Braintrust Investments Acquires Inko’s

Inko'sWith yet another takeover deal hitting the wire, Summer 2014 has certainly been a season to remember amid a bevy of acquisitions and investment announced in recent months.

Yesterday evening, Braintrust Investments, LLC, a private equity firm headed by long-time CPG and beer veteran Kevin Kotecki, released a statement announcing its acquisition of Inko’s, which markets a line of all-natural, ready-to-drink white teas. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Established as a low-calorie, healthy alternative to competing tea brands, Inko’s, which was founded in 2002, sells a variety of white tea blends in 16 oz. glass bottles as well as 64 oz. multi-serve plastic containers and 15.5 oz. cans.  The company also markets a white tea-based energy drink that it promotes as being “Jitter-Free.”

Inko’s products are distributed in a range of retailers, including Safeway, Stop & Shop, Giant Carlisle, Rite Aid, Publix and Bristol Farms. Last year, the company announced a major deal with Walmart, in which, following a test launch in the first quarter of 2013, Inko’s products gained shelf space in 2,500 Walmart stores nationwide. At the time, company founder and president Andy Schamisso told BevNET that the deal with Walmart executed on a key part of Inko’s mission statement: “to bring a healthy, low-calorie tea to as many people as possible.”

Praising Inko’s “very strong consumer following,” Kotecki said that Braintrust will “be working closely with brokers, distributors, and retailers to provide more consumers with access to the company’s truly unique teas.”

Kotecki takes the reins at Inko’s having held high-level executive roles at Coors Brewing Co., ConAgra Foods, Brach’s Confections, and most recently, as president of Mike’s Hard Lemonade maker Mark Anthony Brands, a 14-month term that ended in June 2013.  Yet it’s at Pabst Brewing Co., where he was president and CEO for nearly six years, for which he is most often celebrated, having spearheaded Pabst’s turnaround from a unprofitable relic of a  beer company into a trendy and sought after brand.

In a description befitting his MBA education (one earned from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management), Kotecki’s LinkedIn page describes his role at Pabst as one that “leveraged the distinct brand equities against unique consumer targets using unconventional programming and tactics.” The strategy appears to have been highly successful. From 2005, the year Kotecki joined Pabst, to 2010, brand volume of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the brewery’s flagship offering increased 69 percent, while the company’s gross margins swelled by 48 percent.

Despite his highly successful tenure, Kotecki was reportedly ousted from Pabst following a change in ownership of the company in 2011 and was later part of a group that unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the brewing giant. Nevertheless, he’ll undoubtedly lean on marketing tactics gleaned from turning Pabst into a national, household name, hoping to achieve a similar surge in growth with Inko’s.

“We will be dramatically increasing Inko’s marketing efforts, building broad scale consumer awareness and trial,” Kotecki said in the statement. “Inko’s is an excellent platform for growth within the fast growing natural tea category.”

Repeated calls to Kotecki and Schamisso have, as of press time, been unreturned.