Has Nutrl taken a more neutral stance?

The brand is entering Quebec with a mass TV buy. It also appears to be leaning away from its friendly rivalry with other drinks.

Nutrl and English Canadians started their relationship about three years ago. Now it’s Quebeckers turn to light a flame with the vodka soda – and it won’t be without oxygen.

“We’re not going to orphan the brand,” Paul Meehan, founder of the zero-calorie, zero-sugar beverage tells strategy of his plans to buttress Nutrl’s Quebec retail presence with a mass TV buy, kicking off this week. “We’re going to tell people what it is, and where to get it.”

That’s also what Meehan has been telling retailers in the Francophone market to give them confidence when listing the unknown-to-Quebeckers beverage in their stores. That, and the fact that it has a three-year headstart fine-tuning its strategy.

“We know that the brand has power,” says Meehan, pointing out that Nutrl has climbed the ready-to-drink category to become the #1 vodka soda in the country  a compelling feature that led Labatt Breweries to purchase its maker, Goodridge & Williams Distillery, in January 2020.

The new ownership may be why Nutrl is pivoting slightly away from how it originally introduced itself to the rest of Canada in 2017.

Back then, Nutrl asked drinkers to “break up with beer.” Now, Meehan says messaging for Quebec is somewhere along the lines of “there’s got to be something else out there,” which appears to be a much less overt suggestion than the one that pitted Nutrl against other alc categories (which also included coolers, wine and cocktails) in a friendly rivalry.

In fact, when it comes to Nutrl’s ongoing hockey strategy – in which it’s the official vodka and official vodka soda of the NHL, with new spots airing July 27  Meehan says the brand is actually a better complement to beer. “[Hockey] is still very much a popular beer occasion, but we work well within it. We have woven ourselves in rather quickly.”

Meehan says that every once in a while, beer drinkers, like himself, look for something different, but “historically there hasn’t been much else.” He says Nutrl is actually the brainchild of his wife, Melissa Meehan, who had given birth to their third child and wanted to partake in the hockey drinking occasion, but didn’t want the empty calories of beer. That’s one of the reasons Nutrl comes packaged in the same standard can as beer – “it’s not in a slim or sleek packaging, so we fit the occasion,” he says.

When hockey kicks off again next week, Nutrl will return to TV airwaves with three commercials (shot just three weeks ago with all the social distancing cues). The creative was once again produced by Melissa Meehan’s creative agency Me&Ideas (where Paul was previously a partner and CD), and features the same black-and-white film treatment the brand has used over the last three years, as it tells the evolving story of its relationship with consumers.

“We have so much love and support from people who have added us to their lifestyle,” says Paul Meehan. “We’re past the honeymoon, we know each other, we love each other, it’s very much celebrating that the brand is very much a part of their lives. It’s a bit of a love letter from us to them and how we’ve changed the way people drink.”

So far, consumer response and demand has exceeded expectations in Quebec, says the founder, without disclosing exact numbers. In Ontario, sales increased 300% just in the month of June (compared to 2019), says Meehan, and the entire Nutrl business is up 100% for the year.