N is for North Carolina
– a state that is making itself the East Coast power center for the craft brewing movement. With Asheville and environs soaking up production breweries for Oscar Blues, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and others, and locals like Wicked Weed attracting attention as independent breweries in their own right, the state is both economically and geographically positioned to foster the growth of national craft brands
O is for Rohan Oza
It’s surprising for someone who came out of marketing, to be sure, but Oza has been a relatively quiet investor behind Vita Coco and Bai, as well as equally trendy food brands Sir Kensington’s, Chef’s Cut and Popchips. Now championing WTRMLN WTR –where former team member Jeff Rubenstein is running marketing, as he had at Vita Coco – Oza’s influence can be seen in the staffing of many of the companies where he has invested. One of the best in the business at figuring out which celebrity can help develop a brand, Oza’s sense of positioning and trend awareness is without peer.
P is for the Pressure Peddlers
Avure and Hyperbaric, who are ensuring that there’s nowhere in the country a consumer can go without being chased by a $9 juice with a 30-day shelf life. Their HPP machines come with a low enough price ceiling that both individual manufacturers and co-packers are comfortable entering their mildly warmed waters. They’ve given rise to dozens of local and regional juice brands, but also churned confusion around the true definition of fresh.
Q is for Questionable Strategies
– the kinds of wholesale “we went in the wrong direction” mistakes that can crush a brand. We aren’t going to call anyone out, but these mistakes give off a powerful stink indeed.
R is for Christopher Reyes and Jude Reyes, the founders of Reyes Holdings
– the owners of Reyes Beverage Group. Reyes would have been on this list even before its recent deal to take over Coke’s Chicago DSD operation. With a catalog that matches nearly every growing craft beer brand and a group of distributors covering half the country, the Reyes network combines the size of an old-school trucking firm with an entirely on-trend breadth of offerings, making them the most important independent beer distributor in the country.
S is for Cyrus Schwartz, the CEO of Dora’s.
Schwartz serves as an interesting counterpoint to the Reyes Group, as he’s built his empire on the back of the dairy industry. No less influential that the Reyes brothers, although perhaps with more limited reach, the Long Island native has turned his family’s milk business into one of the key gatekeepers in Manhattan for beverage brands that need to maintain a refrigerated supply chain from manufacturer to consumer. That used to be a small part of the industry, but now it’s everyone from Suja and Blueprint to Chameleon Cold Brew, Sambazon and GT’s Kombucha. With regular stops at almost every key account in Manhattan, Schwartz has access to manufacturing facilities on his dairy farms and an ironclad contract that offers great exposure for those willing to meet the requirements. With that kind of ability to execute and influence, you can call Schwartz the King of Cold.
T is for Tell No One
It appears on the back of the card of “Beverage Whisperer” Ken Sadowsky, but it’s the worst-kept secret in the business: a visit with Sadowsky has become a rite of passage for just about every new liquid on the market. A current Vita Coco and former Glaceau board member, Sadowsky also has the ear of some of the most powerful wholesalers in the Northeast as the executive director of NIDA, which reviews most up-and-coming brands for potential distribution. As the beverage advisor for family fund Verlinvest – and a pretty active investor in his own right – Sadowsky has managed to create relationships that allow him to influence companies both through funding, board seats, team building, and occasionally stern no-nonsense advice. A former distributor, he’ll hit the streets with companies he’s advising to look for possible influencer accounts, and even a knee injury couldn’t keep him from hitting every booth at the National Association of Convenience Stores. Tell No One, because chances are Sadowsky, who knows practically everyone, has probably heard it already.
U is for UNFI
Brands love UNFI when they get started, because they’ve cracked Whole Foods and know that this broadline distributor is the easiest way to get coverage. Then they get hit with chargebacks, tabletop show fees, and the other aggravations that come with a company that offers volume for compressed margins, and they start to hate it. But for those companies that can then bust into mainstream accounts, the love affair renews – because UNFI offers a steady, reliable way to keep a strong hand in original channels while you continue your day-to-day battles with the independent DSD houses.
V is for VINEGAR
– and Vinegar-y tasting fermented drinks like Kombucha, Switchel and more. The tang and pucker isn’t for salad dressing anymore, and it’s making millionaires out of the makers of everything from Pok Pok Drinking Vinegar to Kevita to Synergy Kombucha. With bar menus and cold boxes making room for drinkable ferments, the taste for the funk is also reflected in sour beers.
W is for Chris White
– the founder, president, and CEO of White Labs. White is the pioneering scientist who supplies the various yeast strains that have powered the growth of the funky side of the craft beer movement. With five offices in key spots throughout the U.S. and another facility in Copenhagen, White Labs is constantly breeding and growing new strains of this key ingredient for craft beer.
– is an opportunity to point out the recent success of 2X Consumer Partners, which is in the midst of several exits and has a new fund on the way. Founder Andy Whitman is making a bet on flaxseed as the next big alt-dairy play by investing in Good Karma Foods. Whitman has proven a master at finding the next trending component of established categories, with Tasty Bite in ethnic foods and Beanitos in snacks. If he thinks there’s running room behind the tiny flaxseed, his record says it’s there.
Y is for Larry Young
Despite the prominence VEB and Naked Emerging Brands, who is the only traditional beverage strategic to invest in an emerging brand the past two years? That would be DPSG, whose CEO, Larry Young, finally proved that the vaunted White system is going to be more than a trucking company for its affiliated brands by investing in fast-ramping BAI.
Z is for ZYMURGY
– the official publication of the Brewers Association, which gives us a chance to talk about this power center in our final letter. So let’s talk about the BA (especially since, between Papazian, Gatza, and Herz, its staff features a surprising number of names that feature the letter “Z.”) Is it becoming more controversial? Sure – it keeps moving definitional goal posts. Ineffectual? At times. But the Brewers Association, like the Lorax, is what speaks for the craft brewers, and with a couple thousand of them floating around, they comprise quite a group. Having the BA as the loudest voice at the table gives this ever-growing constituency someone to make sure their interests are represented. Or at least most of them, most of the time.