Doin’ Good and disrupting the fizzy drink industry: Q&A with Alessandra Zehnder at Soulfresh

Soulfresh is a brand on a mission to change the food and drink industry, one category at a time. How can performance channels help the Australian brand repeat its success story in European markets?

Back in October, Kombucha brand Lo Bros unveiled a new identity, and called on the UK to ‘refresh’ or ’rebooch’ their drink choices and make a switch in time for a healthy winter.

Didi Lo, Founder of Soulfresh, Lo Bros’ parent company, started the company in Byron Bay with a pledge to create healthier drinks that were also “bloody delicious” – in his own words.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink full of live cultures and made with natural ingredients. It’s a healthier low-sugar alternative to other fizzy drinks, squashes and cordials that make up the majority of the £290bn global soft drinks industry. 

The ’rebooch’ of Lo Bros includes a new look and new way of looking at the world. It’s all about turning the negatives into positives. Or, in Lo Bros speak: “Doin’ Good”. 

As the health food brand unveils its fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth, PMW sat down with Alessandra Zehnder, General Manager at Soulfresh to talk about the issues facing a challenger brand in the beverage sector.

Q. Can you tell us a little about Soulfresh and its expansion into European markets?

“Soulfresh started off in Australia almost 20 years ago. We're a purpose driven company essentially trying to change the industry. We approach the whole food and beverage system differently than other companies. We look at the food and beverage industry and identify key issues in the different categories. Our brands then become an ‘impact vehicle’ for change, addressing the key problems in the respective categories so we can bring lasting change from within.”

“For example, milk is an easy example to understand. There is a big carbon footprint from the milk industry and animal welfare is a challenge. So, what we do is we have plant-based milk that has a significantly lower carbon footprint and no animal welfare concerns. Then, there are our Lo Bros drinks which target problems around the soft drink industry, where we have issues with plastic ending up in oceans and sugar as a main cause of obesity, not just in the UK but worldwide.”

“So a kombucha drink provides a great solution for that. Essentially turning something ‘bad’, which is sugar, and turning that into something good, which is a tasty drink with live cultures using fermentation. The UK business was established about four years ago and our mission is to disrupt food for a better world. In order for us to do that, we need to start expanding the business.”

Q. Soulfresh (and its sub-brand Lo Bros) is a growing brand looking to disrupt established markets: how are you using performance channels, such paid search, to grow in a new territory?

“In terms of Instagram, we've joined up our newer UK business with our established Australia and New Zealand account. So we have one big channel where we then have country specific content for our followers. Social media is not what it was two or three years ago. When I started my career, social media would've been managed by a brand manager, and that would have been enough. 

“What we have to acknowledge these days is that it really requires a dedicated person. You want someone who's internal, who knows your brand and who really represents you in the right way. In the UK market specifically, where we are much younger and operate more as a startup, we have two fundamental challenges. The first one is we need to drive penetration. We need to drive the awareness of our brands. We don't have huge budgets. So I need to be mindful of every penny I spend and I need to be sure that it actually delivers.

“If I translate that to social media, we need to focus on more awareness driving channels,  social media very much still plays in that consideration area of the funnels and we're largely in the middle segment of the marketing funnel. In terms of PPC and search, that’s very much for our ‘always on presence’, and therefore requires funding it consistently throughout the year.”

Q. A health drink is ripe for influencer marketing: how do you ensure you get the balance right when it comes to authenticity on this channel?  

“In terms of partnerships, we get approached by a lot of influencers, which is really amazing. But we need to make a very conscious choice of who we want to work with. In the past, influencers were this big thing where you paid them for two posts to hold your product and smile. But this is not how we want to do things. We're a purpose driven company and we have a purpose driven brand. So for Soul Fresh, it's very important that who we work with really embodies and understands what we're trying to do. Every influencer we engage with and decide to work with is going to become a long term partner that also forms part of our communication strategy.

“If social media has taught us one thing, it is that consumers call you out quickly if you're not delivering against what you stand for. For us it will be more a mix of macro and micro influencers along with ambassadors and partnerships. Don't get me wrong, If we can work with someone really big and famous, that perfectly aligns with our vision and our purpose, I would definitely not say no to that as it would essentially help us drive impact!”

Q. What are the challenges of being a relatively new brand on the drinks market?

“The first challenge for us from a marketing objective point of view is we need to get more people to try our product, so that means essentially penetration. And translating that into communication objectives it’s awareness. The second challenge is the limited budgets. If I take kombucha as an example, it's a very segmented category. There are a lot of different great brands out there, and it's not just about how we stand out at the point of sale, but also how we stand out online.”

Q. Retail media (buying ad space across a large retailer’s network) is one the rise. Is that something that works for your brand  at the moment? 

“We are already using retail media, but are in a test and learn phase. For example, we invest in the Criteo retail media network and are testing quite heavily trying to understand what works the best. Is having a banner next to shopper’s favourites working best? Do ads above the search bar or below the search bar drive more conversions? One of the key objectives as we start seeing improved results on these channels is that we really get behind the return on investment.” 

Q. Looking more broadly at the global drinks market, what are the key trends that you're seeing, both from big and small brands? 

“I don't think the drinks industry specifically is very different to other consumer goods industries. It's about understanding where your consumer group is and about hacking those key moments and being super reactive. You can't be a week late on a relevant trend, because no-one's going to care about it anymore.”

“I recently attended some talks from the new social media platform WeAre8. What is interesting about them is they have two feeds. One of them is only where you see your friend and have no advertising.

"And then there is the other one where you essentially get paid for watching ads. Then you start building up a wallet with the option of investing that in positive causes. It will be interesting to see if that platform takes off. 

“Six or seven years ago, everyone was focused on Facebook. Then lots of marketers started moving to Instagram, but now many people in the industry are asking: “Is Instagram really delivering?” Now everyone seems to be moving to TikTok. But overall, we simply need to be very close to how consumer behaviour evolves and what’s coming up next.

“As a health brand, Reddit is quite interesting. I think in bigger companies there is almost a bit of a credibility issue for Reddit, but a lot of people go there to find information and get reviews and when you're a brand that has strong health credentials that can be really relevant. It’s also come a long way in targeting capabilities, so you can trial and error and fine tune your campaigns.” 

Alessandra Zehnder is General Manager at Soulfresh