NACS: Zico, Core Power Heading for the Big Red Trucks

Coke doesn’t usually use NACS to show off its “small ball” game, typically focusing on a convenience store-pleasing lineup of sluggers like Coke Classic, Sprite, and Vitaminwater.

Steve Jones of Core Power

Things were a bit different this year, however, as a pair of entrepreneurial brands that are still in comparatively early stages were featured as significant parts of the company’s national portfolio. Call it part of a larger movement to get healthier beverages into the beverage assortments on convenience store shelves.

Zico Coconut Water and Core Power, a protein beverage, will both be moving into Coke’s large-scale national distribution system next year. Zico, which is well-known and is partially owned by Coke’s Venturing and Emerging Brands Group (VEB), will move onto the trucks in February, according to Paul Beaupre, a group director at Coca-Cola Refreshments.

“We feel it [Zico] offers  a great mix of authentic refreshment as part of our health and wellness portfolio,” said Russell Baker, another CCR group director. Zico runs second only to independent Vita Coco in the fast-growing category.

While plans were not described in detail, a Zico investor and natural channel distributor, Bill Weiland of Presence Marketing, confirmed that the company expected to get a large volume boost from the migration of many accounts into the Coke system. Weiland said that his group and UNFI, among others would continue to hold onto the natural channel, but that Zico represented “a value-added natural product with great potential” for the CSD giant.

“I’m thrilled about the development,” Weiland said.

Mark Rampolla, CEO of Zico, was traveling in Europe and could not speak on the deal.

While Zico has grown gradually and fostered a presence with Coke through gradual incubation in natural channels and key DSD partnerships, Core Power has jumped into the Coke system much more swiftly.

While the brand – which test-launched as Athletes HoneyMilk in 2009 – is something of an unknown quantity, it received a distribution boost when it went on Coke trucks in Chicago, Southern California, Texas and Colorado last summer.

A high-protein milk product, Core Power is expected to help Coke get a place in a protein category that has long been dominated by Cytosport’s Muscle Milk, which is distributed by PepsiCo.

“We’re going national,” Baker told BevNET. “That category has been uncontested for a long time.”

The revelation that the Coke system was going to be taking on the product may have gone out earlier than Core Power CEO Steve Jones had planned, but Jones acknowledged the product was headed for national distribution through Coke earlier today.

“CCR has done a great job selling us into grocery,” Jones, a former Coke marketing executive, said of the brand, which had previously concentrated largely on gym and independent accounts.

While the brand’s initial distribution steps with Coke had been arranged through VEB, the larger Coca-Cola Refreshments entity is now the major partner for Core Power. While BevNET had received confirmation that VEB was intent on investing in Core Power, that discussion – which Jones would not confirm – would be a separate one, he said.

“This distribution deal is totally separate from any other conversations that might be going on,” Jones said.

“We’re very much in contact with VEB,” Jones added. “They are the conduit for any relationship we have with Coke.”