After 18 months at the Coca-Cola Co., Inc., he vowed he’d never come back to the beverage game. The big sale — $4.1 billion for Vitaminwater maker Glaceau — was over, the transition team was largely in place, and he had other goals in mind.
“I don’t think any human being could put in the energy and intensity that I put into those years,” Repole said of the early 2000s, when the Vitaminwater sales team became known for all-out blitzes into new distribution regions. “I don’t think it could ever be duplicated.”
And, he added, “there were other mountains to climb.”
But after four years out of the beverage business — but four years of increased commitment to a variety of new enterprises, another entrepreneur who had sold a brand to Coke, Lance Collins, finally got to Repole. With a recent investment in Body Armor, the hotly-publicized new “super drink” venture by Fuze founder Collins, Repole is taking on the position of “non-executive chairman.”
Repole left Coke after he and fellow Glaceau honchos Darius Bikoff and Rohan Oza famously reaped a $4.1 billion payday for the trendsetting non-carb. While Bikoff has been largely silent since the sale, Repole has been, in many ways, even more active, using the cash to fund several more entrepreneurial businesses.
Most prominently, Repole purchased Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion – and last year’s pre-race Kentucky Derby favorite until illness forced him out of the race — Uncle Mo, one of more than 150 horses he has invested in over the years. (Repole also reportedly considered an ownership stake in the New York Mets last year as well). Repole has also purchased large ownership stakes in two food companies: Pirate Brands, the makers of all-natural salty snacks Pirate’s Booty (where 25 former Glaceau employees also went to work) and Energy Kitchen, a healthy fast food restaurant where all of the entrees are less than 500 calories.
Despite the vow and the hectic pace of his other enterprises, over the four years following Repole’s exit from Coke the beverage propositions kept on coming — and, Repole allowed, he kept looking at them. That didn’t mean they piqued his interest, however. Repole told BevNET that one thing that kept him from investing in new companies was that he saw a consistent lack of innovation in the proposals.
“I haven’t seen anything that’s interesting or impressive since Vitaminwater,” Repole said. “I think the coconut category has a ceiling, and that’s the only thing that’s been new and innovative in the past ten years.”
The only thing, that is, until a persistent Collins –aided by John Kenneally, the veteran of Cytosport, Fuze, and SoBe who is running Body Armor’s sales operation — wore him down. To Repole, Body Armor represented a combination of killer packaging and a multi-function approach that was a way to attract drinkers from a broad range of need states who were aware of the potential of many of the ingredients. That, and the chance to work again with Kenneally, whom Repole had sought out as a mentor at his first job as a regional sales manager with Mistic Brands, when Kenneally was director of National Accounts, were enough to turn Repole into a believer. And he believes consumers will be, as well.
“After Vitaminwater, Pom Wonderful, coconut water, the consumer is much more educated now,” he said.
That, and Repole believes Body Armor has large upside potential. That’s one thing that has remained consistent from the Vitaminwater days: Repole thinks big.
“I wasn’t going to get into a brand that could build up to $50 million in sales,” Repole said. “I’m looking to build the next billion dollar brand. With Energy Kitchen, we’re trying to take on McDonalds, With Uncle Mo, it was the Kentucky Derby. With [Pirate’s Booty] I saw the chance to build a healthier Frito-Lay. Have other brands come on my table that I thought could go from zero to $20 million? Sure. But I don’t see a billion-dollar opportunity in any brand but this one.”
Part of the problem has been lack of innovation, but there are changes in circumstance that have made things harder for entrepreneurs.
“Coming in now is a lot different than it was in 1998 or 1999, when we got started,” he said. “It’s harder to raise money now, harder to get up a startup; and if you don’t come in well-backed financially, you’re going to have a tough time financially. It’s tough to keep the momentum going on a brand. The second thing is – and I love distributors, some of my very good friends own distributorships – but… the demands on what distributors want now from a new supplier are very different. They want you to pick up everything, spend $5 to $7 million in the market before they pick up the first case.”
For Body Armor, however, the financial issues aren’t as much of an initial speed bump. Collins himself made millions of dollars by selling Fuze to Coke a few years before the Glaceau sale, and had reportedly been able to rapidly find investors for his initial financial raise. As for the distributors, Repole said, many of the key partners will also be offered the chance to buy pieces of Body Armor – much like Glaceau – but he expects that a strong focus on field marketing and building consumer demand can help create motivation for retailers and distributors to seek out the brand themselves.
“At the end of the day it’s not about the retailer or distributor, but the consumer,” he said. “If the retailer has to keep the product in stock, he’ll need the distributor to get it there. And if the product is selling, you’ll have the retailers calling you.”