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Beverage market disruptor Nexba is on the road to taking its Naturally Sugar Free drinks brand into global markets. Co-founders Troy Douglas and Drew Bilbe share the team’s latest plans with Lindy Hughson.

IT’s been quite a ride for Sydney-based entrepreneurs Troy Douglas and Drew Bilbe, who first disrupted the beverage market in 2011 with their ‘naturally better-for-you’ ice tea in edgy packaging.

Fast forward to 2015, and the pair made their first bold move in the ‘naturally sugar free’ space, launching a new line of superfood-based sparkling ice teas available in flavours of Acai Berry, Pomegranate, and Ginger.

Picking up the pace, a collaboration with Coles in 2016 saw them launch the next generation of ‘soft drink’ flavours – Cola, Lemon and Orange – a move which saw the company’s sales “grow exponentially” in 2016-17.

According to the duo, key to the success of this product is Nexba’s combination of stevia and erythritol as the natural sweetener, a proprietary formulation developed over six years and in response to Nexba’s own research which revealed consumers didn’t always like the after-taste of stevia.

“People are accustomed to the taste and mouth-feel of full-sugar drinks, so in the past brands used artificial sweeteners, which can be damaging to your body, or have launched reduced sugar alternatives using only one natural substitute, and the cost has been the experience,” Troy Douglas says.

“With such products, the after-taste often lingers,so consumers haven’t really adopted the products [using only this ingredient].”

Six years in development, Nexba’s proprietary formulation of naturally sugar-free sweeteners stevia and erythritol allows the company to deliver a sugary taste while the product remains all-natural and sugar-free.

The Naturally Sugar Free taste has clearly hit the mark, with this soft drink range winning in the competitive beverage category of this year’s Product of the Year awards, reflecting the tastes of more than 14,000 consumers interviewed by Nielsen.

Reducing consumers’ sugar intake is a key part of Nexba’s social impact, and offers a big point of difference in the segment.

“We recognised when we started the business that we wanted to make better-for-you and healthier products available, and that ice tea was a very niche ‘water plus’ category.," Douglas says.

That said, strategically ice tea was a category that allowed our business to build industry relationships, prove the concept and consumer appetite for where we envisioned our brand to be – first to market in the ‘naturally sugar-free’ category.”

Having achieved the right formulation, they realised the business needed to “step up” and begin the process of expansion.

This involved calling on the advice of “the Godfather” of their business, Peter Baron – known for inventing Sipahh.

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