How this South African soft drink brand made $1m worth of sales in one day

Greig Jansen, CEO of Pura Beverages

Last month, the team from South African lower-calorie, lower-sugar soft drink company PURA Beverages, travelled to the US to attend two of the top trade shows in the food and beverage sector, the first time post the Covid-19 pandemic. The team returned having secured $1 million in orders from just one day at a trade show.

The idea for Pura Beverages came about when founder Greig Jansen was the CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa in Ethiopia. Jansen, who competes professionally in off-road triathlons, had been considering a gap in the market for a drink that offered good flavour options but contained less sugar. At 11.6g per 330ml can, Pura Soda contains less than half of the sugar that average soft drinks have.

Two years of market research followed before Jansen registered the company in 2015 and trademarked the brand name. Over the last few years, the business focused mostly on South Africa. Now Jansen wants to tackle the US market, which is why he and his team attended the Summer Fancy Food Show (New York) and the KeHE Holiday Show (Chicago) trade events.

Below, Jansen, shares his learnings from the American trade shows and provides insight on how to take a home-grown brand international.

1. Lay the groundwork

Visiting these trade shows gave PURA direct access to all the major retailers that they had been trying relentlessly to engage with over the last two years. Not being able to travel had made it borderline impossible to make headway on this front. Although the team had attended shows in 2019, they were now geared up to succeed in an exciting new market.

“We did our homework, and we now have an entity, a back office, and a stock warehouse, all based on the ground in the US. It meant we were now ready to meet the right people to get our product into the hands of consumers, but more importantly, be able to follow through afterward,” explains Jansen. “You need to be sure that you want to be in a new market, you cannot just dip your toes in the water, you need to be willing to make commitments.”

A selection of the company's beverages.

A selection of the company’s beverages.

2. Nothing beats face-to-face contact

Big retailers, including the likes of Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, H-E-B, Aldi, Giant, Costco, Albertsons and many others, visited the PURA stand and showed interest in the products, according to Jansen.

“These face-to-face meetings resulted in some big changes for PURA. We confirmed that PURA Kids, will be going into Target in quarter one of 2023, with PURA Soda in consideration for the October reset. We are now in the process of working through the listing requirements with multiple additional retailers who have expressed interest in listing our products, including Walmart,” says Jansen.

At the KeHE show in Chicago, PURA got around $1 million in initial orders and is in the process of following up to convert other opportunities into sales.

“There simply is no substitute for being able to share our brand, our passion, and how our products deliver in person. That being said, once you have got into retailers this is when the real work starts,” Jansen continued.

3. Be prepared

Jansen explains that one of the biggest learnings that PURA took away from this experience is that if a brand is considering going to a trade show, they need to do their homework.

“Be prepared, make sure you choose the right partners, don’t be starry-eyed and cut out steps in the process. People may promise you the world because you are in a different time zone, you need to be confident that they can deliver on their word,” he explains.

“We have linked with incredible business accelerators, who vet your business and product thoroughly before they take you on, and their role is to ensure that they have a very high level of comfort that your brand will succeed. We predict that in the next three years, 70% of our revenue will come from the United States, although our home market will always remain important,” Jansen notes.

4. Understand your audience

Doing your homework isn’t only about being prepared logistically – the other important thing is to understand whom you are targeting. Businesses need to know whom they want to speak to and be clear about what they want to say. Before entering the US market, PURA did extensive consumer research, putting the brand up against competitors currently on the shelves.

“In essence, consumers are aggressively looking for something healthier, but they are not willing to sacrifice when it comes to taste – and this is the core essence of our product range. The US has the biggest beverage market in the world, with the ‘better-for-you’ drinks category growing by 34% last year. We knew that it was imperative for us to get in on the action,” he says.

5. Be memorable

The US market is huge and competition is fierce, with buyers seeing hundreds of brands at every show.

“In short, do you have an elevator speech prepared that explains your product? You need to be memorable, as deal fatigue is the biggest killer of success. You only have a short time frame before people lose interest, so ensure that you make an impression. At each show, we made sure that we did something that made people remember us, as small as a take-home gift or shirts that we wore made from recycled plastic. It meant that when the buyers left, they remembered us and what we stood for,” Jansen says.