How Dirty Lemon Went From Detox Drink Brand To Beauty And Wellness Trailblazer
In 2016, right before Dirty Lemon crossed into beauty with its collagen-infused tonic, Well + Good contributing editor Erin Manger wrote the brand sold not “only a pick-me-up, but an era-defining accessory.” Three years later, the description isn’t any less apt.
With 2 million-plus bottles sold, Dirty Lemon has evolved from its original detox drink into an iconic wellness and beauty brand, experiential retailer and technology authority fomenting trends with the tap of a finger. Over 90% of its orders are processed via text, yet parent company Iris Nova is pioneering the next generation of physical store concepts at cashier- and salespeople-free The Drug Store. It has Coca-Cola’s backing, yet Dirty Lemon’s merchandise recipe isn’t dependent on an old classic. Rather, the brand churns out product releases monthly.
As ingestible beauty sales climb, Dirty Lemon is increasingly strengthening its position in the beauty segment. In March, the brand made a major beauty statement by introducing +retinol, which it proclaims is the first drinkable over-the-counter retinol alternative. The initial production run of +retinol sold out prior to Dirty Lemon shipping cases to customers. The enthusiastic response is a good sign for the brand’s continued push into beauty. Two additional beauty beverages are due out this year.
“We saw an exponential growth in our customer base when we launched +collagen in 2016 and, since then, have only seen the interest in nutricosmetics grow,” says Iris Nova CEO and Dirty Lemon founder Zak Normandin. “Consumers are more aware now than ever of what they put into their bodies and the impact of how these ingredients make them look and feel. The modern consumer wants convenient access to beauty benefits, and our elixirs effortlessly fit into their daily routine.”
Dirty Lemon’s beauty playbook entails its striking striped bottles, narrow distribution strategy and ingredient focus. At the beginning, the brand highlighted benefits. Its beverages were named Sleep, Skin + Hair, Energy and Detox. Today, they’re named after ingredients. On top of the +retinol drink, the beauty lineup features free radical fighters +rose and +white rose. Other beverages are the cleansing +charcoal, fat-burning +matcha, immunity-boosting +turmeric and calming +valerian.
Dirty Lemon incorporates ingredients that have been harnessed by naturopaths for decades and turns to experts, notably an in-house naturopath, for insights on them. “While we cannot guarantee results, we do have a significant amount of data gathered from the naturopathic community that supports the function benefits of specific ingredients as they relate to areas of beauty such as skin and hair,” says Normandin. “Our goal is to provide access to these ingredients through low-calorie, ready-to-drink beverages.”
“Consumers are more aware now than ever of what they put into their bodies and the impact of how these ingredients make them look and feel. The modern consumer wants convenient access to beauty benefits, and our elixirs effortlessly fit into their daily routine.”
Most rising brands spread to retail following partnerships with large consumer goods conglomerates entrenched in store aisles. Schmidt’s and Native expanded at stores in the wake of their acquisitions by Unilever and Procter & Gamble, respectively. In December, Iris Nova announced that Coca-Cola was part of a $15 million investment round in the company that involved GGV, Greycroft, Imaginary Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, Kate Hudson, Sophia Bush and Alex Rodriguez, among a plethora of funders. Despite Coca-Cola’s support, Dirty Lemon hasn’t entered stores that aren’t its own.
“We’ll never sell through traditional retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, etc. This would go against everything we’ve built and eliminate the direct customer interaction that we find to be the value in a cCommerce model,” says Normandin. “We do, however, sell in select hospitality channels (Soho House, The Mercer, HigherDose), which we see as marketing rather than a necessary sales channel. We recognize the value in extending the brand to where our customers spend their time and want to be where our customers live, work and play.”
Dirty Lemon has amassed in excess of 100,000 customers through its cCommerce or SMS-driven conversational commerce model and garners a 60% customer retention rate. Normandin points out the SMS infrastructure enables it to accumulate data on consumer preferences and quickly react to trends by developing and releasing beverages in 30 days. It can take many months for a product to crack grocery and big-box chain shelves.
“We recognize that customers are constantly looking for what’s new, which is why we’re launching a new Dirty Lemon beverage every month to offer consumers the newness they crave,” says Normandin. “Our intention is to expand our audience and appeal to new customers with each new product we launch.” Dirty Lemon won’t be the sole brand available through the SMS system for long. Two beverage brands from Iris Nova are expected to come out this year.
“We’ll never sell through traditional retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, etc. This would go against everything we’ve built.”
The company can swiftly unleash and exit a product. Last year, Dirty Lemon commenced and discontinued a CBD drink. Normandin explains legal uncertainty surrounding the ingredient was a risk to the brand. “While the passage of the Farm Bill allows for the legal cultivation of industrial hemp, the FDA has maintained its position that CBD hemp-derived or otherwise is prohibited for use in food and beverage products or supplements,” he says. “Our intention in taking our +cbd beverage off the market in November was to get ahead of any impending enforcement by the FDA. We remain committed to this decision, which ensures our success as an organization and protects the brand long-term.”
The Drug Store is another avenue for Dirty Lemon’s beverages and products from future Iris Nova brands. It has locations in Tribeca and Hudson Yards, and two more locations planned this year. Cocktail bars are components of the spaces. Customers can buy single 16-oz. bottles for $10.83 at the stores. Employing the text system, a case of six bottles is priced at $65.
Normandin shared with Mobile Marketer that Iris Nova collects information on what customers purchase and the frequency of those purchases at the stores. The article details The Drug Store contains “heat map trackers that monitor foot traffic and RFID-enabled refrigerators for inventory tracking to QR codes that trigger” text message ordering as well as a bot for answering questions. The locations serve as customer acquisition tools as the costs of social media advertising increase.
“We use that data to determine what makes sense from an operational standpoint and to make product decisions based on the needs of our core customers,” Normandin told Mobile Marketer. “We test new products and gauge customer responses based on things we think they might like, but we can digest all that in real time. That’s something other beverage brands—Coke and Pepsi included—just don’t have a level of access to in order to make those decisions.”
“We recognize that customers are constantly looking for what’s new, which is why we’re launching a new Dirty Lemon beverage every month to offer consumers the newness they crave.”
Dirty Lemon’s sales are skyrocketing outside of traditional stores. In its investment announcement last year, Iris Nova projected sales would jump 250% in 2019. Dirty Lemon has historically doubled revenues annually. By 2021, Iris Nova is forecast to generate $100 million in sales. To keep up with the pace of his business, Normandin relies on a steady intake of Dirty Lemon beverages.
“All the Dirty Lemon beverages [complement] my lifestyle,” he says. “I’m always on the go and having the ability to easily add the benefits of the ingredients used in our line of beverages is an easy way for me to feel balanced.”