Yanni Hufnagel, founder and CEO of beverage startup Lemon Perfect, has adapted his business to remain poised for growth and success during the pandemic. The leadership skills that Hufnagel developed, first as a college-level men’s basketball coach, and later, as a budding entrepreneur, have instilled in him the importance of both drive and flexibility. On the one hand, says Hufnagel, a leader needs to set goals and deliver results. But, he adds, the ability to adapt is also essential for startup success. A leader needs to be ready to shift gears in response to changing circumstances, Yanni Hufnagel says, whether that’s in the middle of a basketball game or during a global pandemic.
When he first launched Lemon Perfect in 2017, Yanni Hufnagel brought with him a deep understanding of the health and wellness market. For years, Hufnagel was a celebrated assistant coach and sought-after recruiter for men’s basketball programs at top schools like Harvard University, University of California, and Vanderbilt University. As a coach, he saw first-hand the sports drink options available to athletes, most of which were heavy on sugar and artificial dyes. He knew that people committed to their health and wellness wanted better options for staying hydrated — they wanted drinks that met their standards for both nutrition and environmental commitments — but there were few options available.
With Lemon Perfect, Hufnagel brought a beverage to the market that could compete with energy and sports drinks without compromising on health. The drinks are made from cold-pressed, USDA-certified organic, hand-picked California lemons. Each drink provides subtle flavor and a major nutritional boost. In addition to electrolytes which help athletes recover from tough workouts, each Lemon Perfect beverage provides as much Vitamin C as a glass of orange juice — 100% of the Food & Drug Administration’s recommended daily dose. Vitamin C is a key antioxidant needed to fight off illness and helps the body to recover from illness faster.
What makes Yanni Hufnagel and Lemon Perfect Different?
Lemon Perfect drinks come in four refreshing flavors — Just Lemon, Blueberry Acai, Dragon Fruit Mango, and Peach Raspberry.
Instead of sugar, Lemon Perfect is sweetened with erythritol — a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in grapes, mushrooms, pears, and watermelon, as well as stevia leaf extract — a zero-calorie sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. Unlike sugar, these sweeteners do not cause a spike in blood sugar. Each bottle has zero added sugar and just 5 calories per bottle.
From its introduction to the beverage market, Lemon Perfect started strong—drawing the attention of industry insiders who saw lemon water as an exciting new vertical—and winning “Best New Product” at BevNET’s Best of 2019 Awards.
But as the pandemic has forced changes in consumer behavior and led to a slowing down of the economy, Hufnagel took steps to ensure that the momentum of his startup continued to build — even if that happened a little more slowly. Hufnagel is bringing the same innovative mindset that drove him to launch Lemon Perfect to this latest challenge: leading the company through the current moment of crisis.
Yanni Hufnagel’s Leadership during the Pandemic
First and foremost, Hufnagel is leading with flexibility. He quickly transitioned his workforce to largely virtual work when the pandemic hit, with regular check-ins to ensure that employees are managing effectively and that their concerns are being heard. He’s also leading with understanding as employees continue to adjust to new work-life balances, and he’s encouraging his employees to continue to take vacations and use sick time as needed to avoid becoming burned out. And, under Hufnagel’s leadership, the company is increasing communication during this transitional time and capitalizing on the advantages of greater digital interaction using tools like Zoom, Slack, AirTable and other digital platforms to make managing virtual work and meetings easier.
Hufnagel is also looking at ways Lemon Perfect can build its digital presence during the pandemic. He’s finding opportunities for the company to reach quarantined customers looking for healthy beverage options delivered to their homes and spreading the message that healthy drinks like Lemon Perfect are one way to avoid weight gain and maintain a strong immune system as people are spending increasing time at home.
Focusing on their online branding and messaging, Lemon Perfect adopted a new logo—“lp.”—that communicates fun, simplicity and playfulness through its vivid color and design. They are using social media to communicate to consumers that Lemon Perfect is a perfect summer beverage choice and available in nearly all their favorite stores—including Whole Foods, Publix, and Target—as well as online retailers like Amazon.
A Healthy Alternative
Through its digital presence, Lemon Perfect is communicating with consumers how healthy living begins with beverage choices—from the first drink in the morning, to replenishing during workouts, to filling up the cooler for a day at the beach. It’s a particularly important message during the pandemic, when people are going out less, and prone to overeating and reaching for sugar-laden snacks and drinks while sitting at home.
A recent NY Times article noted that consuming excess sugar and gaining weight can make a person more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. “Excess weight weakens the immune system,” the author notes, “and abdominal fat in particular enhances damaging inflammation.”
As personal health has taken center stage in the public consciousness, Hufnagel and Lemon Perfect have been able to share the health advantages of lemon water, particularly in comparison to sugar-laden sports drinks and sodas. One study found that it takes just 75 grams of sugar to weaken the body’s immune response — in other words, the ability of a person’s white blood cells to fight off a virus like COVID-19. That’s equivalent to just two cans of soda. Replacing sugary beverages with low- or no-sugar-added options is an easy place for consumers to make a small change that can have a big impact on their health.
During this time of crisis, Hufnagel is even more committed to Lemon Perfect’s mission to “democratize digital wellness.” He wants to use this moment to encourage people to do more than panic about uncertainty and illness, and rather to take control of their health through daily choices, like healthier beverages, that can lead to a healthier future.
About Lemon Perfect
Lemon Perfect is a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with antioxidants and electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
About Yanni Hufnagel
Yanni Hufnagel is the Founder & CEO of Lemon Perfect, a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with essential antioxidants and hydrating electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect – named “Best New Product” at BevNET’s Best of 2019 Awards – is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
Founded in 2017 and backed by an extraordinary team of investors, the company’s mission is to democratize drinkable wellness by making Lemon Perfect accessible for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Before starting Lemon Perfect, Hufnagel served as an assistant men’s college basketball coach, with stops at Nevada, California, Vanderbilt, Harvard and Oklahoma. Hufnagel earned the reputation as one of the most dogged recruiters in America, consistently lauded for signing nationally-ranked recruiting classes. In Hufnagel’s 10 years coaching college basketball, his teams reached the NCAA Tournament six times.