Meissner moves from TalkingRain to Jones Soda

FUZE veteran Bill Meissner this week left his job as president of TalkingRain Beverage Company to take over as president and CEO of Jones Soda Co. While the move swaps Meissner’s Preston, Wash. office for one just 20 miles west in Seattle, the financial distance between the two independent beverage icons could hardly be larger.

TalkingRain, owned by a quiet group of diversified investors, has endured as a Northwest staple for more than 20 years and hired Meissner 18 months ago to push its brands into national distribution. While the company has tinkered with its products, it has displayed no sign of financial struggle.

Jones Soda, on the other hand, recently reported a $10.5 million loss for 2009 – an improvement over its 2008 loss of $15.2 million. Its stock fell from its 2007 high of $28 per share to less than a dollar today, leading Nasdaq to threaten Jones with delisting. The company has also received three deeply discounted buyout offers – one from Big Red, one from Reed’s Inc. and a third from an unnamed party – and suffered staff instability. Departing president and CEO Joth Ricci, who slashed staff to reduce costs, said in March that he planned to leave on April 2, but postponed his departure to arrange the best exit he could for the company’s shareholders.

While Meissner’s move may seem risky, it fits with his rationale for taking the helm at Talking Rain. After working for both “entrepreneurial firecrackers” at SoBe and FUZE and the monolithic corporations that acquired them, he said he wanted to start his own beverage firm, or at least lead one.

“What you will see going forward, we’re calling Jones 2.0,” Meissner said.

Chris Reed, founder and CEO of Reed’s Inc. said he read Jones’ move to hire Meissner as a change in direction.

After appearing ready to sell the brand and walk away, he said, “I think they’re going to make a go of it.”

Meanwhile, TalkingRain promoted Kevin McClafferty, a veteran of Soma Beverage Company and Bolthouse Farms, to president from his previous role as Vice President of sales. Nina Morrison, TalkingRain’s marketing director, said the company will pursue its existing plan. She added that the promotion has excited the sales team, which is pleased to see one of its own running the company.