Holland: Activate Preparing to Turn Dial on Marketing

With the West locked down as a region via DSD and a new partnership with Coast Beverage, and veteran marketer Jesse Merrill on board, Activate Drinks is beginning to make the move from a sales-oriented organization to one with a cohesive marketing plan, CEO Dan Holland recently told BevNET.

Activate, which is best known for an innovative in-cap reservoir that keeps dry, powdered functional ingredients ready for mixing with a bottle of water, has taken on millions of dollars of investment from the Tata Group in recent months. A veteran of Haralambos Beverage Co., Holland said he has spent “the last 18 months on the road” trying to lock down contiguous coverage regions for the company.

“We’ve got the West solidified,” he said, adding that the company will be meeting soon with its board to evaluate what region of the U.S. to attack next — byMay of 2011, he said, expect the company to have decided between the Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest. Regardless, he added, expectations are strong, saying “We’ve got really good national account buyers calling us and wondering when we’re going to be in their markets.”

While Activate’s strength has been access to DSD networks, the company nevertheless recently signed a deal with Coast Beverages to help represent it with convenience store chains in some Western states.

“They are strong out here in convenience, and that’s where we’re weakest,” Holland said. While it does cost Activate to retain Coast’s team of brand representatives, who seek out approval from chain buyers on behalf of a portfolio of products, Holland said the increased speed to market and the fact that he does not need to increase payroll with the salary of a national account manager to attempt to chase down those same convenience chains.

Still, the time spent assembling the network means that the company is ready for an infusion of marketing energy: much of Activate’s variable (non-operational) spending will now be focused on marketing, he said.

“We are going to change our culture,” Holland said. “We have been a sales-driven org for past 18 months, just bringing on distributors. Well, now we have to move to support those distributors to provide them with good marketing. Clearly, we’re becoming that different kind of organization – it’s going to have to involve more sampling and in-store and out-of-store advertising.”

Merrill, who was Sr. VP of marketing at Honest Tea before joining Activate, recently moved from Maryland to begin work with the company.