On the no-sugar drinks mission
By Mark CardwellFood Trends Beverages Brad Woodgate Joyburst The No Sugar Company
Brad Woodgate is determined to remove sugar from the food chain
Brad Woodgate is one of the most dynamic food entrepreneurs in Canada. After taking the North American healthy snack food market by storm in 2018 with the No Sugar Company—a business he founded after a late-night epiphany on the ‘evils’ of refined sugar, and now generates more than $200 million a year in sales from over 30 products in 70 countries—Woodgate is now charging his way into the energy drink space with Joyburst.
Launched in 2022, Joyburst is a sugar-free sparkling drink made with natural caffeine extracted from green tea. Six SKUs of 355-ml cans are available both online (through Amazon and the company’s own website) and in-store (at major and independent retailers across Canada and the U.S., including Walmart and Costco).
Like other brands in the highly competitive fitness drink category, including Guru here in Canada, and Celsius, Zoya and Alani Nu in the U.S., it promises to deliver a healthier boost than the spike-and-crash effects of energy drinks that use synthetic caffeine made from urea and chloroacetic acid. But what sets Joyburst apart from the competition is Woodgate. From the get-go, the 44-year-old father of two girls has been the front man for his new product, starring in high-profile TV ads, novel live-music marketing events, and a Joyburst Song that is now on Spotify.
“I’ve strategically made the decision to be the face of the franchise,” Woodgate told Food in Canada in a recent phone interview. “I’m on a personal mission to get sugar out of the food chain.”
According to Woodgate, sales of Joyburst private-label products, which are being made under contract by beverage manufacturers in Calgary, Toronto, and Niagara Falls, are on a moon-shot trajectory like his No Sugar brand.
“It’s been crazy,” said Woodgate, who decided to spin Joyburst off as a standalone business in September. “The brand has far exceeded our expectations.”
The brand’s original five flavours—Elderberry, Frosé Rose, Peach-Mango, Lime and Grape—got a big boost in February when Woodgate took centre stage in a splashy 30-second TV ad that aired across Canada during the Super Bowl. Dancing in a Super Bowl ad, however, was just a warmup for Woodgate’s next act: teaming up with 1980s American rapper Vanilla Ice to write and sing the Joyburst Song.
“We wanted to reach a mass audience with a lighthearted, viral and joyful message that you don’t need synthetic ingredients or sugar to energize your day,” said Woodgate. He also added a sixth Joyburst flavour—Vanilla Ice, which tastes like cotton candy and blueberry.
Woodgate and Vanilla Ice have since recorded the Joyburst Song, which is on Spotify and Joyburst’s website, and continue to perform together at shows in the U.S.
Woodgate is also continuing to work hard to get his products into more major grocery banners, an effort aided by a rigorous sampling program that has put more than 100,000 cans in people’s hands in recent months.
“I’m going flat out to make Joyburst a major market brand,” said Woodgate. “I work seven days a week and sleep only a few hours a night. But I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’ll keep giving it all I’ve got.”
Joyburst isn’t Woodgate’s first product launch. Born and raised in Toronto’s Brampton neighbourhood in a tightknit family, Woodgate grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
He displayed his tenacious character and competitive spirit as a teenager when he bought jump shoes and got up to train at 6 a.m. every second day for two years until he was able to dunk a basketball. Both he and his older brother Derek went on to play varsity basketball at Canadian universities.
In his final year of studies at Western University in London, Ont., Woodgate struck out in business with Derek, who was then doing a PhD in kinesiology and working for a nutrition supplement company.
The brothers’ new company, called Wellnx Life Sciences, marketed diet pills and healthcare supplements that Derek made and Brad sold, initially to fellow students from the trunk of his car.
“Brad has a magnetic personality and a gift to communicate and engage with people,” said Derek Woodgate. “And he applies himself to sales with the same fierce energy and competitive spirit he did with basketball on our driveway.”
After years of struggle and near bankruptcy, the brothers finally got a chance to sell their products in five of the 160 stores that health and nutrition store chain giant GNC, then the biggest sports nutrition and weight loss retailer in North America, had in British Columbia. Eighteen months later, the brothers were in all of GNC’s 5,000 stores across North America and were one of the chain’s biggest third-party vendors. By 2006, Wellnx had national accounts with major retailers across Canada and the U.S. and was the No. 1 brand in the supplements category. Over the next decade, the company generated more than $1 billion in sales.
“Yes, we were successful, but we paid a price,” said Woodgate. “We worked all the time. We didn’t take a vacation for 10 years. I slept four hours a night. It was brutal.”
Battle with sugar
In 2015, Brad bought his brother’s share of Wellnx. At that time, he also began to suffer from a variety of wellness issues, including sleeplessness, lethargy and skin irritations.
“I started tinkering with my diet,” he said. “I eliminated coffee and tried to take out sugar, but it was hard to do because it is everywhere. I learned that marketers use 72 terms for sugar to deceive consumers.”
Woodgate decided to create a food product without refined sugar. He used his experience, knowledge, and resources to pull together a team of food and packaged goods industry experts and developed new snack products using natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar.
“We hire the best scientists in the world for each food category and give them a sandbox to play in,” said Woodgate. “We have our own R&D team here in Toronto, but they quarterback outside scientists and the development process, which can involve hundreds of iterations to allow feedback at all levels, especially for texture and taste.”
Like Joyburst, the No Sugar Company uses different manufacturers in Canada and the U.S. to make its products as private label brands. His company’s first retail food offering—No Sugar Keto Bars—was launched in early 2018. By the end of 2020, No Sugar had sold more than 100 million bars and 400 million cups to more than 1 million people. In 2021, the brand went global and added several new products to its line up, including nut bars, bread, energy drinks and ice cream. This year, the No Sugar Co. launched a dozen more keto-friendly items such as Browniez, Gemz, Barz and Cookiez. A new seven-layer meta energy bar is set to launch in January.
According to Woodgate, No Sugar’s success is helping his personal mission to eliminate refined sugar from the world.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Food in Canada.
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