Ghent-based portfolio company offers a platform to challengers in the food sector
The tasteful mission of D-drinks is to distribute healthy and delicious drinks and snacks. As a challenger in the competitive soft-drink market, the Ghent-based company found an investment partner in Korys. The ingredients for further growth? Strict product selection, idiosyncratic marketing and unrestrained entrepreneurship.
In an era where the consumer makes a very conscious choice of what they eat and drink, the food sector is in upheaval. The reason is simple: people don’t just want to live more healthily, they also expect their all-natural drinks and snacks to taste delicious.
Ask CEO Steven Van Middelem and he will tell you his Ghent-based company D-drinks is surfing this social wave. ‘We import and distribute natural, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France on an exclusive basis,’ says Steve, then summarises: ‘Each and every one of these products and brands challenges the established values in the sector.’
From kale chips to coconut water
More specifically, the range includes healthier and functional drinks. Think about brewed and fermented teas, soft drinks, beverages, juices (enriched with minerals, vitamins or herbs, etc. or not), and water with a touch of extra flavour (e.g. coconut water or water with natural flavours). But D-drinks is also bringing responsible snacks to the market, such as organic biscuits, protein bars and fruit snacks: ‘As a national distributor, you’re flooded with new brands and trends, as well as hype-sensitive products. Think about snacks made from insects or collagen (a product that makes your skin tighter).
We make our selections using specific criteria, looking at products in which we see long-term European potential. Just 1 in 20 brands survives our strict selection.
Such trends – which often blow over here from the US – are not always as successful on the European mainland. We make our selections using specific criteria, looking at products in which we see long-term European potential. Just 1 in 30 brands survives our strict selection. We are literally in the fast-moving-consumer-goods sector: after six months, we can tell whether there is potential in our markets or not. Sometimes, these foreign trends hit the market too soon, as with the launch of kale chips in 2017.’
There’s nothing soft about the soft-drink business
Healthier? Yes. Tasty? Yes. But the recipe followed by D-drinks contains another important ingredient: sustainability. By increasingly choosing natural products with a sustainable approach and vision, D-drinks limits its ecological footprint. A strong example of this vision is ‘Just Water’: the very first packaged water in Europe to use sustainable tetra-packaging and the brainchild of renowned actor Will Smith.
When you talk about sustainability, you talk about Korys. D-drinks and Korys found each other early in the growth process. The attraction wasn’t just the shared ecological vision, but also their views on entrepreneurship. ‘We always like to surround ourselves with experts who know the industry like the back of their hands,’ says Steven. ‘Korys has extensive in-house experience in both European retail and fast-moving consumer goods. As an investment company, they are giving us more than just financial capital.’
Korys has extensive experience in both European retail and fast-moving consumer goods.
Korys and D-drinks share a tangible entrepreneurial spirit: ‘A family company like Korys shares our way of thinking. Pragmatic, hard-working and results-oriented. The start of our entrepreneurial tale illustrates these values perfectly. In 2009, in the middle of winter – the worst possible time to launch a soft drink – we suddenly found ourselves with two pallets of iced tea in our garage. With our cases full, we approached every possible client. In the meantime, the iconic ‘AriZona’ has become a fixed value, growing by double digits year after year. But we still drive out to clients ourselves to stay in touch with the market. As they say, “there’s nothing soft about the soft-drink business”.’ (Laughs)
Dries’ vision: ‘Ideal platform for investing in small-scale disruptive food brands.’
Dries Crevits (Executive Director Direct Investments) helped Korys to bring the D-drinks portfolio company to taste. He is happy to explain why Korys invested in this hip distributor-slashbrand builder: ‘In line with our 3P philosophy, our specialised teams delved deeper into a number of specific sectors with social impact. One of our investment themes is the “Conscious Consumer”. If you study the trends, you’ll notice that the modern, conscious consumer has an appetite for healthy drinks and snacks. D-drinks is an authentic, natural, healthy, innovative and sustainable brand.’
Korys is a patient investor that believes in long-term growth. According to Dries, the entrepreneurial character of D-drinks is very similar to what you find at Korys: ‘Korys doesn’t participate in the big players. We prefer to invest in small-scale food brands that breathe life into an otherwise static market and put the right innovations into motion. D-drinks represents an exquisite platform to access such dynamic brands, and for building an ecosystem of disruptive challengers.’