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How PepsiCo’s Propel used Instagram as the pandemic raged

  • PepsiCo’s Propel fitness water brand has relied on social media, including fitness influencers on Instagram, to connect with consumers during the pandemic in place of its yearly in-person fitness events.
  • Propel is also introducing new products, such as an immunity-focused flavor and water bottles designed to work with its powdered drinks, to meet consumers’ demand during the pandemic.
  • Sales of at-home fitness products, from Peloton bikes to athleisure, have exploded during the pandemic, with many consumers exercising alone instead of going to the gym or taking classes.
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For years, fitness geeks in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami signed up for workout sessions at Co:Labs, an event hosted by PepsiCo’s Propel water brand. The goal was to drive sales of the beverage, which PepsiCo has marketed for two decades as Gatorade’s younger sibling.

But in 2020, the event required a different approach, said Anuj Bhasin, vice president of Gatorade, protein and fitness brands at PepsiCo. “It’s been a really big success, but this year, we had to make a big pivot,” he said. 

That meant taking the fitness festival to Instagram, where consumers could access workouts that ranged from quick stretches to longer Barre and dance classes. Besides expanding Propel’s Instagram following, the digital event helped the brand grow sales at a double-digit rate as the pandemic kept many consumers at home, Bhasin said. 

“We were specifically focused on was ensuring that we were connected with our consumers and that they were seeing propel as a leading brand in the fitness space,” he added.

Products designed for people working up a sweat in a socially distant way have been hot sellers since COVID-19 began spreading in the US earlier this year. Consumers snapped up Peloton bikes and Lululemon athletic wear as many stayed away from gyms but kept working out at or near home.

That boom has extended to beverages, especially sports drinks like Gatorade and Propel. PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta pointed to the category earlier this month while discussing third-quarter earnings with analysts, saying that consumers “are embracing daily routines of exercising,” he said.

Marketing is just one area where Propel is making changes as consumers’ habits change during the pandemic. The brand is also introducing new flavors of its water that contain Vitamin C and zinc, which the company says help support the immune system. The product, called “Propel Immune Support,” was in the works before COVID-19 swept the US, Bhasin said, but “we think it’s hyper-relevant now,” he added.

Even before the pandemic, Bhasin said, consumers were looking for beverages that offered nutritional and other health benefits. Through focus groups and other consumer research, Propel found that consumers were highly interested in products that included “another benefit around antioxidants and immune support.”

“My personal perspective is that we’re at the beginning of that trend,” he said. “Consumers will continue to demand more personalized, more customized, more functional-forward innovation.”

Propel has also seen consumers gravitate toward other ways of

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