is that due to the barriers of entry being so low, entrants are constantly appearing to ‘disrupt’. However, many of these businesses, usually side hustles, don’t understand the challenges to gaining traction within the Australian market and fall away.
It’s a tremendous effort to get a product to market and that’s when the hard work really starts. We’ve had a great 15-16 months since the launch and are looking to triple that growth in FY24, however we don’t underestimate the cost to do that and how meticulous we must be around execution.
Our contract manufacturer now believes heavily in us after seeing our exponential growth which has helped the relationship mature a lot quicker.
Bobby is available nationally at 7-Eleven, Coles, IGA, Market Organics, Romeo’s and online at drinkbobby.com.