Denver-based distribution heavyweight New Age Beverage Corporation yesterday announced a merger of business operations with Marley Beverage Company, which markets Mellow Mood relaxation drinks and One Drop RTD coffees. The products were developed in partnership with the family of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley, whose likeness is emblazoned on labels.
“We are happy to announce that this week we have formed a partnership with the Marley Beverage Company whereby New Age Beverages will be integrating the Sales, Marketing, and Distribution associates of Marley into our Company, and we will be leading the commercial activities of the combined operations,” said New Age CEO Brent Willis in a letter addressed to retail and distribution partners. “Although the two companies will remain separate legal entities, going forward our companies will have one face to our retailer and distribution partners.”
Speaking with BevNET, New Age CEO Brent Willis explained that the combination of his company’s sales and marketing resources along with consumers’ strong identification with Bob Marley as a public figure made the partnership an ideal opportunity for New Age to make its long-planned entrance into the RTD coffee segment.
“The brand combination of bringing the Marley name in has real global relevance from a brand standpoint. Then on top of that, the merging of sales forces means we get to double our sales footprint,” said Willis, citing the 74 million followers for Bob Marley’s official Facebook page as evidence of the singer’s enduring popularity. “We always knew we wanted to be in ready-to-drink coffee, there’s a lot of cost synergies associated with that. We don’t know a lot about relaxation beverages, it’s kind of a new segment, but we think it has got legs within the overall healthy beverage definition.”
Willis described expanding distribution in key existing accounts and opening new regions, including internationally, as priorities for the Marley brand. He added that the merging of the two companies’ sales forces would provide the muscle to make that possible. “We’ve got a lot of marketing and brand activities to build the business,” Willis said. “We have the scale and resources to be able to do it, unlike Marley did on their own. We think that those brands have a lot of untapped potential.”
The merger with Marley Beverage Company follows a deal that took place in March between New Age and Bucha, a brand of kombucha drinks owned by Willis. Bucha paid $20 million in cash and stock in a merger with natural tea brand Xing, owned by New Age founders Tom and Scott Lebon. Under the agreement, Willis was installed as CEO of the combined entity, with Tom Lebon remaining head of sales for Xing and Scott Lebon running brand operations. Along with the new additions of One Drop and Mellow Mood, New Age’s portfolio includes XingTea, Bucha and Aspen Pure bottled water.
Willis did not rule out an outright acquisition by New Age of the Marley Beverage Company in the future. “We’re just getting to know each other, and we like each other,” he said. “You never know for the future. We think this is the right structure for the companies for now.”
Willis also confirmed the partnership would not affect Marley Beverage Company’s existing licensing agreement with the Bob Marley estate for use of the singer’s name and likeness. This is significant as, in August, Colorado-based coffee roaster Jammin’ Java filed suit against Marley Coffee and its former chairman Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley, for ending the company’s 15-year licensing agreement with the Marley estate that began in 2007. Marley Coffee is a separate entity from Marley Beverage Company.
Looking further ahead, Willis hinted at future plans for the Marley brand, “We think that the Marley brand has more breadth to it, and we’re already thinking about new product development and the evolution of the Marley portfolio,” he said. “There’s a pretty good presence already just on beverages. We’ve already started talking about what other new products or beverages we might be able to add to the portfolio beyond new flavors.”