“David vs. Goliath”: Sugar-free drink brand Nexba wins Telstra Business Award amid plans to disrupt the soft drink market


Nexba's Troy Douglas and Drew Bilbe.

The next 12 months is shaping up to be a big year for Troy Douglas and Drew Blibe, founders of sugar-free soft drink business Nexba, which last night took home the Alumni Achievement Award at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards.

It’s the second time the young business has featured at the awards, after winning the Telstra Micro Business of the Year award in 2015, and it’s recognition of the impact its drinks have had on the beverages space.

Since 2015 partnerships with Coles and Woolworths have catapulted Nexba into the homes of many more Australians, delivering a 156% increase in revenue, year-on-year, in the 2017-18 financial year.

Blibe tells SmartCompany the business is on track to repeat that result in 2018-19 off the back of an imminent expansion into the UK before Christmas.

“We’re launching in a big way, it’s a test so to speak, but it’s not just a few stores … it’s more like the majority of the [major retailer’s] network,” he says.

Blibe wouldn’t say which UK retailer Nexba will be launching in, but says his international ambitions for the business stretch far beyond the Commonwealth.

“Markets like the US, and markets in the US like California, represent a really good opportunity for that naturally sugar free movement,” he says.

“People aren’t just speaking about being healthier these days, they’re actually using their wallets.”

Blible explains that Nexba is targeting markets where consumer trends towards healthier beverages are taking off, particularly as awareness around sugary drinks increases among consumers.

In the UK, where a sugar tax has already been introduced, soft drink manufacturers like Coca-Cola have committed to reducing the sugar content in their own beverages to ease consumer concern.

Back home, advocates are lobbying government to introduce a sugar tax here.

“David versus Goliath”

Blibe says Nexba is riding the anti-sugar wave, in what he believes is a “David versus Goliath” battle for consumer attention with established beverages businesses.

Nexba’s products, which include soft drinks, iced tea, tonic water and flavoured sparkling water, contain no sugar or artificial flavours.

“We certainly see ourselves as a challenger brand in the space,” Blibe says.

“Everyone wants alternatives and we’re going to see this really big shift in consumer buying patterns.”

FMCG giant Coca-Cola is already responding to the shifting sands of customer demand, purchasing Australian Kombucha manufacturer MOJO earlier this week.

Nexba is creating new products as well. A new range of probiotic beverages is currently being developed for supermarket shelves in a bid to capitalise on emerging demand for products that assist with digestive and gut health.

“There’s a lot of innovation in sugar free,” Blibe explains, adding that he hopes to release Australia’s first shelf-stable range of pro-biotic beverages.

Attention from Coles and Woolies has helped the Nexba business boom, but Blibe explains he and Dougherty are now looking beyond traditional paths to market as well.

Nexba has an e-commerce store, but Blibe explains online hasn’t really been a focus for the business in recent years.

However, in 2019 there are plans to build on its own platform, while also contacting online marketplaces to establish partnerships in a bid to further their presence online.

“There’s a whole lot of marketplaces that represent a lot of opportunity for companies like ours,” he says.

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