(Photo: LYTT Founder and developer Michel Myara)
By Susan Belknapp, California Business Journal.
What could be more 21st-century sounding than an “herbal-infused, zero-sugar, reverse-osmosis alcohol” brand? Add to that, flavor names such as Blue Adios, Pink Payload, Cryo Candy and Agent Orange with alcohol volume ranging from 13.9 to 15 percent for a price point of $3 – $4?
Founder and developer Michel Myara, a pioneer in the nonalcoholic beverage space, is a self-taught formulator who developed RAGE Liquid Energy, the first high-potency, zero-sugar energy drink in 2005, in what is now a billion dollar business lead by brands like BANG (distributed by PepsiCo), REIGN (distributed by Coca-Cola) and ADRENALINE CHOC (distributed by Keurig Dr Pepper).
Myara had his finger on the pulse back then and developed a brand that he eventually sold after 10 years in order to make the leap to the alcohol beverage space in 2014. He began creating the product now known as LYTT (pronounced “lit”) and brought it to market in 2016.
Myara makes sure to distinguish LYTT products from the current trend of bland tasting hard seltzers: “Our products,” he says, “are full flavored and made with non-calorific sweeteners so they are still sweet and full-flavored despite being zero sugar.”
The company URL is a slogan in itself: getlytt.today. The URL is indicative of the type of online innovation Myara is committed to as he built his company based on a virtual infrastructure and waited to do an aggressive launch until every variable was in place.
LYTT LLC is completely cloud-based and paperless. The COVID-19 lockdown didn’t affect the company because “I was committed from the beginning to leverage technology to run a streamlined, remote company,” he says.
As he was developing the product, finding the right manufacturer and creating relationships with major distributors, Myara was also building a corporate structure that allowed technology to do the “heavy lifting.”
“Our website, customer relationship management platform (CRM), online ordering, accounting, and compliance software are all fully integrated and scalable,” he says. “All the apps talk to each other and everything is automated and is structured so there are no repeated steps. No data that is ever entered twice.”
In addition to the challenges of opening a new business and bringing a new product to market, alcohol compliance rules are strict and vary from state to state. There is no room for error so Myara made sure alcohol compliance software that track and monitor every state’s requirements is part of his scalable integrations.
It took time to implement the structure but now that it’s established and fully operational, every app knows where to pull its data from and because such thought went into every detail, Myara says the company is poised for “massive growth.” And that growth can occur with “modest staffing increases.”
“When the pandemic hit, we were already in a remote work environment,” he says. “In fact, the lockdown has been good for LYTT. March sales were up over 300% from this time last year.”
He cites the nature of lockdown and how it has helped cultivate a consumer base that is seeking something new and unique that offers a “return” for little money. “People are at home, on social media, seeking and discovering new brands,” he says. “They’re seeing the value in LYTT because 14-15% alcohol by volume for a few bucks is appealing.”
As word-of-mouth about the brand continues to build online, Myara continues to focus on the distribution element, which is a significant challenge for any beverage supplier, particularly alcoholic beverages. Beer distributors are regional and handle product territory by territory. LYTT is now being carried by 25 distributors throughout the United States.
“The large beer distributors who dominate shelf space turn down 98 percent of new suppliers,” he says. “But they see the value of innovation and the potential of LYTT. It’s not like all the other products; they already distribute in look, feel, taste, ingredients and value. I got in by doing old-fashioned cold calling, one distributor at a time.”
LYTT is contract manufactured by a centrally located contract brewery in the Midwest that – like the company itself – has all the systems in place to accommodate exponential growth.
“As we add new distribution channels and new territories, we won’t have to make many structural changes,” he says. “We’re ready to go.”
LYTT is available at convenience stores, gas stations and liquor stores. All four flavors are packaged in 24-ounce cans, an off-premise consumption package.
COVID-19 aided in the proliferation of new brand awareness on social media. The nature of lockdown itself has driven a steep increase in off-premise alcohol consumption. According to CNBC, “Off-premise sales of spirits in the U.S. went up 34.1% from last year for the nine-week period ending May 2, according to Nielsen data, while wine sales went up 30.1% during the same time. Beer sales went up 12.6%.”
Lending an assist were online alcohol delivery apps like Drizly. Available in 100 markets, Drizly picks up from local retailers so availability of the product is dependent on what the local contracted store offers. Malt beverages in the U.S. are subject to the three-tier system consisting of supplier, distributor and retailer. Drizly helped provide a workaround for direct-to-consumer shipping during quarantine as the product is ordered from the app but is being delivered directly by the retailer.
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