America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

The Mile and Stone newsletter has a short interview with Näak’s cofounder William Walcker in their latest issue and a couple of things jump out:

At the moment, yes. Näak generates almost 100% of its sales from trail running, and all our energy and investments are linked to this discipline. 

Our ambition is to become nutrition number 1 in endurance sports.

(W)hen your ambition is to become number 1 in your discipline, there’s no other way to do it than to become a partner of the world’s number 1 event and circuit. We quickly came to an agreement, because UTMB was quick to see the advantages of working with us, thanks to our extensive range of products and, above all, our shared ambitions to develop and democratize trail running for as many people as possible.

Näak’s growth and success has surprised me initially and is still surprising. When I initially mentioned their partnership with UTMB I wrote:

Pretty crazy rise to prominence if you ask me. I wonder if anyone bankrolls them in the background?!

But more than the assumed VC funding this brand received the other piece that’s fascinating to watch is that I don’t really know anyone who truly loves Näak or swears by it. I’m not suggesting that their product is bad, but I think their marketing strategy is very different than other brands that have in recent years launched on the market. Especially in the nutrition game the initial marketing splash is all about “revolutionary innovation”: We discover how ingredient A is benefiting you and turned it into a product you can buy in order to succeed in your next race.” Näak is sponsoring athletes, but their message is just “I’m using it” not “My entire nutrition game has changed”. Näak is sponsoring UTMB and people have no choice but to use it and get used to their products, taste and brand. It’s probably a fairly expensive marketing campaign but it’s a game focused on market share, not on being the best. In my technology world the comparison I can think of is that Näak is sort of like Android. Not iPhone, not the product that demands to be loved and wants to be the best (and there is often the most expensive) but the one that works, and is everywhere. Or another analogy from the car world would be that Näak is the VW Jetta, or Toyota Corolla. (There are probably more up to date comparisons, but here I am aging myself.)

Where does this leave the other brands:

Well, as we’ve seen with Spring Energy recently, betting on “being the best” can be tricky and is generally really hard. Sometimes brute market forces and big marketing investments pay off and being everywhere is good enough.

The other strategic thing to consider is that Näak seems to be winning the game offering everything. Tailwind Nutrition for example only has liquid nutrition in powder form – it comes in a dozen flavors, but for most athletes it’s just not enough and they have to supplement their nutrition game – even if their marketing language is “It’s all you need. Really”. Even Courtney has Feed sponsorship and uses Spring alongside Tailwind. So, while Näak only has two flavors of their drink mixes they also offer bars, purees, gels, waffles, nut butters, soup mixes and recovery drinks… ummm, and coffee and cricket powder, I guess. Are these products best in class? I don’t think anyone suggest that they are, but if a race wants to partner with Näak (or vice versa) Näak is able to provide the entire nutrition game. And if an athlete wants to try Näak, they can get into the brand through whatever product they either love, or look for to supplement their already existing nutrition games.

Clearly Näak is doing something right.