By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Anyone who grew up in Texas more than likely has fond memories of Big Red, the classic red soda.
For the past eight years, Big Red Inc. has been headquartered right here in Four Points. Four Points resident and former COO of Red Bull, Gary Smith, purchased Big Red in 2007 and moved operations to its current location on River Place Boulevard. The company has 25 employees in Four Points and 75 across the country working in distribution and sales.
Since taking over the company, Smith has been on a mission to expand the Big Red name and grow the company from a regional brand to a national one.
“People love Big Red and it continues to do well,” said Thomas Oh, senior vice president of marketing at Big Red. “We’ve outgrown the industry for the ninth year in a row.”
In addition to the popular red soft drink, Big Red has been working to acquire some new brand names. In 2012, Big Red acquired Hydrive energy water. Then, in 2014, the company purchased a zero-calorie energy drink called Xyience (pronounced zi-ence).
“We knew that energy was a category that was growing in popularity and becoming more mainstream,” Oh said. “Those are the three primary brands that we focused in on.”
An image makeover
Prior to Big Red acquiring Xyience, the drink was owned by the Ultimate Fight Championship and was the official drink of the UFC. UFC fighter Ronda Rousey was a spokesperson.
When executives at Big Red learned that the UFC was looking to sell Xyience, they jumped at the opportunity. They were drawn to the drink because of its taste and because it is zero calorie and zero sugar, according to Oh.
“We have data that suggests there’s a significant taste preference over Red Bull Zero or Monster Zero,” Oh said.
After acquiring Xyience, Big Red was faced with the challenge of making the brand known to a more mainstream demographic.
“When we first took on the brand, we had to give up the UFC mark, which we had no issue with,” Oh said. “Xyience was attached to cage fighting and blood and the super niche UFC; this product that’s great tasting, zero calorie and zero sugar. We were more than happy to give up the UFC mark because we felt like it didn’t fit what the product was.”
The company began a major rebranding campaign.
“We decided to make a shift,” Oh said. “We decided we’re going to put a stake in the ground for college football.”
The company partnered with ESPN and the show College GameDay, which airs on Saturday mornings. One of the female reporters on the show, Samantha Ponder, tried Xyience and really liked it, Oh said.
“She’s a young mom and she used to drink a lot of lattes,” Oh said. “She loved the taste and she loved that it was zero calories.”
Ponder shot a commercial for Xyience in Austin in summer 2015. The commercial was filmed at a convenience store on East Sixth Street and began airing on ESPN during college football games last fall.
Oh said the commercials will also air during college basketball games. One of their promotions was to give away a trip and behind-the-scenes press passes to the Final Four basketball tournament.
Additionally, Big Red partnered with Paramount Studios in 2015 and did several Hollywood movie promotions for films like “Terminator” and “Transformers”.
This spring, Big Red will be partnering with Austin-based Yeti Coolers in a promotion known as “100 Days of Barbecue”. Customers who purchase specially-marked Big Red drinks can get codes which they can enter online to win prizes like Yeti coolers and T-shirts.
“We’re trying to educate new markets about how Big Red and BBQ are the perfect pairing,” Oh said.
Xyience can be found locally at H-E-B and at both the Corner Store and 7-11 in Four Points. Big Red recently announced that Xyience will be expanded into more than 7,500 convenience store locations across the country.
Smith said the drink should appeal to consumers looking for healthier drink options.
“We have learned that more than half of convenience store customers visit in the hopes of finding healthy drink options. We are excited to deliver our great-tasting, zero calorie energy drink to new and loyal consumers by expanding our product to a wide variety of stores across the country,” Smith said. “With our recent convenience store expansion, consumers will have more access to grab a XYIENCE on-the-go.”
Oh said that while competing in the beverage industry can be challenging, it’s fun because the industry is constantly evolving.
“It used to just be colas, then it became flavored, then water, then energy drinks,” he said. “It can definitely be challenging in terms of continually evolving and being relevant. The fun part is everybody drinks beverages. It’s our job to try to shape the perception that people have.”