The Devilishly Good Story of Hungary’s Leading Energy Drink
Whenever I passed a billboard for Hell Energy, I always wondered the same thing: why “Hell”? After I discovered the company is Hungarian, I reached out to ask this very question. The answer from CEO Barnabás Csereklye wasn’t what I expected.
“During the development phase of our first product, we organized tasting sessions with colleagues, friends and relatives,” he explains. “When she tasted the drink, our company cleaning lady said ‘Oh, it’s hellish good.’ In Hungarian, this is ‘Pokolian jó.’ As a good brand name has to be short, expressive and remarkable, we realized that the English version of Pokol – ‘Hell’ – would be perfect.”
Hell Energy Magyarország Kft. is currently one of the world’s fastest growing FMCG brands and has far outstripped its origins as a family business founded in 2006. Today it’s in 50 markets around the world and is the market leader in a number of these, including Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and Greece.
As a brand, Hell (stylized as HELL) has always thought big. “The core idea was to develop and produce an energy drink as good as the world leader’s product but for an affordable price,” explains Csereklye.
This simple but powerful concept was combined with well-structured distribution and Hell had become market leader in Hungary within four years.
Succeeding outside Hungary was always central to the Hell management’s vision. In its first year the company began exporting to Romania. But it really broke through internationally when it began sponsoring what was then the AT&T Williams Formula 1 team in 2009. This established the brand’s international reputation and increased global awareness considerably.
The appointment of Bruce Willis as the face of Hell happened in 2018. He was chosen because Willis embodied the drink’s “dynamic energy, strength and quality.” I was convinced I’d been seeing the Willis billboards for much longer.
Choosing Willis as the face of the company also reflects the brand’s broad appeal. Its core consumers are mostly men and women between 18 and 49. This reflects the fact that the first consumers have stayed loyal to the brand. They choose from a varied mix of products that includes extra-strength energy drinks with 20% more caffeine, sugar-free products, active life drinks and milk-coffee drinks.
Hell also prides itself on the quality of its ingredients and strict production processes. “We use only granulated sugar and, apart from this and caffeine, our drinks contain five types of vitamin B, carbonic acid or acidity regulators. We don’t add preservatives, but we do pasteurize drinks to extend shelf life,” Csereklye tells me.
How did he respond to suggestions that energy drinks might not be good for our health, that they caused raised blood pressure and other heart problems?
“The first and most important thing to say is that energy drinks exist specifically to give energy and stimulate, which is why the two main ingredients are sugar and caffeine. One of our standard 250-milliliter cans contains 80 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of one cup of medium-strong coffee,” he explains.
“In 2015, the European Food Safety Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the safety of caffeine. It found that single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg do not give rise to safety concerns for a healthy adult. Also, habitual caffeine consumption up to 400 mg, which means consuming five cans of energy drink containing 80 mg of caffeine per day, doesn’t give rise to safety concerns for non-pregnant, healthy adults,” he adds.
Today, Hell’s distribution ratio in Hungary is more than 90%. This has been achieved partly by building a filling factory here in 2011, improving reliability. Since then, the company has built its own aluminum beverage can factory which produces 100% recyclable cans. In July of this year, the firm announced that it is going to use CIRCAL75 aluminum, the greenest in the world, across its entire portfolio.
“We are the first and only company in the global beverage sector using CIRCAL75,” Csereklye says. “Now we’re setting a new benchmark for the big multinational brands.”
While raising its profile and cementing its credentials as an environmentally aware brand, the energy drink maker is also taking care of business when it comes to doing the groundwork to succeed in other markets.
“In many countries, Hell is represented by distributors who must meet strict criteria: they must make Hell one of the top three energy drink brands in the country within one year, then the brand must become the market leader in three years,” Csereklye says.
“Consumers must be able to buy Hell. It sounds so simple, but it’s our biggest challenge when it comes to building export markets.”
And what is the future for Hell Energy? “We’re making sure consumers know how to make Hell drinks part of a healthy diet. We know people are more and more environmentally conscious, as are we. We’ve reduced the greenhouse gases we generate by 60%. We’ve also pledged to reduce the amount of plastic bottle packaging in our range from 5% to 1% by 2025,” the CEO says.
“In Hungary, we employ more than 1,000 people in a disadvantaged region [it has a factory in Szikszó, 193 km northeast of Budapest, close to Miskolc] and we’re committed to providing stability. We’re known as a socially responsible enterprise. For example, in 2018 we donated HUF 30 million to Miskolc hospital to improve care for children with cancer. We’ve donated a further HUF 20 mln to the hospital when the COVID-19 pandemic started. For us, giving back to our community is every bit as important as succeeding globally,” Csereklye adds.
SUPPORT THE BUDAPEST BUSINESS JOURNAL
Producing journalism that is worthy of the name is a costly business. For 27 years, the publishers, editors and reporters of the Budapest Business Journal have striven to bring you business news that works, information that you can trust, that is factual, accurate and presented without fear or favor.
Newspaper organizations across the globe have struggled to find a business model that allows them to continue to excel, without compromising their ability to perform. Most recently, some have experimented with the idea of involving their most important stakeholders, their readers.
We would like to offer that same opportunity to our readers. We would like to invite you to help us deliver the quality business journalism you require. Hit our Support the BBJ button and you can choose the how much and how often you send us your contributions.