Nutrl founder says “Yes Guy” to a different kind of hard iced tea

Paul Meehan believes the pendulum is swinging back from no-sugar or high-sugar drinks to something that meets consumers in the middle.

unnamedEven though he’s a hard iced tea fan, Paul Meehan doesn’t love how sweet it tastes. So the creative director-cum-entrepreneur began cutting the summer beverage with Nutrl, Canada’s top-selling zero-sugar vodka soda, which is made from his distillery Goodridge & Williams in British Columbia.

He’d seen other drinkers hack the drink this way. “People were neutralizing iced teas… It just struck me as a white space,” says Meehan. “There are lots of [hard iced tea] options in high sugar. And there are lots in no-sugar. No one came up with a meet-in-the-middle.”

That was until last week, when his distillery (which was purchased by Labatt earlier this year) released the first production run of Yes Guy – his answer to a half-sweet iced tea, with only 12 grams of sugar compared to the standard 24 – in stores across B.C.

The first 16,000 cases sold to private alcohol stores in the province in only two days, he says. Yes Guy was picked up at such a fast rate that his team didn’t even have a chance to shop it out to stores in Alberta, its second planned launch market. “We can’t really sell it in Alberta until later. That’s a bit disappointing, but you can’t complain about this level of enthusiasm at the retail level,” he says. “To suggest that a brand is strong before it’s even launched [in stores] is very encouraging.”

But how did an unknown brand convince private retailers to purchase the entire inventory mid-summer when their store SKU mixes had already been decided?

Meehan chalks up the interest to a couple of things.

First, he says, they’re seeing the pendulum swing back from consumers willing to sacrifice taste with zero-sugar drinks to wanting some taste back, even if it’s a little caloric and has half the sugar.

“In general, half sweet things don’t work in consumer beverage non-alcohol. Most say ‘I want it to taste great’ or ‘I don’t want sugar,” says Meehan. “We asked consumers how they liked the idea of a sweet iced tea and they wanted it.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-20 at 7.23.47 AMSecond, he says, Yes Guy adopted a similar marketing strategy to when G&W launched Nutrl in 2017.

“Stores try to have something unique,” he says. “And what I’ve noticed is that they’re paying attention to consumer requests. So we say [to consumers] on social media, ‘Tag your favourite store’ [and tell them you want a half-sweet hard iced tea]. So we are driving it a bit… That’s why Nutrl is the #1 vodka soda in Canada. We see our competitors [doing the same thing] now.”

When Meehan and his agency Me&Ideas – which he co-founded in 2007 with his wife, who now runs it exclusively while he focuses on the G&W business – were brainstorming ideas for the Yes Guy name, the team trailed off with the question: “Who likes iced tea but wants it half-sweetened?” To which someone answered, “this guy” while pointing two thumbs to their chest. It somehow evolved to “yes guy” and a new brand was born. “So the ethos became about positivity… because the discovery of the brand was silly in it’s own right,” adds Meehan.

So now, creative in digital ads and on its social media accounts tend to be enthusiastic, using the hashtag #celebrateeverything to help people to see the glass half full, like when your phone battery is sitting at 2%: “Look on the positive side — this is the perfect opportunity to stop scrolling and just be. Now doesn’t that feel good? Yes, #YesGuy, it sure does. #CelebrateEverything,” reads one of its posts on Instagram.

“In a world where there are lots of problems, a brand that’s overtly positive is a nice change,” adds Meehan. “It’s not trying to do too much. People like the fact that it’s just positive. As a marketer, you can imagine how much fun it is to play with.”