Functional beverage surge for VitHit in Australia with bumper Coles deal

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

VitHit founder Gary Lavin is keen on bringing the firm's functional beverage range — featuring an improved formulation — to APAC, starting with Australia.
VitHit founder Gary Lavin is keen on bringing the firm's functional beverage range — featuring an improved formulation — to APAC, starting with Australia.

Related tags: functional beverage, Vitamins, Australia

Irish brand VitHit expects its upcoming APAC debut to open doors for further expansion within the region for its sole product: a range of six functional bottled beverages developed as a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks.

The firm announced its impending launch in Australia in March this year, but has now shared more details of its expansion plans on the back of securing a major deal with retailer Coles.

A popular secret

Now, speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia​, founder Gary Lavin said: "I went to Australia on holiday in 2015 and I was very surprised that even though it was known to be a generally healthy nation, many of the products sold there were alarmingly high in sugar.

"I started thinking I had to provide an alternative to the sugar-filled drinks I'd seen."

He eventually decided to introduce to the Australian market an improved version of VitHit's signature range of functional bottled beverages, which had been available in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US over the last decade.

The beverages are made with fruit juice concentrates and tea, with no added sugar. They are also enriched with antioxidants, amino acids, and 100% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamins and minerals in every bottle.

Each variation of VitHit is developed with a specific function — Immunitea, for instance, is made with dragonfruit, yuzu​ and Ceylon tea, and designed to support the immune system, while Perform — made with mango, passionfruit and matcha​ tea — is touted as a "gym buddy in a bottle"​.

While the drinks had previously contained sucralose as an alternative to sugar, Lavin wanted to improve on the formulation before bringing it to Australia.

He said, "We'd been working on a stevia formulation for the last three years — the problem with stevia in the past was that it was very difficult to get it to taste great.

"In the US, it's actually quite easy to formulate a good-tasting stevia drink, because the permitted levels of stevia are quite high. But in Europe, certain constraints mean the permitted stevia levels are quite low, which makes it a lot more difficult to get the taste right — that's why it’s taken us so long.

"There are also different grades of stevia — there are better grades available today that were not available two or three years ago, so you don't get the metallic aftertaste with them that you would get with lower grades.

"We have since developed a secret formula to making it taste great across the different flavours, so we brought that to Australia earlier this year and over three days, we met with many buyers who told us this was exactly what they were looking for."

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Coming to Australia

Prior to Australia, VitHit had most recently launched in the UAE, but Lavin said now the focus was on Australia.

"We'll be launchingon November 1 in 600 Coles stores across Australia​. This is our first southern hemisphere launch and we're pretty excited about it. I'm actually going to move there for three months to help with the launch and meet with our distributors in the country."

At the same time, he revealed the company was in talks with a distributor in Hong Kong, saying: "We've been contacted several times over the years by Hong Kong companies but we just hadn't found the right partner."

He hopes, however, that Australia can be a stepping stone for VitHit in APAC: "Now that we are going to have a presence in Australia, we'll definitely be more open to going into more APAC countries.

"For instance, if we get a very strong distributor whom we believe in and who has similar values to our other distributors, then we would of course be interested."

While VitHit does not have a confirmed list of Asian countries it is targeting, Lavin said that list "will be created over the next four to six months"​, as the brand settles into Australia and strengthens its  foothold in that market.

Diversifying: Markets or products?

In terms of whether or not VitHit will develop other functional products such as yogurts or energy bars, Lavin said, "I think what we do really well is low-sugar, good-tasting drinks in a grab-and-go format, and to start creating other products would be to take our eye off the ball.

"We have tried to replicate this format in cans and in kids' products, but I always find that we take our eye off the ball a little bit (when we do that)."

"We do have other products in the pipeline but we've held them back because if we want to expand the company, we can either do so within the territories we're already in, or we can expand into different countries — which is exactly what we're doing with the current developments in Australia and the UAE."

He added that since the firm is self-funded, it would rather stay focused on what it knows it is good at, and partner with trusted distributors in different countries.

There are also no plans to expand the current range of beverages, as VitHit would prefer to focus on what consumers already know and love, and bring that to as many markets as possible.

Lavin said: "With our current range of six products, we've found it would take us one to four years to build up a good profile in any country.

"We've decided there's no need to add any extra products, because as we enter a country and make ourselves known, we know we can become a market leader quite quickly, as we have done in our European territories."

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