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Former Coke, Pepsi Execs Raise $4M for Clean Energy Drink Brand KEY

Former Coke, Pepsi Execs Raise $4M for Clean Energy Drink Brand KEY

KEY, an energy drink that trades sugar and caffeine for ketones, will be available online and at select retailers in New York and LA

A refreshing addition is on the way for consumers seeking more balanced alternatives to coffee and traditional energy drinks. Hailing from rival soft drink brands PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, Tekla Back and Karishma Thawani have not only stopped competing against each other but joined forces to launch KEY, an all-natural energy drink harnessing the power of ketones. 

As it launches the brand, KEY announced the closing of a $4M seed round led by AgFunder, a foodtech and agtech investment fund. The brand also received financial support from Alethia and AgFunder SIJ Impact Fund. The KEY team plans to use this new capital to support strategic retail distribution, inventory and marketing efforts. 

“As a former PepsiCo exec, I swore I’d never launch a beverage, as I know how tough it is to start and scale a brand,” Back said. “However, when I discovered the benefits of ketones, I became determined to make them accessible for all.” 

Rather than rely on sugar or caffeine like most energy drinks, KEY uses ketones to offer consumers a clean, energized and less jittery feeling. The beverage is designed to help break down the “short energy, hard crash” connotation energy drinks carry. 

“The first time I tried ketones, I was blown away by the long-lasting energy, the euphoric feeling and the mental focus I felt,” Thawani said. “I cannot wait for everyone to experience KEY to tap into their full potential.”

Tekla Back (l) and Karishma Thawani (credit: KEY)

The ketones in each beverage, all of which are naturally made using fermentation, also improve a drinker’s cognitive benefits, appetite suppression, metabolic health and enhanced recovery, according to KEY.

In addition to selling direct-to-consumer and on Amazon, KEY will roll out its first line of beverages at “select, curated retailers” including Southern California staple Erewhon and in high-traffic stores across Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Hamptons.

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Manuel Gonzalez, general partner at AgFunder, says KEY fills a need in the market for cleaner alternatives to traditional energy drinks.

“I was an investment banker for many years. We survived day in and day out with caffeine and energy drinks, boxes, and boxes of them. Every time, I thought, well, this is not good for me, but let’s have it,” Gonzalez said. “When I saw KEY, I thought, this is not possible, all-natural, no sugar, no caffeine, how can this be? Well, it so happens that ketones activate our own body’s ability to make energy. Ketones and green tea are my new mantra.”

Back and Thawani haven’t been the only ones to recognize the need for more healthy alternatives in the energy drink industry.

Earlier this year, Odyssey raised $6 million to support its Lions Mane and Cordyceps mushroom-infused drink. Yerba mate drink product Mateina just expanded into the United States with funding from Tiny Fund I, LP. and support from wellness influencer Dr. Andrew Huberman. 

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