@@img1 THE PRINCE OF BEVERAGES
By Greg W. Prince
The rookies have returned to Port St. Lucie and other baseball spring training sites. It’s an annual ritual of late winter, the gathering of young hopefuls in Major League camps. It’s exciting to watch, no doubt more exciting to actually live.
A year ago, my beloved New York Mets had a rookie third baseman named David Wright from whom much was expected. Give him a little seasoning, the scouts said, and he’ll be up with the big club before you know it. They were correct about Wright. The Mets called him to Queens in July and he started showing why he was so highly touted.
In August, the Mets and Giants played a game in San Francisco that went back and forth all day. The Mets won 11-9 in 12 innings which gives you some indication of what kind of contest it was. The two hitting stars were Barry Bonds and David Wright-the legend and the neophyte. As captivating as anything about that game was the exchange between the two sluggers when Bonds landed on third after tripling.
“I’m not trying to jump on the bandwagon,” the rookie fielder told the greatest player of this generation, “but you’re as good as advertised. What you do is amazing.” The famously surly Bonds reportedly smiled and replied, “Thank you. Keep swinging it.”
Which brings me to the rookies in beverage camp. I’m no Barry Bonds (no steroids, not too many trips to the weight room) but I’d like to relay the same advice to all of you who are looking for your big break.
Keep swinging it.
Ever since BevNet was generous enough to give me this column space and allow me to pontificate, ramble and go off on tangents that are often mysterious in their relationship to the potables business, the one thing that has impressed me more than any other is the e-mail I’ve gotten from beverage hopefuls. In these cases, I’m not talking about anybody with a brand you’ve heard of, even a little. These are the non-roster players, the guys who, to use a baseball analogy (my favorite kind), buy a ticket on the next Greyhound to Florida, lug a bat and glove over one shoulder and volunteer to clean the dirt out of the veterans’ spikes just to get a shot at The Show.
Actually, that’s an imperfect analogy. They’re not trying to earn a place on somebody else’s team. They want to build their own team, their own beverage idea, their own brand concept. They just want a chance to play on the same field as everybody else.
I’ve heard some decent ideas from these people. They love beverages so much that they don’t want to drink what’s already available. They want to create something better and pour it for you and your friends and family. That’s beverage love.
The e-mail I get from these entrepreneurial types is usually passionate. They want the world to know that they’ve got something. Maybe they’re just sharing their information. Sometimes they come to me with a specific question. Always, they seem very committed.
Because Jim Miller was the last such person to contact me in this fashion, I decided to do a little more with him than just thank him for his note and wish him well. Jim and those who came before him have really stoked my curiosity over the months. I wanted to know from him (as representative for all the hopefuls), who are you and why are you doing this?
Please understand that this is not a paid, unpaid, express or implied endorsement of Jim Miller or Natural Health, the South Florida company of which he is president and sole employee (“it’s just me at this point”). If you would like to get in touch with him, please e-mail me here and I will pass it on to him, but he just happens to be the guy I chose because he was the last one to write me.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s Jim’s story. He’s 48 and a rep for directors and production companies who do work for advertising agencies. It’s his own business and it sounds good. But he’d ditch it in a minute for beverages. Why?
Because he thinks he can do it better than anybody out there. Specifically, Jim is into healthful consumption. Has been since he was like 13, he says; he’ll outlive us all. “I’m on a crusade,” he says. “I’ve been really anti-white refined sugar my whole life.” He’s a fan of Naked Juice and admires certain traits of AriZona Green Tea, but he wants to make his own kind of music, sing his own special song, bottle his own organic beverage.
Jim asked me not to be terribly specific about the details of what he’s got cooking because it has yet to enter the bottle, and negotiations with various parties are delicate. Everything about it, though, is a reality. It very much leans to organic-“safe and well-researched vitamins and herbs”-and can be considered functional. He’s got a recipe and has blended some sample batches. He’s hired a graphic designer “who has come up with a very cool label design that will hopefully make the product jump off the shelf.it’s all about the packaging you know.” A co-packer has been lined up and distributors have, at the very least, given him the time of day. He can see it all now, his product lining the shelves of a Whole Foods near him.
This was not a wake-up-one-morning whim for Jim Miller. He says he’s been working toward this moment for 10 years. It started with a protein shake. The drawing board then revealed a water product. Now it’s a whole other kind of niche drink on his mind, one that hits the “good for you” mark so many talk about before settling for merely what’s less bad for you.
He’s so close to making it to market, he can taste you tasting it. What’s he need? Try money. Low to mid five figures should get him into actual production. Easier wished for than supplied, which is not an uncommon tale: “I would love to find a backer or partner who’s been in the business for a while, who feels the same way I do about giving the consumer something unique, putting a different spin on it.”
And I’d like to find my beloved Mets a couple of dependable middle relievers to get them to Braden Looper in the ninth, but I have the feeling Jim Miller is closer to his springtime wish than I am to mine. He knows there are awesomely sized companies who could develop, distribute and divest in a morning what he’s been dreaming about for a decade. He doesn’t care. He believes in what he’s doing. He may not make it as metaphorically far as Barry Bonds or David Wright, but like so many other beverage hopefuls, he’s gonna keep swinging it.
“I’m brand new to it,” he admits. “It’s pretty daunting that there’s so much product out there, but I have this gut feeling that I have something to offer. So I’m going to give it a hundred percent and make something come out of it. I definitely want to give consumers something good to put in their bodies.”
Good for you, Jim Miller. Good for all of you Jim Millers.
Greg W. Prince (email@example.com) has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.