By Jeffrey Klineman
I can’t really say what spurred his enthusiasm for the race that day, but there Charlie was, all six skinny years of him, throwing the competition an intense glare ashe took his marks for the ¼-mile trek that would lead him – and a similarly charged-up cohort of 40 or so kids – to steeplechase through a shopping mall and back, all in the name of introducing them to physical fitness.
He made us so proud, with his intensity at the start, his drive to finish, and his sweaty grin afterward. What made him the proudest, however, aside from the flush of activity and the gleaming medal (for finishing – he’s got his old man’s lack of foot speed) was the knapsack full of swag handed to all the kids signed up for the run (to be held by their parents while they ran, natch!).
But my pride was doubled because the boy had done all of the (ahem) legwork for lazy old me on my next column. See, it turns out that that bag came chock-full of some of the latest generation of functional drinks and snacks. In addition to the obligatory Vitaminwater Focus, there was a Vita Coco and the new 8 oz. ZICO bottle. Also floating around were a bag of Pretzel Crisps and a KIND bar – both of which are pretty well known in industry circles. All the little guy was missing were some Popchips and Pirate’s Booty and he – along with the hundreds of other youngsters aged 5 to 15 who were doing the run or ride thing at the event – would have completed a full tour of his middle school vending machine, circa 2018.
It was quite a comment on the maturation of certain brands. Here were the consumers of the future and there wasn’t a Coke – or even a Minute Maid or Gatorade – in sight. No Cheetos or Doritos, no Slim Jims or fruit roll-ups, all the standard stuff of the tennis tournaments I’d played in as a kid.
The sampling crews on site had all worked previously for companies like Fuze or Hint. Marketing interns staffed Vita Coco and ZICO tables alongside veteran field operators, meaning that the word is out – these companies are becoming (ugh!) respectable destinations to pick up training and experience. Even the requisite extreme athlete performer on site was emblazoned with sponsorships from healthy beverage companies.
That’s not to say that field marketing and sponsorship aren’t huge for older brands – obviously, there’s an incredible amount of range and depth in that area for flagship properties, from concerts to bowl games to the sponsorship of local charities. But what I found interesting is that the organizers of the event, who came from the mall itself, could be so discerning as to know there was another, newer layer of products they could offer up on the front lines when they put the whole thing together, something that would speak to the kids and their parents in the fitness-oriented but wholesome tone they wanted to achieve.
It’s also a comment on the power of sampling for so many of these companies, which ended up giving away copious amounts of high-margin products to the attendees – products that could, until recently, quite easily have been deemed too sophisticated for the kids themselves. Still, they all recognize that right now, with health such an overriding concern, the importance of establishing yourself in the psychic footprint of the next generation is of the utmost importance.
Now, my son isn’t much for trying new foods, and despite all the samples I bring home for him, when it comes to beverages, he limits himself to water, milk, and melted ice cream. So it was a strange sight indeed for him to unearth these drinks, which I’ve written about since he was learning to walk, and display them as a treasured reward.
Still, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, he’s six. He learned to walk five years ago, and in that time there have been dozens of brands that have come and gone. The ones that sponsored the race have, I think, like Charlie, reaped the rewards that come from moving from a walk to a run.