Big Geyser Signs Exclusive 10-Year Deal With Muscle Milk, COO Reda Talks Brand Portfolio

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Big Geyser is doing some heavy lifting.

As the first DSD partner for protein-based supplement brand Muscle Milk, the New York-based distribution powerhouse has maintained strong ties with the brand since its debut in 2000. Even after Muscle Milk moved to PepsiCo’s distribution system around 2009, the brand retained Big Geyser as its only wholesaler outside of the soda giant’s network.

That relationship is poised to continue for the next decade, as Muscle Milk has announced a 10-year agreement that makes Big Geyser the brand’s exclusive distributor in the New York metro area.

In an interview with BevNET, Jerry Reda, the COO of Big Geyser, said his belief in the management and marketing team at Minnesota-based food conglomerate Hormel Foods, which acquired Muscle Milk parent company CytoSport Holdings in 2014 for approximately $450 million, was a key component of the deal.

“Hormel has done a fantastic job of cherishing the brand and giving it some extra TLC by focusing on new marketing programs, new advertising programs, on packaging enhancements and some line extensions,” Reda said.

Reda added that Hormel asked Big Geyser to take on additional items to test in its system, such as plant protein-based smoothie Evolve, and will work closely with the company on future product innovation.

“They have a lot of innovation in the pipeline, and we volunteered to partner with them to test products, some that are maybe a little bit more difficult to get into a red or blue or white system,” Reda said. “Like Frank Sinatra says, if it works in New York it will work anywhere. If they test some concepts in New York and they ultimately decide to roll them out, that’s a win-win for all of us.”

As mentioned, the deal secures Big Geyser’s position as the only non-Pepsi distributor for Muscle Milk in the country, which Reda said was a credit to the wholesaler’s large market share and its ability to break new brands in the New York region.

“We had heard rumblings that [Pepsi] tried to grab the brand but quite candidly, I know the job that we do in the marketplace and I think it’s far superior to that of most other distributors in the country because it’s a big priority for us,” Reda said. “We handle all of our brands like they are children, like part of the family. You want to nurture them, take care of them, grow up with them, and see them develop, even if that means moving from one ownership group to another. But what’s been so impressive is the stewardship of the Hormel company taking over Muscle Milk. The level of professionalism from their management team has been very, very impressive.”

Muscle Milk offers a variety of protein-based products in ready-to-drink formats, as well as powder and snack bars. The brand has had an eventful year, unveiling two new product lines — Muscle Milk Protein Smoothie yogurt shakes and Muscle Milk Coffee House protein shakes with caffeine — and an updated nutritional label in April.

In a statement related to the company’s third quarter financial results in August, Hormel chairman and CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said the company “enjoyed strong growth from Muscle Milk protein products led by innovative new items such as Muscle Milk protein smoothies,” and that the brand will become a core revenue driver in the future.

Reda also offered his insights on several other growing brands in the Big Geyser portfolio.

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Sparkling Ice

Reda was effusive in his praise for Sparkling Ice, the sparkling beverage brand marketed by Talking Rain. The company launched a zero-calorie, naturally flavored sparkling water SKU called Essence in April, and according to Reda, it has big plans for more product line extensions and a $20 million marketing budget for media buys next year.

“With all the line extensions that they have planned, and marketing and advertising, for 2017, we were probably most excited about Sparkling Ice moving forward than we have been in many years,” Reda said, crediting new chief marketing officer Brian Kuz, an industry veteran and the former Global Head of Trade Marketing of Red Bull, for fostering greater collaboration between the two parties.

Core

In the wake of Bai’s $1.7 billion sale to Dr Pepper Snapple Group, all eyes are on the future of Core, another high-performing Dr Pepper Snapple-affiliated brand that features popstar Katy Perry and music producer Dr. Luke as endorsers.

“We never seen a brand grow as quickly as [Core] has,” Reda said, recalling how Big Geyser launched the brand in a snowstorm two years ago. “We continue to be more and more impressed with Core each and every day.”

Reda added that Core Organic, a six-SKU line of five-calorie, organic fruit-infused beverages sweetened with stevia that debuted nationally in February, is “exceeding our every expectation.”

“It’s a unique, fully organic product unlike anything else that’s in the marketplace,” Reda said. “That’s why it makes it easy to sell and present to customer. You can see on label: it’s organic, non-gmo, vegan friendly, you just go right down the line. It almost has a built in sales sheet on the side of the bottle.”

Big Geyser, which had exclusively distributed Monster Energy in the New York area since 2013, has no plans, however, to distribute Core’s forthcoming energy drink.

“We’re very pleased with our relationship with Monster, and we’re not looking” to carry Core’s energy SKU, Reda said.

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BodyArmor

The rapidly growing sports drink brand continues to innovate within the category, as evidenced by the announcement of three new product lines — a electrolyte-enhanced water called SuperWater, a low-calorie option called Lyte, and a new 28 oz. size — at the NACS show in Atlanta this year.

Reda was enthusiastic about the innovations.

“We think the line extensions are a brilliant move,” he said. “Unlike the direction that Core and Essentia are going, I think [BodyArmor Super Water] is going in a different direction by targeting athletes, and I think with a lower sugar option on Lyte, it’s giving consumers an option.

Beyond the new SKUs, however, Reda stated his belief in BodyArmor was based on his long history of success with the brand’s co-founder and CEO Mike Repole.

“We see guys like Repole and [co-founder Lance] Collins, and we’ve never failed with anything that we’ve done with them,” he said. “They’re proven entrepreneurs who understand this business and know how to get it done.”

Purity Organic

The organic juice brand introduced a new five-SKU line of super premium teas this year. In an interview with BevNET at the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, Purity Organic president Dave Minnick said the idea came from Big Geyser, which saw an opportunity for a tea made with matcha, a finely ground green tea powder.

While noting that the 16 oz. packaging continues to grow, Reda said “the jury is still out” on some of Purity Organic’s innovations, including the teas.

“We love the name Purity and we think that we can do a lot more working together, leveraging the name Purity with more innovation,” Reda said.

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Reda’s assessment of electrolyte-infused, high pH alkaline water brand Essentia was blunt: “It’s hot as hell.”

Reda went on to say that Essentia, as well as Core Hydration, are driving the development of the super premium water category by giving consumers a variety of options, from functional to sport, and emphasizing a premium price point to differentiate from cheaper enhanced waters such as Smartwater.

“I would not be surprised if, within the next 12 to 18 months, we have the number one and number two waters in the New York market, because Core and Essentia are on fire,” Reda said.