By Max Rothman
When it comes to selling lemonade, Tim Kezman isn’t exactly trying to befuddle anyone. That’s not how he likes to work and that’s not how lemonade works, he said. Instead, Kezman, the president of King Juice Company, Inc., a Milwaukee-based co-packer that makes Calypso Lemonade, prefers to live by the basics. The same goes for the lemonade, an American staple that he doesn’t think requires a puzzle of good-for-yous.
“It’s not real sexy, it’s not real good for you,” Kezman said. “Our products are high quality. They’re not going to make you run faster, they’re not going to make you sleep better, they’re not going to make you a better lover. The bottom line is, it’s hot out, are you thirsty? Do you want something good to drink?”
It’s this approach, which Kezman said belongs to the majority of consumers from the mainstream channels, such as mass and convenience, not the minority of health-seeking shoppers from the natural channel, that has gradually carried Calypso to its current state: a national footprint and a 40 percent increase in production from the previous year.
The health and wellness fervor has become more of an industry idea than something conceived by the consumer, Kezman said. With an overload of vitamins, nutraceuticals and other hard-to-pronounce details, consumers can feel overwhelmed and unsure of their decisions. This opinion isn’t on-trend, but distributors still boast to Kezman about how there’s no educational process needed with Calypso. Consumers don’t need to be told what it’s going to do for them. Rather, they appreciate the glass bottles, a substantial, familiar format, and understand the flavors, such as Strawberry Lemonade, Raspberry Pink Lemonade and Natural Lemonade.
“We’ll leave the scientific drinks to somebody else,” Kezman said.
One of the lemonade category’s greatest, most consistent challenges remains seasonality. How do you trump the common perception — lemonade is a summertime drink — and stay on shelves for the entire year?
No retailer has ever looked at the calendar, seen that it’s September and discontinued Calypso distribution, Kezman said. Despite regular attempts by companies, especially at a regional level, to knock Calypso into hibernation, the brand has always been able to hold its own during the winter months.
He credits not just the flavors and simplicity of his lemonades, but also the variety. Consumers envision Calypso’s 14 flavors, perhaps even more during the winter, as a fruit drink. This gives the brand an indirect flexibility that steadies sales figures.
“We’ve never lost in a space because of seasonality,” Kezman said.
This durability could also be attributed to Calypso’s brand loyalty, which has been strengthened by the company’s gradual business model. Over a span of 15 years, at the potential cost of progressing at a slower rate, Calypso has expanded at a comfortable pace.
King Juice is privately held, with its own 123,000 square-foot bottling plant, so Kezman doesn’t need to answer to anybody, nor hit any specific numbers. He doesn’t want to pay for space, which he said the industry has been willing to do. He takes it one cold box, one region and one market a time. This strategy, which nurtures each market before too quickly making a move, keeps Calypso on the shelf and deflects competition.
“As the brand matures in the market, there’s less and less seasonal drop-off,” he said.