The Marketplace Boom   //   March 6, 2024

How hydration brand Stur is using TikTok Shop to launch new products

Hydration brand Stur, founded in 2013, had been generating sales for years by selling on Amazon and at national retail chains. Now, the company is investing in TikTok Shop by capitalizing on its products’ existing popularity on the platform. 

In the coming months, Stur will begin launching new items exclusively on TikTok, in the hopes of quickly growing this vertical. The first product to launch will be a Passionfruit Guava water enhancer in collaboration with influencer Kat Stickler, and will hit TikTok Shop in the second quarter of this year.

It’s part of a new program, called Stur’s rapid flavor development, which is operated by Stur’s parent company Dyla. According to the company, the program will help launch monthly Stur flavors in partnership with top TikTok creators, as well as licensed flavors with other brands. The company began testing TikTok Shop influencer partnerships in January, and now has 500 creator storefronts selling Stur on the platform. Currently, the brand generates $1,000 a day from TikTok Shop, with the company estimating that to hit $2,000 a day by mid-March. 

Stur founder and CEO Neel Premkumar told Modern Retail that at the beginning of 2023, the brand began noticing people tagging Stur in their #WaterTok posts. “People were mixing two of our products together and calling them new names, like ‘mermaid syrup’ or whatnot,” Premkumar said.

“We estimate we’ve driven about a third of the billion video views on the WaterTok hashtag, and our sales shot up about 40% last year,” Premkumar said; Stur is now bringing in over $100 million in annual revenue, which Premkumar said was partly fueled by the brand’s popularity on social media.

In an effort to dominate the flavored water trends on TikTok, the brand has since sent out over 100,000 free Stur packages to users of all sizes — including major influencers and everyday TikTokers posting their flavored water recipes. “These might have a thousand followers all the way up to 20 million followers,” Premkumar said. The resulting user-generated content also gave Stur the idea to start developing products exclusively for TikTok audiences, in partnership with influencers that sell on TikTok Shop.

Stur has 12 sugar-free water mix flavors in its core collection, which include blue & blackberry and strawberry watermelon. According to Premkumar, in the past few months, “we started investing in developing a variety of different flavors by creating our own R&D lab,” he said. “We have the capability of conceiving a one-off flavor with an influencer partner, and within a week we can have a product to try.” Within three weeks, the product is produced and by week four it’s ready to ship to customers.

The brand already has dozens of fruit extracts to combine and iterate upon different versions of a flavor. “There are different types of watermelons and apples, for example,” Premkumar said. From there, the new flavor is developed in the company’s rapid flavor lab, and is then bottled and labeled within the same Stur facility. “We do a few thousand bottles per day,” Premkumar said. “And in the back of the facility we have DTC fulfillment, with UPS trucks coming a couple of times a day.”

One of the TikTok creators who came on board the program is Stickler, who joined Stur as an investor and co-owner last summer; Stickler has 10.3 million followers on TikTok and 1.8 million on Instagram. “She’s probably one of the biggest mom influencers on TikTok,” Premkumar said. “She’s been posting nonstop since, and is currently creating one-off flavors with us.” In the coming months, the plan is to add more high-profile TikTok creators as Stur flavor collaborators. 

Stur is not the only company testing TikTok Shop exclusivity as a sales channel. Last year, beauty brand Tarte rolled out TikTok Shop-exclusive makeup sets with hopes of introducing the brand to new customers through its most popular products. Some of these included products from the brand’s Maracuja Juicy Lip collection and the Tartelette Tubing Mascara holiday sets. 

Nicole Rechtszaid, co-founder of Ghost Agency, a TikTok Shop partner agency, said, “brands launching exclusive or limited-life products designed for TikTok Shop audiences are finding mixed results.”

Some companies are getting on TikTok Shop with the goal of generating significant velocity, Rechtszaid said, but brands are learning that TikTok Shop requires a lot of effort to drive actual sales. “One of the main challenges ultimately comes down to promotion, especially because creators drive a huge pool of results,” she explained. This means spending time doing outreach to the right creators and offering them compelling brand deals. “[Brands] also can struggle with not being ‘cool enough,’ which can stem from cringe-worthy, created-for-TikTok content that misses the mark.” 

Still, there are ways to get the audience involved in the R&D experience. “One of the brands that succeeded with this is one of our clients, Educational Insights,” Rechtszaid said. The company partnered with Silent Math – a TikTok creator with 1.6 million followers – to have her audience help design the next version of Kanoodle, Educational Insights’ best-selling game.

Oliver Goulden, the founder of influencer brand incubator FounderSix, said building out new products through TikTok Shop allows for more authentic engagement with new and existing customers. However, Goulden said, “the transient nature of trends on TikTok poses a significant challenge, as it can be difficult to capitalize both brand-wise and product-wise.” The key challenge, he added, lies in discerning which trends have the potential for long-term success and are thus worth the investment.

From the influencer side, Goulden said the pressure to convert customers is similar to sponsored campaigns on other platforms. “Despite the platform, the expectation to drive brand awareness and sales remains the same,” he said. “Large audiences do not automatically translate to successful product and brand sales, emphasizing the importance of genuine influence and engagement.” Then there are the logistical challenges, Goulden said, with TikTok Shop requiring brands to have an infrastructure in place to scale the distribution of products on the platforms.

On the other hand, Rechtszaid said, TikTok Shop is showing early signs of being a great self-serve tool for creators trying to work with brands. “From our experience managing creator affiliate programs, creators seem to have pretty positive experiences with these partnerships since all of it is done in-app,” Rechtszaid explained. This removes the need to follow up for payments, negotiate terms, and discuss creative briefs. “As for the results, I think creators are certainly feeling the pressure to increase performance to drive commission,” she said.

Now that Stur is officially on TikTok Shop, much of its focus is on doing live commerce sessions, some of which are hosted by Stickler. “Our goal is to have two different custom flavor collabs a month,” Premkumar said. The idea is to have TikTok Shop “as an incremental channel for people to discover Stur products,” Premkumar said.