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Naked ambition

Products with immune-boosting properties are lining up on shelves. We meet one Irish brand taking the category by storm

Article appeared in issue 4, 2021

The functional food market is forecasted to be worth over €250bn by 2023* with functional beverages projected to grow at a CAGR of over 6% through to 2025**. We speak to Niall Phelan co-founder of The Naked Collective about its stellar success in this emerging category.

“The Naked Collective is a wellness beverage company. It was born out of a passion to deliver healthy and enjoyable beverages, paired with a necessity to answer changing consumer habits in an increasingly uncertain world. Our research has found that 54% of millennials are choosing to leave alcohol behind in the interest of leading a cleaner, more sustainable life. Our new products not only tap into this mindset but deliver on taste, experience and innovation in what will be a hyper-sensitive health market, post Covid-19 lockdowns.”

Fellow co-founder, Catherina Butler adds: “We found that six in 10 people globally are concerned about the impact of the beverages they consume on the environment, whilst 62% of consumers say health and wellness is their primary influence when buying a beverage, the second most important factor after taste. Furthermore, we are seeing a significant decline in consumption per capita of beer and sugary drinks in the developed world and consumers are demanding healthier alternatives, not just for their own body, but also for the world they live in.”


Irish ingredients

"Our deep ocean mineral salts are sourced from Oriel Marine Extracts in Co. Louth. They extract sea water from depths of 1,500m and use patented technology to produce a unique formulation of ocean minerals, supported by multiple clinical studies to improve cardiovascular health and cellular repair.”


Niall, what markets are you in?

Since we launched, we have focussed on a few key markets: the UK, Canada, Italy, and the US. In April we announced that both our Mude and So.Beer ranges will launch into 100 WH Smith stores and an additional 700 natural and health stores in the UK. The UK has been the toughest market to break into due to the combined challenges of Brexit and Covid-19. We are behind on our plans and are now looking to accelerate our presence there.

We have secured distribution with Canada’s second largest retail chain, Sobeys, bringing the total number of stores there to over 600. In Italy, the team has secured new hypermarket chains, growing to over 50 stores in May, with over 3,000 new outlets coming on stream throughout June, July, and August. We launched in the US in April and are now rolling out into 400 stores in the metro New York region, and 500 outlets in LA and surrounding counties. The Naked Collective has also been chosen by Amazon to be part of its Launchpad project which spotlights brands that offer something a little different. The momentum over the past few months has been phenomenal.


Were there obstacles along the way?

Covid-19: who puts a global pandemic in their worst-case business plan? It has been a challenging year, but we are very optimistic as the world opens up and vaccines roll out.


Where are you looking to break into next?

We are sticking to our core markets of Ireland – we have over 1,000 stockists here – the UK, US, Canada and Italy for now. We have some additional markets on the horizon, but they will likely be 2022. We have some exciting innovation coming including the launch of our liquid sachets in autumn 2021.


Tell us about the award wins to date.

In May, our no-alcohol So.Beer brand won the won the Best Low or No Product category at the World Food Innovation Awards, the most established and longest running awards in the food industry. Our Mude range of functional drinks was runner-up in two categories. The judging panel considered 276 entries from 22 countries across 26 categories.

That same month, we won Best Marketing/Social Media Campaign at the InnoBev Awards 2021 for our innovative DAP So.Beer advertising campaign, beating brands such as PepsiCo, San Pellegrino and Capri Sun. We were also a finalist in the Best New Brand category for our Mude range.

The Mude range was included in the goodie bags gifted to all nominees at the 2021 Academy Awards. The goodie bags have become an important part of the event with brands vying to be included. The estimated value of the goodies given to Oscar nominees last year was $225,000 with gifts including a $78,000 cruise. Quite the coup for a start-up business!

At the 2020 National Startup Awards we won Gold in the Food and Drink Startup category.


Finding funding

In February 2020, Catherina and Niall were returning from an investment trip to North America with a $10m funding round all but finalised. Fast forward three weeks and, as the Covid-19 situation deteriorated, a travel ban came into effect in the US. “With that” says Catherina, “our financing evaporated, and we needed to start over.” In April, the pair confirmed that €1.5m had been secured in a €5m raise.


The range

So.Beer is a non-alcoholic beer made from barley, B vitamins, selenium and polyphenols. Beta glucan, an extract from Baker’s yeast which scientific studies suggest leads to a healthier immune system, is added to create the brand’s ‘immunoboost’ formula. It is vegan, low in sugar and calories.

There are five flavours in the Mude range of immune-boosting drinks: Play, Protect, Work, Chill, and Sleep. Active ingredients include ashwagandha, an adaptogen that helps to manage stress, valerian root for restful sleep, beta glucan, deep ocean mineral salts, and amino acids.

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