Kristine M. Kierzek
As National Lemonade Day approaches August 20, King Juice, based in Milwaukee, 851 W. Grange Ave., is seeing increased interest in its Calypso lemonade sales.
Since 1999, the company has been making Calypso lemonade on the south side of Milwaukee, just west of the airport. The long-life drink now comes in nearly 20 flavors and is sold internationally. Founded in 1985, King Juice was sold in 2017 and David Klavsons took over the role of CEO.
Calypso soft drinks – lemonades, limeades and “teamonades” – make up the biggest part of the business. In recent years, the growth of the Calypso brand has almost doubled and interest in sugar-free options is increasing. Today, as the brand expands internationally, the company has signed an agreement with Refresco in France to build a manufacturing line specifically for Calypso in Europe.
Klavsons, a New York native with a career path that has included Pepsi Co. and Glanbia Performance Nutrition, explains how a Milwaukee brand finds its niche in the non-carbonated beverage industry and what’s next for the product line.
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What is the history of Calypso lemonades? How did you get involved in the business?
Calypso has been around for about 21 years and King Juice Company since 1985. Tim Kezman is the founder and still works with us. He just decided it was time. I knew the company from afar and I knew Tim. I did business with him when I did business at Glanbia Nutrition and he was (co-packing) Isopure.
I have been in this business for about four years in November. Mason (Wells), a private equity firm in Milwaukee, they bought the business and hired me to run the business. It was a successful business, a great brand and a great product, it just didn’t have the investment and the scale it needed to grow. That’s what we did. It really worked. After the first year, we were up 33%.
This is one of the most exciting things I have ever been in and the most fun I have ever had, and one of the most difficult.
Where are Calypso drinks distributed?
They are national in the United States and international in more than 30 countries. â¦ Internationally, we have developed considerably, we have been able to obtain the mark in all these countries. The brand has taken off especially in the UK, parts of the EU, the Middle East and Australia.
He has found consumers around the world. We have expanded the flavors we offer. â¦ Then we entered a light line. We’re an all-sweet product, an allowed indulgence, but we also knew there was a consumer we wanted to capture in the sugar-free part of the business.
So what do your sugar-free options use to sweeten drinks?
Sucralose. It is really difficult to make a tasty lemonade (without sugar). If you think lemonade, you think sugar and lemons. Sweet and tangy.
To a certain perspective, the soft drink non-alcoholic category, about 25% of this category is low and sugar-free. Not as big as you think, because 75% are drinks with sugar. In lemonade, that (weak and sugar free) is only 10%. There’s a reason it’s hard to make something that tastes good and not carbonated and is lemonade. We spent a year formulating the product (sugar free).
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While lemonades got their start here, where is the product the most popular?
The brand started to go up and down in the streets among independents. For a long time, people thought it was just something for the downtown markets. Our research has proven this to be wrong. â¦ We have expanded the distribution. We’re in pretty much all of the big chains including Kroger, Safeway. We just had a shelf placement at Walmart, which is a big deal. …
We had a very weak distribution in the northeast. We added Big Geyser as a distributor in New York, which significantly increased our business. â¦ We have roughly tripled our number of employees, much of it in our Milwaukee plant.
Was it the taste, durability or something else that made glass bottles your choice?
Everything is better in the glass, especially in the lemonade with citric acid and lemon concentrate. Lemon is always better in glass, and the product has always been in a glass bottle. All the research has told us that this is what consumers want and then add the idea of ââsustainability to that. Our packaging is fully recyclable and there is no plastic.
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Citrus fruits have been affected in some areas by the weather and other issues affecting growers. Where do you get your citrus fruits?
Our supply is in South America, mainly in Brazil. So far we have not had any supply issues with the lemon product that we are getting. We source other items, pulp from California, and every part of that supply chain has gone well. Our biggest challenge this year has been freight.
Do you have a favorite flavor or an unusual flavor that you like to share with people?
There are two products that I like that are lower on the list but frankly are seeing triple-digit growth. One is a cucumber lime, and it’s fantastic. Another is Jamaica, a hibiscus product that has a bit of spice. It worked very well. These are at the top of my list. There is also the pink guava, the grape berry and the coral blast which are doing very well.
Island Wave was the very first new product we introduced when we took over the business, and went from scratch to one of the first five items. A bit of a first press release here, we’re formulating a slight wave of zero sugar island. In fact, I just tried it this week.
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