Big Chill: Marley’s Mellow Mood Seeks to Dominate in Relaxation Drink Sector

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Since entrepreneurs launched the “relaxation” beverage category several years ago, brands with catchy names like Vacation in a Bottle and Drank have mostly gone nowhere, at least in terms of the volume of sales that some expected. Beverage Digest has called the sector “one of the more conspicuous underperformers,” with Americans seemingly less eager to kick back with such brews than they are to power up with energy drinks.

But now one relaxation player, Marley Beverage, believes that it can leverage the visage of reggae icon Bob Marley and an official association with his family to consolidate a huge chunk of the segment — and maybe even re-energize this type of functional beverage overall.

Marley sold two million cases of its ready-to-drink Marley’s Mellow Mood sodas and teas last year, and Kevin McClafferty, president of the Southfield, Mich.-based brand, told brandchannel that he expects Marley to double that volume in 2013. In addition to other expansion plans, a new deal to distribute Marley’s Mellow Mood in more than 2,000 Walmart stores nationwide will be key to fulfilling that goal.[more]

“We sold a million cases in our first year in the segment,” he said. “Red Bull, SoBe, Fuze, Vitaminwater — none of them as start-ups reached a million cases in their first year.” Marley’s Mellow Mood has helped spread its brand through local marketing pushes such as the Marley Safe House that just wrapped in Aspen, Colo.

Relaxation beverages are just one of the ventures for a Marley brand legacy that his offspring have been attempting to consolidate over the last several years. It would have been Marley’s 68th birthday this week (he died in 1981), and some might wonder what this champion of the poor would think of what’s become of his personal brand.

Pirated Marley merchandise has grossed hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal sales over the years, making the singer one of the biggest-earning dead celebrities. And since Marley died without a will, it was more difficult for his heirs to get a handle on his earning potential.

Marley’s widow and children hired Hilco Consumer Capital several years ago and began launching authorized ventures with Marley’s image, creating a tidy business through licensing his branding for backpacks, headphones, watches, coffee and even snowboards. In 2011, the family sued to block unauthorized t-shirts and protect the trademark.

The question now is whether Hilco risks overextending the brand with Marley’s Mellow Mood. 

While some relaxation or sleep drinks rely on melatonin, a natural tranquilizer, Mellow Mood relies on herbals such as valerian root, lemon balm, passion flower and chamomile to help imbibers relax as they seek to channel the famously chill attitude of Marley.

Marley also produces Marley One Drop Coffee drinks, refrigerated in single-serve bottles similar to Starbucks’ Frappuccino. But the company’s most significant product by far is Mellow Mood, which aims to smooth you out rather than hype you up. (An affiliated enterprise, Marley Coffee—slogan: “Stir It Up”—this week announced automated “Marley Cafes” to bring its brand of Bob Marley java to a wider audience.)

“It’s truly functional because it helps relieve stress and relaxes your mind,” McClafferty said. “And it’s also a great beverage to have while you’re relaxing. We’re really playing on that with music and college kids and spring break being a big part of our marketing platform.”

Marley launched a major promotion at the recentWinter X Games in Aspen, for example, including sponsorship of two reggae concerts. Now, McClafferty said, the brand will begin conducting and marketing “a search for the next great musical artist” who falls in the tradition of Marley.

It will probably do so sans the cannabis association that was part of Marley’s Rastafarian devotion, he said. A connection to drug use implied by some brands in the early going a few years ago was among the factors that initially held the segment back, McClafferty and other executives in the relaxation segment told brandchannel.

“Actually,” McClafferty said, Marley “was one of the healthiest guys you’d ever want to meet.”

And if that’s enough, you can celebrate Bob’s birthday with House of Marley “earth-friendly watches,” “earth-friendly headphones.

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