Osena - Spiked Coconut Water - A Better Way to Drink
It was the summer of 2019, and aspiring entrepreneurs Chris Allen and Vicente Surraco were facing a harsh reality – they were getting older, and the morning-after malaise that often accompanied a night of drinking was getting worse. The pair relocated from Philadelphia to New York City for the summer to take on internships during summer break from their studies at Wharton. But when the next-day headaches subsided, they looked at the business landscape and saw an opportunity. These two fitness enthusiasts wondered if there might be a better way.
That summer, Vicente started working at Anheuser-Busch in their disruptive innovation group. For the alcohol industry, the millions of drunken 20-somethings holding the now-familiar white slim can was nothing short of a revolution. (In alcohol, we like to call drunken 20-somethings “early adopters”.) It was White Claw Summer, and the main thought on everyone’s mind was how to get a piece of the rapidly growing spiked seltzer pie.
The subsequent innovation in the category, however, fell flat. Everyone was releasing new spiked seltzer flavors and brands, but few people were interested in building on the underlying trends that made spiked seltzer such a hit. Spiked seltzer was better-for-you: it had lower calories and sugar and felt easy to drink. But that didn’t mean the innovation had to end there.
Take one walk down a beverage aisle at your local Whole Foods and you’ll notice a whole world of interesting beverages to quench your thirst – fortified with vitamins, minerals, and more. Yet in alcohol, people had decided that spiked seltzer was to have all the fun. Vicente and Chris wondered why – and drawing on their Latin roots, it was obvious the next candidate to get a boozy makeover was coconut water.
Why coconut water? Coconut water is refreshing, delicious, and natural, but most importantly, coconut water is hydrating, making it a go-to hangover cure. Spiked seltzer solved the problem of high calories, and spiked coconut water could solve the problem of hangovers. Fully convinced by the idea, they founded the startup that became Osena Spiked Coconut Water, and got to work.
The idea, brand, and formulation are the most important pieces of launching a new beverage. First, Surraco and Allen knew while Osena had to taste good, it had to look great. They set out with high-end liquor as their inspiration – known for sleek yet warm brands practically dripping in cool. They wanted consumers to feel a certain way when they picked Osena. If consumers would like Osena for its taste, they’d love it for its look and feel. With spiked beverages breaking down norms left and right, they also knew it had to be a brand for everyone – men and women.
Why did White Claw beat out its competitors? Comedian Trevor Wallace coined the line “No laws when you’re drinking claws” during a video where he pretended to be a college-aged rapscallion discovering White Claw for the first time. Trevor noticed these “frat bros” chose White Claw over other brands. The primary reason is that White Claw was the only gender-neutral brand against a backdrop of feminine alternatives. Women, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care either way. The result was that White Claw took off.
When products are otherwise similar, consumers choose based on brand. Every piece of the Osena brand was carefully considered in the pursuit of creating a brand consumers would love.
If the idea and brand convince consumers to try a drink, the taste will determine whether they ever drink it again. But formulation can be complex, especially in fermented beverages. Osena’s coconut water is naturally fermented, like a wine or a cider, in order to remove the sugars in the coconut water. That was more challenging than mixing liquor and coconut water, but this allowed Osena to reach 100 calories and zero sugar whereas a premix would likely have 140+ calories. To consumers, 140+ calories is a nonstarter in a better-for-you beverage.
With a carefully crafted brand and a formulation that’s been perfected over years, Osena just launched its first variety pack, The Islands Collection, in 2022. But the journey for this pair of entrepreneurs in revolutionizing better-for-you alcohol is only beginning:
“We were shocked when a local brewer told us he changes the formulation of his best-selling beers with every run to see if he can make them better,” Surraco said. “However, if we could make Osena better in any way, why wouldn’t we? Our mission is to drive true innovation and make our mark in the beverage world.”