The distribution arm of Columbia Gorge Organic has shut down routes in Colorado and Arizona, and the super-premium juice company has transitioned distribution of its products in the two states to UNFI. The move, confirmed by company president Jimmy Stewart, represents another reduction in area coverage for Cogo Northwest, which in addition to Columbia Gorge juices carries those from Stumptown Coffee, GT’s Kombucha and HotLips Soda, among others, on its trucks. Cogo is now focusing distribution to three states: Washington, Oregon and California.
Launched in 2004, Cogo began as a small direct store delivery (DSD) operation that distributed Columbia Gorge juices in the Portland, Ore. market. In the years that followed, the company became increasingly frustrated with underperforming wholesaler partners and what it perceived to be a lack of reliable cold truck distributors to deliver its perishable juices and manage shelf presence. To that end, Columbia Gorge built Cogo into a 50-truck operation with routes in 12 states across the U.S. By 2014, Cogo handled nearly all distribution of Columbia Gorge juices, managing logistics and delivery from the company’s home base in Hood River, Ore.
Described as being “manned by attentive route sales people, supported by sales managers, merchandisers and demo staff,” Cogo’s distribution network spanned from Oregon to North Carolina. It offset overhead costs by adding a select handful of beverage brands — primarily based in the Pacific Northwest — to its trucks.
While Columbia Gorge viewed self-distribution as a more dependable route-to-market service for its refrigerated juices, full national coverage was nearly impossible. It also left the company with an inability to service many regions of Whole Foods, a key retailer for the brand. Cogo eventually abandoned its routes on the East Coast, and over the past year Columbia Gorge has gradually turned to UNFI for distribution of its juices in the Midwest, including Texas, Madison, Wisc. and Chicago.
Cogo continues to distribute for partner brands, including Lionheart Kombucha, Portland Ginger Brew, Brew Dr. Kombucha, GT’s Kombucha, Stumptown Coffee, Motto, HotLips Soda, Better Booch and Hiball, along the West Coast. However, there is mixed reaction regarding the distributor’s ability to service smaller accounts in California. A company executive from one of the aforementioned brands lamented Cogo’s “spotty follow-up” and is currently looking for a new wholesaler to service its retailers in the state.
On the flip side, Joth Ricci, the president of Stumptown Coffee, said that he has been pleased with Cogo’s level of service. Stumptown has also transitioned distribution in Colorado and Arizona to UNFI.
“We were supportive of [Cogo’s] exit in those markets as they weren’t able to get the scale they were looking for to grow their business. Cogo has done a good job for us in California and we look forward to continued growth with them.”