Expo West 2014: Nistico, McClafferty Back in the Saddle Again

At an outsized booth in a basketball arena hastily annexed to the massive Expo West show — some took to calling it “Thunderdome” — the blaring of classic rock like Aerosmith, CCR, and Black Sabbath made it clear that a band of another kind was getting back together.

For this was the booth of Splash Beverage Group, a new enterprise formed by much of the old guard of Marley Beverage, a team that was briefly and noisily disassembled as that company retrenched late last summer.

Nistico

Splash, which is operating as a wide-ranging turnkey sales operation, is being run by original Marley CEO Robert Nistico and Kevin McClafferty, who succeeded Nistico in that position. Also on board is Chief Marketing Officer Lee Brody, Marley’s former global director of marketing. Many of the company’s 15 to 20 sales and marketing employees are also from the Marley crew, and, according to its founders, they are all focused on getting brands deployed efficiently into DSD houses with the same executional efficiency that spurred the relaxation drink brand’s early growth.

“In the first five months, we presented to 50 DSDs just on the strength of the portfolio alone,” but without a complete set of products, McClafferty said, adding that 43 had given verbal commitments. “We’re starting with the best of the Marley distribution system.”

Pulling back the curtain on that portfolio, the company was offering glimpses of its four brands: a licensed TapouT Performance, a three-flavor sports drink line based on the TapouT clothing line; KonaRed, a beverage made from Hawaiian coffee fruit; Amazoo Acai, a tetra-pak acai smoothie, and Bruce Tea, a product developed under a license from the family of the late martial arts star.

Of the four lines, only KonaRed has been around for years; according to Nistico, the brand is gaining momentum in DSD houses that have recently lost another coffee fruit brand, Bai, as a result of that product’s move into the DPSG network.

Distributors like New Age, Lenore, Haralambos, and members of the NIDA network have been eager to replace Bai, he said, “but they have to take Tapout” as well.

Splash plans to fill out its portfolio with liquor brands — it has already brought on a tequila — and also wants to offer incubation services for brands that are willing to give up equity. That equity, according to McClafferty, means that “the entrepreneur will do the marketing, and our team will execute on the sales side. For equity, in return you get the ‘A-Team.’ We have a Rolodex as good as any in the industry.”

The company started with Nistico, who called McClafferty after he left Marley with the idea of starting a company that could apply their operational efficiency against licensed brands.

“It’s a shared revenue concept,” Nistico said. “We wanted to be able to choose unique brands and develop them at a much reduced rate. It’s instant recognition when there’s existing brand equity.”

So if you own the rights to Black Sabbath Lemonade, now might be your time.