Energy drink giant Red Bull aligns itself with stunt bikers, cliff divers, and skydiving from the stratosphere. Meanwhile, Uptime is doing the opposite, eschewing associations with hyper-masculinity, extreme sports, or partying.
Its retail sales and velocity testify that it’s a strategy that’s working out pretty well for the brand—Nielsen data for the 52 weeks ending September 16, 2017, revealed that the brand had made its way to No. 12 of all energy brands in convenience store sales.
A year prior, it went from under $1 million in sales to over $14 million in 12 months.
“[With] our marketing strategy, we’ve been really careful. Because we want to appeal to the masses, we’re not taking a position with dirt bikes and extreme sports,” Benjamin Kim, CEO of Uptime Energy, told NutraIngredients-USA.
Bringing life into a brand that dates back to the 1980s
Uptime as the energy drink on the market today came out in July 2014, but as a brand, it has been around since the 1980s. The original product was an energy tablet which gained a small following among UC Santa Barbara students when the university's basketball team’s players were spotted using them.
Kim was a student there at the time and considers himself an early adopter of the product. Back then, it stood out as a caffeine alternative that used botanical ingredients like ginseng and Ginkgo biloba. The company launched a beverage version of the tablets in 1998, to little fanfare.
“The owner didn’t have enough money to continue the beverage side,” Kim recalled.
As a self-identified serial entrepreneur, Kim bought and started several companies in the food and beverage space. Having been familiar with the Uptime product, he bought the company from its original owners in 2014 and planned a complete overhaul of its branding and package design.
Minimalist approach bodes well with mainstream buyers
Compared to other single-serve, RTD energy drink products in convenience store coolers, Uptime stands out because of its packaging, Kim said.
It was designed by his wife Carrie Kim, who has a background in fashion and also serves as chief creative officer at Uptime. It’s packaged in a metal bottle that lists three ingredients at its front: ginseng, Ginkgo biloba, and coenzyme Q10.
“Literally in a handful of days, she created the Uptime that you see today,” he said. “It works everywhere, and doing a deeper dive, it appealed to the masses. It was the 18-60 [demographic] that got our product flying off the shelves.”
They learned a lot about who is buying their product from their partnership with convenience chain 7-Eleven, a partnership that began in 2015 in 340 test stores nationwide.
“We got a call from 7-Eleven corporate—they’ve never seen numbers like this,” he recalled. “They were really intrigued because we were the first energy drink to appeal to women, especially the sugar-free white bottle.”
“They saw that a lot of the Starbucks crowd, the 40-50 year olds, were buying Uptime...everybody’s buying Uptime because obviously the packaging, but it’s the liquid that’s bringing them back.”
Uptime’s sweet spot so far is the space between the hyper-masculine imagery that energy drink giants go for on one end, and the premium, natural and botanical imagery on the other end—the brand uses stark fonts and bold masculine colors like red, black, and white, but softens it up with a minimalist bottle design and highlighting botanical ingredients on the package.
Without divulging further, Kim said the brand is prepping for major changes and a few product launches in the coming months, but it’s likely that the brand will stick to its current positioning formula. “We’re the first mainstream energy drink…to really expand beyond the ‘extreme’ stigma,” Kim added.