Wannabe Wants To Be The Protein Powder Brand Of Choice For Empowered Women
With no experience in the health, wellness and beauty industries, 43-year-old Sara Grey is out to transform the supplements business by employing protein blends for a message of female empowerment with her brand Wannabe.
Sound crazy? Grey doesn’t care. She’s done crazier. In her twenties, Grey was broke, crashing at a family member’s house for shelter and on welfare to survive as a single mother with an infant son. It was then she decided to enroll in law school. Now, Grey has spent 14 years as a civil litigator and amassed honors to mark her legal accomplishments, but she’s not professionally content.
“I have had my practice and it’s supported us, but it was never my passion. My passion has always been health and wellness,” says Grey, a former college athlete and everyday fitness enthusiast, adding, “What we’re doing at Wannabe is having women reexamine how they’ve thought about their bodies. We see women as a force and not the failure they often believe themselves to be.”
With a mighty message comes packed products. Wannabe is debuting with four 15.6-oz. protein powder offerings at $49.99 that contain adaptogens, superfoods and nourishing flower ingredients: Fit, Blissed, Gutsy and Glow. The products are designed to be mixed with water, milk, nut milk or yogurt.
Grey is adamant Wannabe’s powders aren’t meal replacements. They’re supplements through-and-through. “We’re not a meal replacement because I like to chew food, and I hate that feeling where you want to eat your arm off at three in the afternoon because all you had is some drink all day,” says Grey. “They’re all 100 calories because I want people to feel comfortable working them into their days. I don’t want you to feel you can’t use them because they’re too calorie dense.”
Grey talked to 20 manufacturers before settling on a manufacturer that understood and would execute on her objective to load Wannabe’s formulas with several functional ingredients. “Many of them told me, ‘This is too complicated. We just want to churn out whey protein. How about we just do chocolate or vanilla whey protein?’” she recounts. “I’m not looking to create a me-too product to just put it on the shelf.”
The manufacturers did have a point. Wannabe’s formulas weren’t easy to develop. Grey is currently tweaking the Gutsy and Glow blends. She details that rose, the flower used in Wannabe Glow, has a strong flavor, and she’s trying to temper it to make the mix delicious. Overall, Grey shares, “We’re using ayurvedic herbs that have been used for 5,000 years, but they’re not generally used to satisfy culinary tastes. We have to make them taste good and still be natural.”
The inspiration for Wannabe’s packaging is the unlikely class-and-sass pairing of Coco Chanel and Missy Elliott. The labels incorporate women’s body parts, including the arms of a dancer and legs of a swimmer. They’re also bursting with vibrant imagery of the ingredients that make up the contents. Each product is topped with a gold lid, a stubborn component that Grey says caused five months of delays. The lids allude to gold medals, and Grey was drawn to the idea they convey that women are winners.
Perfecting Wannabe’s protein powder recipes and packaging weren’t the only challenges Grey faced in building the brand. Naming it was a doozy. She spent eight months vetting monikers, hired a consultant whose proposed names didn’t hit the nail on the head and received criticism for her choice of Wannabe.
“A world-renowned expert told me, ‘Your name is fatally flawed. No one will want to buy your product.’ He said, ‘It means you’re an imposter,’” says Grey. “The reason I went with Wannabe is that idea that many women feel like frauds or too small. What if we flipped the script? Instead of feeling too small or not enough, it’s about being visionaries in our lives. It’s about looking at ourselves as we want to be.”
In communication materials and marketing imagery, Wannabe is careful to underscore its bold positioning. The brand chooses strong women and athletes spanning demographic profiles for its photography. It produces podcasts hosted by Grey featuring women with various backgrounds. She’s done them with Mirna Valerio, creator of Fat Girl Running, Lynne Koziey, founder of Buband and Andrea Marcum, yoga teacher and author of “Close to Om: Stretching Yoga From Your Mat To Your Life.” Wannabe is big on blog posts, too. Blog post topics include, “10 Reasons Why Thick Thighs Are Where It’s At,” and “Don’t Bag Your Big Goals Because The World Already Has Beyoncé And Katy Perry.”
Med spas and beauty stores are distribution targets for Wannabe. Sephora is Grey’s dream retailer. “When women walk into Sephora, they immediately know it’s a space for them. They feel a sense of luxury where the can focus on themselves and take care of themselves,” she says. “I want those same feelings associated with the brand.”
To finance Wannabe, Grey hasn’t left her litigating gig and moved her family of six from a house with four bathrooms to a house with one. “I’ve always heard from people that you should expect three years before you’re feeling some relief. We are in this for the long haul,” says Grey. “I continue to maintain my job, so that I can continue to invest.” Of course, she fuels her hustle with Wannabe’s protein blends.