Canadian energy drink company Guru Organic Energy Corp. is going public, betting it can attract new investors and consumers as it positions itself as the plant-based, healthy alternative in an image-challenged industry.
Guru intends to list its common shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange in early November after the completion of a reverse takeover with TSX Venture-listed Mira X Acquisition Corp., the Montreal-based beverage company said in a statement Thursday. Mira won conditional approval from the Venture exchange for the transaction and Guru won conditional approval to move up to the TSX, Guru said.
The company was seeking $20-million but raised $34.5-million from institutional and large retail investors in a brokered private placement, led by Stifel Nicolaus Canada, ahead of its new listing. An estimated 15 per cent of Guru’s share capital is expected to trade publicly and the company’s total pro forma valuation is about $160-million, according to information provided by Guru to The Globe and Mail.
Guru, which has been selling its canned pick-me-ups since 1999, promotes itself as the world’s “first and leading natural energy drink.” Its ingredient list includes plants such as ginseng, echinacea and monk fruit, which it says is unlike the chemical-heavy offerings of major rivals including Red Bull and Rockstar. The company also makes a point of avoiding certain branding images adopted by competitors, such as motor sports and women in suggestive poses.
Carl Goyette, Guru chief executive officer, said the health and wellness trend that’s driving change in the food and beverage industry exists in the energy drink segment, too. But only in Quebec has it really been disrupted by a better-for-you brand, where Guru has gained to become a significant third player with an estimated 13-per-cent market share. The company intends to use its new capital to accelerate its expansion strategy in the rest of Canada and the United States, where it has had a successful but limited distribution run so far, he said.
"This is not a small niche thing” that’s only going to be sold in boutique food shops such Rachelle Béry, Mr. Goyette said in an interview. “This is a product for the mainstream, for convenience stores, for grocery stores. That’s really the potential.”
Guru is sold in a growing list of sales channels on the continent, including convenience and gas outlets such as Petro-Canada and On the Run, as well as grocers and mass-market retailers such as Walmart and Loblaws. It also sells over the internet on Amazon. Revenue was $16-million for the first nine months of its latest fiscal year while gross margin was 64.6 per cent of revenue, a public filing shows.
Guru’s plant-based story will attract more investor attention as the company moves forward, said Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “Right now, the words ‘plant-based’ is just a money magnet on markets,” he said.
Whether it can differentiate itself from the pack remains to be seen, however. Mr. Charlebois said the energy drinks business overall has been somewhat controversial over the past several years with questions raised about how much consumption is safe. Spurred by the death of an intoxicated high-school student, Quebec announced plans in 2018 to ban the sale of high-alcohol energy and sugar drinks from the province’s ubiquitous small corner stores.
Sales of energy drinks in North America represent a US$15-billion market, according to statistics cited by Guru. In Canada, sales in dollar terms have been growing at about 8 per cent over the past five years on a compound basis, much faster than the general water category overall, said food industry strategist Robert Carter of StratonHunter Group.
“All these smaller, innovative, sort of energy [food and beverage] companies are starting to really get some good traction overall,” Mr. Carter said. “I think there’s still opportunity for growth.”
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