Exclusive’s Steve Gress: Life after Vita Coco

Steve Gress has a message: Don’t count him out yet.

Gress, the owner of distributor Exclusive Beverages, acknowledges his business has taken some shots in the past year, including the departure of key staff and one especially prominent brand, Vita Coco, but he said he’s getting back to the basics, taking on a suite of newer entrepreneurial brands while adding a few others that have struggled to find their way in New York.

“We’re refocusing, retrenching, rebuilding,” Gress told BevNET. “We’re going more toward upscale gourmet but will have the same depth in the city.”

Two weeks ago, Gress inked a deal to add SOMA Beverages’ Metromint and Metroelectro, which had been sold through High 5. The well-known water brand has failed to gain traction in New York, but Metromint sales VP Arthur Flores said he believes that Gress’ organization is well-positioned to help it reach its full potential.

“We can’t wait for next week to get started,” Flores said.

Meanwhile, Gress said, he has made steps to build a broader portfolio after having sustained the loss of Vita Coco in October – a loss that managed to come with an upside that has been reported as in the neighborhood of $4 million. He’s added Made – a lemonade brand that also recently rolled out an on-trend shelf-stable chocolate milk, as well as Herbal Mist’s yerba mate blends and its new 989 cap-activated functional water. Also in the mix are a couple of rising snack brands, Outburst Energy Bites, 18 Rabbits, Rocky Mountain Popcorn, and Pretzel Crisps.

Still in the Exclusive mix are volume driver Langer’s Juice, soda brand Maine Root, and aloe juice Vivaloe; he did sustain the loss of two other brands with strong potential recently when Purity Organic departed for powerhouse Big Geyser and Xyience Xenergy left to work with a small network of other New York distributors, but Gress remains optimistic. Other brands in the portfolio include Venga, newcomer Purple Grace Tea, TeaNY, Code Blue, Naya Water and herbally-focused Balance Water.

“We’ve got seven or eight more that are coming out from now until May,” he said.

As for the loss of his core brand, he added, “It used to be, before we had Vita Coco, we thought about things we could do if we actually had money. Now we don’t have Vita Coco, but we do have some money – so we can start doing them.”