Green Shoots — and Aims to Score as Specialty DSD Option

They left a gaping hole in the Odwalla team, and now Nat Noone and Green Shoots Distribution are aiming to help juice the sales for growing brands that haven’t yet made the radar of larger DSD organizations.

Using a “best of the best” strategy for both its products and its retailers, Green Shoots aims to grow beverage brands by offering a DSD alternative to many of the accounts currently served by UNFI and other broker networks.  

“Brands are built up and down the street,” says Noone, who until last year was the director of national accounts for Odwalla. “Every market I’ve ever worked in, that’s been what has worked.”

The company, which has warehouse space in San Francisco, Huntington Beach, and Washington, D.C., is relying on the way that worked with Odwalla: most of its team, including several recent defections that have devastated the brand’s Northern California operation, came straight from Odwalla in the past year.

“We all kind of grew up on trucks,” Noone said. “We’re a week in and we’ve added about 40 accounts. For the stores who want these brands, when they order through UNFI, they have to bring them in and stock them themselves,” Noone said. With Green Shoots’ DSD approach, he added, “we’re in the store three days a week.”

Green Shoots, which aims to be in 10 markets by the end of next year, has a small stable of brands, taking on Oregon’s Columbia Gorge organic juice line as its key revenue source. Also on board are acai category-leader Sambazon, which will stick with UNFI in Whole Foods but is looking to Green Shoots to grow the brand in so-called “Prestige Accounts” like high-end specialty shops, delis, and food service accounts like university dining halls, as well as Canada’s Happy Planet shot line.

While he’s looking to add brands in other categories, Noone has already filled the CSD hole himself with the soon-to-be-released Noonetime, a fruit-based CSD that so far has only been conspicuous in its absence: instead of soda, visitors to the Noonetime booth at Natural Products Expo West in the spring found a trough of dirt and seed packets. Instead of Noone manning the booth, there was, well, no one.

But according to Noone, if there was no one at the booth, there’s also no one out there specializing in helping under-the-radar brands get the kind of facings and shelf presence that they need – and that’s where Green Shoots comes in. The success of the approach will be determined in many ways by Green Shoots’ ability to grow brands enough to lose them to bigger operations. In fact, the company is billing itself as much as an incubator as it is a distributor.

“I think for us, we could be a one-stop solution for little guys that aren’t getting the attention from the big companies,” Noone said. “What we know really well is sales and distribution. We don’t know packaging, formulation, marketing, but theoretically, we’re that solution that’s typically missing for a lot of cool brands.”