Launch Update: Big Geyser’s Jerry Reda on Purity, Body Armor

Having helped grow brands like Vitaminwater, Honest Tea and Zico – and before that products like Nantucket Nectars, among others — Big Geyser has deservedly earned a reputation as one of the best distribution partners for emerging brands in New York City. The company has also leveraged its skill at growing new products into a brand development laboratory, or sorts, for Coca-Cola’s emerging brands group, giving test runs in the city to products like Illy Issimo.

But Big Geyser’s 2012 new product launch checklist hasn’t involved Coke products, but instead new, independent attempts from veteran entrepreneurs trying to carve out a second win in the big city.

Distribution Pro: Reda

In November, Big Geyser started to distribute Body Armor, Fuze founder Lance Collins’ “super-drink” brand, on Long Island and in Westchester County; in January, the product launched New York City proper. Meanwhile, in March, Big Geyser took over the distribution responsibilities for the revitalized Purity Organic line of juices, which Bill Anderson’s First Beverage Group recently acquired a stake in.

Because of their pedigrees and financial backing, both products have received significant industry attention, but the New York market is often the key proving ground for new introductions. For insight into those introductions, BevNET recently caught up with Big Geyser COO Jerry Reda to discuss how the company was approaching the launch process for both products.

Purity’s Play

For Purity Organic, the key marching order for the Big Geyser sales team can be summed up in one word, according to Reda: “Quality.”

“It’s an organic premium juice, and in our portfolio, we felt like there was a void there,” Reda said. “Look, we’ve had an opportunity to sell three coconut waters, five enhanced waters, all at one time, but it’s our policy to pick one brand and really get behind that brand. Apple and Eve is our conventional Juice Brand, and Purity is our organic juice brand – and we think there’s enough room in the marketplace for both of them to coexist and for us to support them.”

Reda said that the company’s approach to the brand has been informed by its longstanding relationship with Tom First, the Nantucket Nectars co-founder who joined Anderson’s First Beverage Group last year and began helping to run Purity soon after.

“You like doing business with people you trust, and who we don’t have to reinvent the wheel or educate on the DSD beverage,” he said.

Speaking of not reinventing the wheel, Reda notes, one of the highlights of the Purity line has been a new Orange Mango flavor – a variety that was long a standout for Nantucket Nectars, as well.

Bill Anderson of First Beverage Group.

Going into the company’s second month with Purity, Big Geyser is getting support from the six Purity employees that are devoted to the New York market. That helps provide sales and marketing support in an area that commands it. Meanwhile, as far as retail accounts, Reda said Big Geyser has been targeting higher-end delis and gourmet food stores, as well as natural and organic accounts. In conventional accounts, he said, there’s a desire to get into organics – and at between about $2.50 and $2.99 at retail (although New York can vary widely when it comes to pricing, even on a block-by-block basis), the brand seems to be finding a pricing niche between products like Tropicana and other pure juices and higher-priced Odwalla and Naked offerings.

“We’re looking at retailers who are influencer accounts,” he said, but also ones that are “looking to advance their juice business, to raise the bar by going into organic.”

Helping the brand win accounts is recognition of the Purity line of organic fruits, according to Reda, who called the equity in the name “a great collateral benefit.” He compared it to the echo effect that helped assist Sunkist drinks early on. “I’ve been very impressed,” he said.

Still, the Big Geyser method is one that also revolves around feedback and insights. One of those insights came in the form of advice to Purity to change the label and bottle for the product; the company reduced its “fruit grid” from three rows to two across the line before the Big Geyser launch.

“We had been talking to them for some time, but basically waited for the packaging and label refresh,” Reda said.

Body Armor Ambition

If the marching orders for Purity were based on quality, however, the theme behind the Body Armor brand is one of slightly less veiled ambition. It’s “creating another billion dollar brand one bottle at a time,” Reda said.

To that end, the Body Armor crew of Collins, right hand sales-and-marketing man John Kenneally, and New York-based key investor Mike Repole have been active behind the brand along with the distributor, according to Reda.

“Once again, it’s a pleasure to deal with people who understand DSD,” he said. “But as well-capitalized as they are, they’re very prudent in spending their money.”

That means that the brand, while eager to hit Manhattan with guns blazing, has resisted what Reda called “unrealistic slotting fees,” instead relying on getting the product into the right hands: consumers.

“If you build demand from the customers, [the retailers] will have to satisfy the needs of those customers,” he said.

That’s starting to happen, now that the brand is in its fourth month in Big Geyser, he added.

“You get more confident with the product and its sell-through,” Reda said. “Retailers shop each other, and you start to get phone calls from people saying, ‘wow, I want that brand as well.’”

Body Armor, with its “kitchen sink omelet” approach, including hydration, antioxidant content and recovery functions, occupies more white space than Purity, so the challenge is to create what Reda calls “virgin shelf space.”

While that can be hard to come by in a store, Big Geyser has tried to be creative in placements – at times looking to match it up against single-function “super-fruit” offerings like Pom Wonderful, Naked, Odwalla and Bolthouse. The juice part is what is keeping it outside the enhanced water zones like Vitaminwater and away from sports drinks like Gatorade.

“It’s not a one-size fits all approach,” Reda said. “We look at the cooler and make a determination from there.”

The brand has overlapped with some of the Purity accounts, but has also sold well in gas stations and convenience stores, Reda said, adding he’s been pleased that some schools and universities have also shown interest in picking it up.

Later this month, Big Geyser will start launching Body Armor’s tea lines, likely creating another series of placement decisions. Regardless of the SKU, however, Big Geyser and Reda promise to strategize how to maximize its impact, he said.

“It’s like the new hot car coming off the assembly line, creating that excitement and enthusiasm,” he said of Body Armor. “When you start getting into the attributes and packaging,  people get excited about it.”