As the specialty grocery channel becomes more fertile ground for growing the next generation of better-for-you beverage products, Jeff Gosciminski is looking to seize the opportunity.
Long before he founded Holliston, Mass.-based Bayside Distributors in 2009, Gosciminski understood the commercial potential of natural beverages. In 1988, he founded Vermont’s Hidden Spring Water Company, which later became Vermont Pure Springs. He later went on to become a general manager at beverage maker and distributor Polar Beverages, where he helped develop brands like Nantucket Nectars.
As president of Bayside, which currently services around 1,100 accounts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a focus on independent gourmet, natural and specialty stores, Gosciminski has continued to follow the pivot in food and beverage towards trends like clean label, plant-based and reduced sugar.
“Early on we saw the need to become a more important distributor for healthier beverages,” Gosciminski said during a visit to Bayside’s headquarters about an hour south of Boston. “We converted everything to walk-in cooler and freezers and all trucks to refrigerated.”
When it first opened, the company started distributing shelf-stable beverages exclusively in Rhode Island. A few years later, Bayside found room to grow after Massachusetts-based distributor G. Housen closed and sold its portfolio of beverage brands in Vermont to Farrell Distributing. Along with bringing on experienced sales staff from G. Housen, Gosciminski subsequently picked up some of its high performing natural lines, with Polar also taking others, in western Massachusetts through the Berkshires and up to the New York border. With direct store delivery (DSD) accounts ranging from small groceries to independently owned chain Dave’s Market in Rhode Island to food service accounts at major colleges such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Brown University, Gosciminski said his target is “any store that has better-for-you-products.”
As one might expect, those products include kombucha, cold brew coffee and sparkling water, among others. Bayside carries products from national brands in all three categories, including Health-Ade, Califia Farms, GT’s Kombucha, Spindrift, Chameleon, Purity Organic and Humm. But in terms of choosing partners, Gosciminski emphasized the importance of working with brands that bring boots on the ground locally.
“It’s important for us that if we take a brand on, there has to be some local support and they have to really work the trade with our reps,” he said, noting the glut of new brands hoping to push into the space. “If the portfolio gets too big, then the sales reps can only do so much. If you get brands that area working with you and working with the reps in the field, that is what is really important from a distributor perspective.”
Consumers in these channels have also shown a willingness to pay a premium for local brands, according to Gosciminski. He pointed to Goldthread Herbs, a Greenfield, Mass.-based company that produces a line of ready-to-drink (RTD) tonics made with adaptogens and botanicals that are marketed as natural functional drinks. Having started with a pallet every few weeks about two months ago, Gosciminski said Bayside has increased its order to two pallets a week for a product that retails for $2.99 per 12 oz. glass bottle.
Other categories, particularly juice, have shown some of the limitations of super-premium items. Gosciminski was candid in describing the challenge of working with cold-pressed juice brand Evolution Fresh, where the combination of price point and shelf life — often just three weeks by the time the product actually arrives on store shelves — made achieving strong velocities a challenge for Bayside’s customers. “If [retailers] are willing to take a shot on a new brand and give us a shot with it, we want to make sure they don’t get stuck with it,” Gosciminski said. “If they don’t sell it through and it goes out of code, we’ll buy it back from them. We’ll work with our manufacturers on support levels for that, but it on Evolution Fresh, we just couldn’t get it to stick.”
Beyond beverages, Bayside has also expanded into food products that fit the same better-for-you, clean label profile as its drink portfolio. Gosciminski said that while 60-65 percent of the distributor’s sales comes from beverages, it has found a foothold with local brands like Chico de Gallo, Blue Order Farms, African frozen food brand Global Village Cuisine and Indian food maker Spice Cafe, which Bayside sells in bulk to food prep areas at Star Market locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
As its business grows, Gosciminski said he will explore opening a potential second location to expand Bayside’s capacity beyond its existing 12,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Holliston.
“Our plan over time is to grow to the point where we can maintain good customer service and increase our customer base where we can solidify all the types of accounts within the channels we are looking for,” he said. “We are constantly trying to stay on-trend and, where it makes sense, we’ll continue to add to the the portfolio.”