Pictures from Dirty Lemon Instagram feed

How Dirty Lemon's business model caters to modern consumers

Tips from Dirty Lemon CEO Zak Normandin, on the importance of branding (hint: it's everything!) and scrutinizing consumer experience.

There’s no doubt about it. Launching a natural products brand is a challenging endeavor.

While entrepreneurs can spend weeks, months and even years perfecting their product’s ingredient formulation, that is, unfortunately, the easy part. Much of the effort associated with natural companies is getting the physical product to grocery store shelves—a process which involves a litany of players including co-packers, brokers, distributors, retail partners and consumer sampling services.   

But is there another way to do business in the natural products industry? Zak Normandin, CEO of functional beverage brand Dirty Lemon, says yes.

Now a year into experimenting with a new model of getting his lemony, activated charcoal-infused product into consumers' hands, Normandin and Dirty Lemon have shipped more than 10,000 orders to date, and enjoy a phenomenal 20 percent re-order rate. One possible reason: Ordering Dirty Lemon is a cinch. Folks can only order the beverage by the case through text message (“text for a good time,” prompts Dirty Lemon’s Instagram feed), and products can be shipped overnight.

Dirty Lemon has seen so much success that the company launched three more SKUs that feature lemon juice and herbal extracts for condition specific support (titled “[sleep],” “[energy]” and “[skin + hair]”).

We checked in with Normandin to glean his advice for natural brands that cater to the modern consumer. Here are three top takeaways for your brand.

Identify key opportunities

The beverage category is notoriously hard to break into because it's so crowded. Staple multi-national brands (cough, Pepsi and Coca-Cola) have flooded the market with products developed by robust R&D teams, and the energy beverage sector is still growing with Red Bull, Monster, RockStar and more enjoying salient consumer brand recognition.

But even with expansion into natural categories, the big beverage companies are suffering. For the 11th year in a row, soda sales fizzed in 2015. Total volume declined by 1.2 percent—a small but significant amount, according to a report by Beverage Digest. And per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks dropped to a 30-year low.

Such consumer scorn for sugary soda—and a desire for functional ingredientsis a key opportunity for Dirty Lemon. “Whether it be added hydration from coconut water or energy from green coffee beans, increasingly more consumers are looking for function rather than flavors,” Normandin says. “We are positioning Dirty Lemon as a true competitor in the beverage space as a whole—especially within the wellness community.”

Control consumer experience

Normandin contends that he would definitely see a sales boost if natural retailers like Whole Foods Market carried Dirty Lemon. But he resists traditional retail models to preserve Dirty Lemon’s brand by having complete control over consumer experience. Normandin’s team orchestrates every interaction consumers have with Dirty Lemon—from viewing the mega-cool Instagram feed to ordering via text to customer service.

“I think the great thing about direct-to-consumer is that once someone becomes a customer we’re able to focus on the best possible experience for them,” Normandin says, adding that Dirty Lemon is partnering with a small number of high-end fitness groups and hotels to sell the product too. “It allows us by association to keep the brand in a place where we always know how consumers are buying it.”

Branding is everything

Zormandin is clearly a branding aficionado. He is the founder of Little Duck Organics, a partner at the creative agency REDWOOD new york and the co-founder and CEO of Dirty Lemon. He believes that when it comes to launching a natural products company, branding is a chief concern. “The brand is the most important thing. Any food product can be copied. If you’re going into the food industry, its been proven time and time again there is always a way to reverse engineer food products,” he says.

His best advice to brands seeking consumer loyalty and relevancy in an increasingly competitive market: dissect why people are buying your product. “It sounds like a simple question, but when you break it down it's a complex thing to think about as a brand,” Normandin says. “There needs to be a reason why people are purchasing your product. There’s too much competition out there. Too many people coming to market hitting shelves all the time so store sets can stay fresh. Brands increasingly need to be focused on thinking through why they are doing what they are doing.”

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