Karma Drinks on their global ambitions
Karma Drinks started with a mission to prove that drinks should not only taste good, but be good for the people who grow the ingredients and for the land it comes from. The Kiwi brand founded in 2012, has since expanded to a global footprint in more than 20 countries, including recently launching into one of the largest supermarkets in Finland. We spoke with their newly appointed CEO, Ben Dando, to hear how the business is continuing to spread good karma despite the ongoing pandemic, and forging ahead with their global and local expansion plans.
Tell us a bit about Karma Drinks and how it all started?
Karma Drinks began when three friends, Simon Coley and brothers Matt and Chris Morrison, were determined to create a cola drink that was organic, sustainable and helped the growers who provided the raw ingredients including the cola nut. The guys started the business from a beach and made their first drink with cola nuts sent from a small village in Sierra Leone.
Fast forward to today, the brand has taken off with over 28 million drinks sold in 23 countries. Our values remain the same in that we create Fair Trade, organic beverages that look great, taste amazing and contribute to the extraordinary by donating 1% of our revenue to the Karma Foundation which gives back to the communities of growers we serve.
We have continued to innovate and now, our portfolio includes not just customer favourites such as Lemmy Lemonade, Gingerella Ginger Ale and our original Karma Cola, but also organic juices and more functional beverages with our own kombucha and switchels. We’re really proud of who we are and our ethos of do-gooding despite the added costs to business model.
Where we do good is through the Karma Foundation: 1% of our revenue on all our products goes to the Foundation which supports the growers and their families with community projects and initiatives. Over the years, we’ve helped build three bridges, provided bursaries for 133 girls to go to school and established a revolving fund that has invested in more than 50 local entrepreneurs trading their way to a bright future and much more.
Are there plans for expansion into new markets, and what are your plans for growth in your current markets?
Absolutely. We are on the receiving end of expansion requests on a daily basis and we were stoked to have recently expanded into Finland. However, we continue to innovate and adapt to the global pandemic and have taken a practical step to prioritise the domestic market in New Zealand and roll out our new range of drinks back at home first.
As a result of COVID-19, we have seen the consumer trend towards making more sustainable, ‘shop local’, organic and ethical purchases. We have put that at the forefront of our growth strategy and are looking to evolve our drinks range to include plant-based drinks, natural energy, and reduced sugar products in response to consumer needs.
You mention the pandemic, what’s the impact been like on Karma Drinks?
Like many businesses, we had to adjust to the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought. Particularly due to the lockdowns in the UK and Europe, where a high portion of our sales took a hit as many hospitality businesses shut their doors. We had to really look carefully at our operational overheads and make some significant changes to the business to reduce our cost structure.
It has been really tough at times. However, our financial results in the last quarter were beyond what we expected and our best since 2016. We’re using this momentum to continue to support our customers, partners and the communities we serve in Sierra Leone to ultimately do more good. Furthermore, we want to champion change in the food industry and be a positive force for change for people and the planet.
Are there any new flavours in the pipeline?
Next up, we are set to launch a new raspberry lemonade called “Razza”. Spreading the good Karma, we reckon Razza captures the spirit of 2020 with an ‘I-get-knocked-down-but-get-back-up-again’ attitude and will help Karma Drinks continue to exceed growth expectations when many organisations are battening down the hatches.
We’re really proud of this one. Razza embodies our ethos in 2020 and I’m delighted to say that our customers helped name him.
You joined Karma Drinks just before COVID-19 hit – how have you navigated the challenges the pandemic has brought about?
Without a doubt, running a business during COVID-19 will be one of the most challenging times any CEO will face, but I am a huge believer in playing to your strengths and the power of positivity despite facing adversity. Karma Drinks has had to make some tough decisions and adapt to what has happened globally, and as a result we have a refined strategic direction that plays to our strengths.
Innovation throughout the organisation has been a critical component to navigating the pandemic. We were innovating and adjusting our strategic direction enough that we have been able to launch seven new products since COVID-19 hit. As a result, we have had a successful financial quarter and more importantly, we are continuing to support the communities we serve via our Karma Foundation.
What’s next for you, and how can global Kiwis get involved?
Our focus is on our live capital raising as we look to start developing our new products over the next few years. We have also set our sights on a launch into the U.S. while accelerating our growth plans across the UK, Europe and Australasian markets.
With the capital raised, we will continue to put innovation at the heart of what we do, so we can continue our do-gooding by bringing more products that surprise and delight our customers at a time when it’s needed.
On a personal note, I’m leaving the UK soon with my wife and kids, and we are set to start our lives in New Zealand. I’m excited to be leading the team locally and of course, looking forward to regular work hours!
If global Kiwis are interested – they can check us out via Snowball Effect.