Jeff Rubenstein: From Coconuts to Watermelon in Two Moves

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Jeff Rubenstein, CMO, WTRMLN WTR

Former Vita Coco marketing chief Jeff Rubenstein has had a whirlwind few weeks since leaving that company late last year.

First, there were stories in the trade press about a temporary stint at guayusa tea company Runa — a place where he was alternatively described as a consultant, the CMO-in-waiting,and an interim CMO — and now he’s just a few days into his latest gig, running marketing for HPP juice company WTRMLN WTR.

“This brand is going to be huge,” said Rubenstein, part of the team that helped build Vita Coco into the largest coconut water brand in the world. He said the simplicity of the product — just watermelon pulp, rind, and lemon, high-pressure processed — and its taste should help it stand out.

As for Runa, Rubenstein said, it was a quick look over the brand’s marketing efforts on behalf of his former boss, Mike Kirban, who is an investor in the brand — along with Rubenstein himself, as well as national sales director Michael “Goldy” Goldstein and Jeff Burth, also of the marketing department. He expressed great confidence in the brand, which also just brought on former Sambazon executive Richard Matusow as an interim president.

Rubenstein said his new job at WTRMLN WTR brought him back to his entrepreneurial roots, as with Vita Coco’s early days.

“I’m a fan of building brands from the incubator stage on up,” he said.

Rubenstein said he was recruited to WTRMLN WTR by marketing ace Rohan Oza, his former boss at the Coca-Cola Co., Inc. Oza, who made a fortune working for Glaceau, went on to invest in Vita Coco, and eventually in WTRMLN WTR as well. Rubenstein said that he, too, is an investor in the new product.

WTRMLN WTR does face obstacles, particularly its cost, which can reach $4.99 at retail — a lot to pay for a summer staple that is readily available in its solid form. That’s something Rubenstein acknowledged, but he said that cost will be coming down by the summer through tweaks in the brand’s supply chain . Meanwhile, watermelon has deeper roots in the American consciousness than coconut water has, he said, and “when it comes to HPP, it’s the least expensive item in the set.”

Meanwhile, he’s hoping that the company — started by former creative director Jody Levy two years ago — continues to attract the kind of attention that Vita Coco did in its first few years.

“I’m coming in the the experience of building an entrepreneurial brand, and I think this will be as big as Vita Coco was in its first year,” he said, adding that investors and retailers have been reaching out for the product in a way that they did not immediately do when they encountered coconut water, which has a more unfamiliar, polarizing taste.

“We’re having fish jumping into the barrel,” he said of the brand, which nevertheless does not extend much beyond New York City, where it is distributed by cold-channel specialist Dora’s Naturals. Rubenstein again said to expect that to change in the near future, with distribution on the West Coast and major retailers to come on board in the months to come.