True Nopal Forms Joint Venture with Suntory International

Fourteen months after cactus water brand True Nopal signed an exclusive international distribution deal with U.K.-based Lucozade Ribena Suntory Limited (LRS), the companies are tying the knot with a joint venture, True Nopal Ventures LLC. The new partnership is intended to boost True Nopal’s sales in the U.K. and Ireland.

True Nopal Ventures LLC is formally a union between the Japan-based, LRS’ parent company Suntory International and Big Prickly, LLC, a holding company which represents True Nopal founder and CEO Tom Zummo’s majority interest in the joint venture. Speaking to BevNET, Zummo said the joint venture will focus on growing the brand’s sales, marketing, and distribution, building on the distribution network created by LRS. The closer relationship with Suntory may also open the doors for the Arizona-based brand to further expand its global presence.

“This new joint venture structure changes things quite a bit,” Zummo said. “Suntory now has an actual vested interest in True Nopal — the brand itself — not just as a distributor. They are looking for us to grow, not only here but around the world as well.”

True Nopal launched in London last spring and has since expanded throughout the U.K. and into Ireland. According to Zummo, cactus water has been quickly adopted overseas, aided by a consumer education campaign that included extensive on-the-street sampling.

The growth has come despite relatively little marketing for True Nopal. Much of its consumer awareness has come through word-of-mouth and news outlets, Zummo said.

“Most people around the world have never seen a real cactus, let alone have they tasted one, drank one, or consumed one,” he added.

Promoting cactus as a superfruit, True Nopal will also play off of the success of coconut water, Zummo said, by presenting cactus water as a lower-calorie, low-sugar alternative to coconut.

As True Nopal builds its European market, the company has concurrently been spreading throughout the U.S. as well. Founded in 2013, Zummo said his initial plan for the company was to focus on breaching the natural channel, and a deal with Sprouts in 2014 helped to build a strong presence in grocery. In the last year, True Nopal has announced several significant distribution gains, including big pickups last June when it added placement in Albertsons, Safeway, Stop & Shop, and Harris Teeter among others. Earlier this month, the company announced new distribution in Guam and among its existing retailers added additional stores across the U.S., including Louisiana and Texas.

Growth in other channels is also moving steadily, Zummo said, and the joint venture will bolster it. In June, True Nopal will launch a 4-pack of its 1L SKU in three divisions of Costco.

With the emergence of other plant-based waters, including maple water, cactus water has shown in the past few years to be a unique new trend with potential to grow. Alongside True Nopal is Caliwater and a line of cactus waters from Steaz, which launched last year. Zummo said he sees these competitors as a boon for the nascent category.

“We certainly welcome the others that come into the market,” he said. “It really helps us build awareness and it’s tough to create a category on your own. So it certainly is helpful to have others in the field.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misidentified the nature of Big Prickly, LLC.