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MIDWEST: King Juice Co. Readies Rollout For ‘Light’ Blends Of Calypso Lemonades

Calypson light lemonade

Last updated on November 25th, 2020 at 12:43 pm

This year is shaping up as monumental for Calypso, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, riding a wave of recent innovation and introducing a new line of light lemonades this spring.

Calypso, David Klavsons
David Klavsons

David Klavsons, CEO of King Juice Co. Inc., recently chatted with The Shelby Report’s VP of the Midwest Geoff Welch, reflecting on the progress of the past few years and sharing some insight about the company’s path forward.

Klavsons began with a brief overview, noting that King Juice is the company and Calypso is the brand. There also is a co-pack business that is underneath King Juice, whose headquarters are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

An industry veteran whose career includes stints with PepsiCo, Nabisco/Kraft and Hess Retail, among others, Klavsons came to the company in 2017 from Glanbia Performance Nutrition, whose Isopure protein drink is co-packed by King Juice. He said he was drawn by King Juice’s strong underlying fundamentals.

“It is the fastest moving, highest velocity of lemonade in that category, beating competitors,” Klavsons said. “I saw that right out of the gate. You couple that with a great brand name and a terrific, great-tasting product with natural flavors, real lemons and real sugar, and then great consumer appeal—people love our product. It also was a brand that had just somewhat stagnated, that had plateaued over the last five years prior, and it just needed an investment and a push.”

After coming aboard, Klavsons and team spent the first year stabilizing the business and making significant investments. “(We) just did some of the basics and fundamentals around the brand,” he said.

Those included marketing, investing in a packaging refresh, innovation, flavors and multi-packs. The company also began to develop a zero-sugar product.

“Then we started revamping the sales organization with a focus on distributor execution and distribution,” Klavsons said. “…Then we got the manufacturing plant going in a much more efficient way—with logistics, capability, capacity—and we’ve revamped our executive team by bringing in some fantastic talent.”

While not immediate, the moves produced somewhat swift results.

“We went from somewhat declining in 2017 to flat, a little bit of growth, in 2018 to last year growing over 30 percent,” he said. “And momentum continues into at least the first quarter of this year, given what’s going on with Covid-19.”

Klavsons characterized Calypso’s supply chain as “very, very strong,” with the all of the products produced at the company’s plant in Milwaukee, which has the capacity to accommodate growth. Calypso’s distribution network includes more than 160 distributors, about two-thirds of which are beer distributors, across the country.

“They’ve done a terrific job,” Klavsons said. “That network was built over the years by (the previous owner) and it’s really served the brand well. We’re committed to it.”

Distribution with retailers is what he described as one of the company’s biggest opportunities.

“We have the fastest moving lemonade and continue to grow that, but we also have only 31 percent ACV distribution,” he said. “…We have gone after those chain accounts with national distribution in Kroger. We’ve got Safeway. We recently got into Casey’s (General Stores). We’re in Wawa. That expansion of distribution is the key component to growing this business over the next couple of years.”

According to its website, the Calypso Original Lemonade recipe dates to 1985, when the then-owner of King Juice Co. came up with a beverage that used real lemons and sugar. Made in small batches, the lemonade was delivered locally on the company truck. Inspired by the fruits, flavors and spirit of the islands, it grew in popularity before taking the name Calypso in 2000. Today, the brand features more than 15 flavors of lemonade, limeade, and tea and lemonade combinations.

“(Those are) the cornerstones of the brand—flavor, variety and color,” Klavsons said. “And I’ve got to tell you, it has served us very well as we have launched new flavors in the market. Island Wave being one of the first innovations we put out there (in 2018) and it’s taken off. It’s one of our top 10—actually, top six now—flavors in the portfolio. It’s exciting. It is a category and a business that really responds well to flavor innovation.”

Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic that has gripped the nation, Klavsons said Calypso has been fortunate. Alerted to the looming crisis by a supplier with significant international business, the company decided to get out ahead of it.

“In early February, we extended supplies of raw materials to ensure that we could support the business,” he said. “We brought in a three-month supply of everything and it really gave us a head start, where we pre-made and pre-shipped product to distributors and then started pushing on retailers, especially grocery stores and Walmart.”

To date, there have been no Covid-positive cases at King Juice, which Klavsons said is closely monitoring the situation and adhering to all CDC guidelines. In addition, it was able to donate a tractor-trailer load of product to City Harvest food bank in New York City.

Next up for the brand is Calypso Light, a zero sugar, five-calorie lemonade. And perhaps most gratifying for Klavsons is how the concept originated.

“We listened to the consumers; that’s really where this came from,” he said. “We’ve got great engagement with consumers, more so than most other brands that I’ve worked on. They asked for a low-sugar option.

“We spent about a year with our R&D resources to formulate (it). We feel really good about it. We’ve got distribution in Kroger, Safeway, Casey’s and a number of other retailers. It’s definitely a place where we can capture new consumers and extend our brand.”

According to a press release, Calypso Light comes in four flavors—Original, Ocean Blue, Strawberry and Southern Peach. Each lemonade contains zero grams of sugar and five calories per 16-oz. bottle. Retailing for a national average of $1.79, they were scheduled to be on shelves at Kroger in mid-April, with additional retailers to follow in 2020.

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