Activate Co-Founder Now Sole Owner; Brand Looks to Natural Channel for Growth in 2014

Anders Eisner, Activate

Three weeks after BevNET reported on the Tata Group’s decision to cease all new investment in Activate, co-founder Anders Eisner confirmed that he has acquired all financial interest in the brand from Tata as well as that of Tornante Co., the investment firm owned by his father, former Disney chief Michael Eisner. The deals were completed on Jan. 1, and while Eisner declined to share terms of the deals, he stated that he is now the sole owner of The Rising Beverage Co., which markets the cap-activated brand.

Eisner took the reins as president of Activate in December after the departure of company president Reza Mirza. Eisner’s decision to re-enter the fold and buy back the company he co-founded came after Mirza had been unsuccessful in attempts to secure adequate new financing for the company, which had, in recent years, relied on Tata for capital investment.

Eisner is supported by CFO Craig Berger, who was elevated to the dual role of COO and handles day-to-day operations for the company. Eisner told BevNET that although a small number of sales roles have been terminated, the company has retained most of its staff, including VP of Marketing Jesse Merrill, who spearheaded Activate’s recent “Stop Vitamin Cruelty” campaign. Eisner’s father, however, who had held the role of chairman of Rising Beverage, is now “not involved at all,” Eisner said.

While the company yesterday announced a new national distribution deal that will bring its beverages to approximately 1,300 Safeway locations, Eisner said that Activate will nonetheless begin to shift its focus away from the grocery channel. Eisner said that while Mirza had done well to expand sales within grocery, distribution had become too top-heavy in the channel.

“We overly relied on grocery,” said Eisner, who noted that a majority of the brand’s sales have come from Ralph’s stores in Southern California.

Instead, Activate would return to a “grassroots model” in which natural and up-and-down-the-street retailers would become the primary sales outlets of the brand, Eisner said. The company will focus on the natural channel, in particular, for a new sub-line which feature a “multivitamin” function and utilize high-quality ingredients from Solgar, a nutritional supplement company that markets dozens of vitamin and mineral products in retailers like Whole Foods and Sprouts.

The new Activate, Powered by Solgar line will come in three flavors — Cucumber Lemon, Strawberry Watermelon and Peach Mango — and be positioned within the beverage set in natural grocers. Activate recently completed its first production run of the drinks, and is working with natural channel broker Presence Marketing to secure new retailers for the products. Eisner said that the beverages will have a premium price in comparison to its primary line, which have a suggested retail price of $1.99.

While Eisner said that gaining new distribution within up-and-down-the-street retailers in New York City and Los Angeles will be a key objective in 2014, an effort to launch Activate Twist, the company’s planned foray into kids’ drinks, will not be part of the equation. Eisner said that the line has been” indefinitely put on hold,” and will instead place a significant amount of its resources into the new Activate, Powered by Solgar products.

“It’s really big innovation,” Eisner said of the new line. “We’re expecting big things for this year.”