People Moves: Sparkling Ice, Mamma Chia, Califia Expand Executive Teams

Brian Kuz

Brian Kuz

Talking Rain Hires Former Red Bull Marketing Executive as CMO

Sparkling Ice maker Talking Rain has announced the hire of Brian Kuz as its new CMO. Kuz’s career spans over 30 years with CPG companies. Kuz was most recently the Global Head of Trade Marketing and Insights at Red Bull GmbH in Austria and formerly the Head of Shopper Insights, Business Intelligence and Category Development for the energy drink giant. He also spent five years with the Coca-Cola Company where he oversaw category and brand strategy. Kuz was also an executive with lawn care company The Scotts Co., market research firm IRI and and grocery juggernaut Safeway.

“The fact that an industry leader like Brian Kuz approached us to join Talking Rain validates our tremendous presence and promise within the beverage space,” Talking Rain President and CEO Kevin Klock said in a company release.

Kuz joins Talking Rain following the departure of John Peirano, who had been the company’s CMO from February 2015 to July 2016. Kuz will be responsible for overseeing marketing initiatives for Talking Rain and will also work on the development of its channel distribution, product development, marketing communications and customer service.

BevNET today sat down with Kuz at 2016 National Association of Convenience Stores show, which is being held this week in Atlanta, to discuss Talking Rain’s marketing strategy for 2017. Kuz noted an opportunity to make a stronger connection between consumers and Sparkling Ice brand and that the company will be “a little bit louder” in marketing initiatives for 2017. The company will have significantly more resources to amplify brand messaging: Talking Rain has set a media budget of $20 million for next year, a three-fold increase over 2016.

Ken Vargha

Ken Vargha

Mamma Chia Adds New SVP of Sales and Marketing

Chia beverage leader Mamma Chia has brought on Ken Vargha as its new SVP of Sales and Marketing. Prior to joining Mamma Chia, Vargha was the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Renew Life, a maker of digestive wellness supplements.

His experience as a sales and marketing executive is extensive, beginning his career with Procter & Gamble where he worked on the Pantene and Rogaine brand. Vargha was also the head marketing for the Invisalign brand, and has served as vice president of sales and marketing for Pfizer, Inc./Alacer Corp., makers of Emergen-C.

In a call with BevNET, Vargha praised Mamma Chia founder and CEO Janie Hoffman as having built a strong foundation for the brand and company. In the coming weeks, Vargha intends to spearhead new research initiatives as the company looks to engage new and existing consumers of chia drinks and foods.

Vargha comes to Mamma Chia approximately five months after Matt Buckley, who had been the company’s executive SVP of sales and marketing, left to join Caveman Foods, a marketer of “paleo-inspired” snack bars and jerky.

Karen Gifford

Karen Gifford

Califia Hires “Chief People Officer,” Sales and Marketing Executives

Earlier this week Califia Farms announced a major expansion of its executive leadership team, including the hire of a “Chief People Officer,” a position focused on building Califia’s brand as an “employer of choice.”

As the company’s Chief People Officer, Karen Gifford will lead Califia’s new “People Power” department. In a company release, Califia said that unit will focus “on empowering and developing employees while attracting top talent to the company.” Gifford comes to Califia will 25 years of management and consulting experience. She was most recently with Virgin Galactic and held the role of “Vice President of People,” from May 2011 to September 2016. Gifford was responsible for the space exploration company’s strategic design and management of people and organizational programs. Gifford held also held leadership positions in human resources at Riot Games, SpaceX, and Electronic Arts.

“Califia is on a mission to transform food and beverage at the consumer and retail level, while contributing to a more sustainable planet,” company founder and CEO Greg Steltenpohl said in the release. “This mission can only succeed if passionate people across every department and level of our organization are empowered to build a brand and business that fulfills this mission.”

Meanwhile, Califia has brought on former Bolthouse Farms executive Jim Whitaker to be its new vice president sales for immediate consumption. Whitaker will be tasked with expanding Califia’s presence in the convenience, independent, drug store and food service channels. The company also hired Demir Vangelov as chief financial officer. Vangelov had been the CFO at Oberto Brands and prior to that role he was the CFO at NBC News Digital. Califia also tapped Vilma Livas as the company’s vice president of marketing. Livas, a former vice president of marketing with nutritional pet food company Dogswell will focus on “meeting and extending Califia’s double digit growth, expanding its distribution channels and executing on the company’s strategic vision of being the food and beverage company of the future,” according to the release.