How low sugar took me to a sweet $1.7 bil­lion sale

Bai Brands founder Ben Weiss cre­ated a low-calo­rie, low-sugar, an­tiox­i­dant-rich bev­er­age based on cof­feefruit–the bit­ter pulp that sur­rounds cof­fee beans and is usu­ally dis­carded. Af­ter launch­ing from his Prince­ton, New Jer­sey, base­ment, Weiss spent years

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH - –As told to Will Yakow­icz

If you get shelf space and think you’ve made it, you’re mis­taken. On the shelf, you’re just in­ven­tory. The game is to get off the shelf and into the hands of the con­sumer.

In 2010, we no­ticed that cus­tomers were turn­ing bot­tles to see how much sugar was in­side of them. You’d win or lose on that ba­sis, and I saw it com­ing—a grow­ing un­will­ing­ness in cus­tomers to drink sugar. This is the is­sue that has fu­eled our growth. We spent five years hand­ing out sam­ples, telling cus­tomers about cof­feefruit and how Bai has only five calo­ries and one gram of sugar. It wasn’t glam­orous, yet it worked—no other bev­er­age could make the same claims.

The longer you’re in the bev­er­age in­dus­try, the more you re­al­ize you’re re­ally in the dis­tri­bu­tion in­dus­try. In 2014, we signed a na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion deal with Dr Pep­per Snap­ple Group. Six­teen months later, DPSG made a $15 mil­lion investment.

I wanted to max­i­mize the brand’s po­ten­tial—we couldn’t be just an­other prod­uct on a com­pany’s truck; we needed to be a top pri­or­ity. It was a tough de­ci­sion, but I ini­ti­ated the process and told J.P.Mor­gan, which had given us $50 mil­lion of fi­nanc­ing years ear­lier, that I wanted to change the in­dus­try with a com­pany em­brac­ing our vi­sion. Even­tu­ally, DPSG said that it wanted to go where we were go­ing, and to be part of the so­lu­tion: to help the in­dus­try end its de­pen­dency on sugar and ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers. That’s the bedrock of our re­la­tion­ship with DPSG.

Bai was early, but we were on to a fun­da­men­tal change. This is the first year bot­tled wa­ter has sur­passed soda in sales. Ten years from now, the bev­er­age land­scape is go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent, and Bai will be a big part of that change.

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