Coca-Cola VEB Set to ‘Sharpen Focus’ on Incubation in 2019

Changes are afoot at The Coca-Cola Company’s Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) unit, with an internal memorandum detailing structural changes set to take effect in the new year, including staff reductions and a shifting of select brands into the broader Coke system.

In a copy of the memo shared with BevNET, dated Dec. 4 and titled “VEB Organizational Update,” VEB president Scott Uzzell framed a series of changes, set to take effect January 1, as part of the greater evolution of corporate structure at Coca-Cola North America (CCNA). As the company has stepped up its work “marketing and selling a broader portfolio of beverages,” VEB is making changes to “sharpen our focus against CCNA’s overall portfolio strategy— with a goal of further accelerating the growth of our total beverage portfolio through our unique role.”

Citing VEB’s role as “futurist, investor, incubator and integrator,“ Uzell wrote, “Over the last 11 years as the VEB Business Unit we’ve learned that we are most successful when we stay true to these core strategic pillars. And as our own beverage landscape in North America continues to evolve, it’s clearer than ever that our ability to win depends on the ability to dedicate the resources and time within VEB to spot the right trends, invest in them, incubate them and, finally, help integrate them into our broad business system.”

VEB, founded in 2007, is charged with identifying and supporting the growth of beverage brands with billion-dollar potential through investment or acquisition.

The memo outlines the creation of several new business units that will house brands within the larger CCNA ecosystem once they have been fully acquired and are ready to graduate from VEB. Imported mineral water brand Topo Chico, which was purchased last year for $220 million, and coconut water maker Zico will be transitioned into the Still Business Unit, while Hansen’s and Blue Sky Beverage Company, both acquired by VEB from Monster Energy in 2015, will move to the Sparkling Business Unit. Meanwhile, Hubert’s Lemonade and VEB’s Natural Channel Sales Team, which supports an additional 14 brands from outside the group, will be folded into the Minute Maid Business Unit based in Sugarland, Texas.

Zico will continue to be run from its current headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., but will gain additional incubation and R&D capacity as part of its transformation into VEB’s West Coast Emerging Office. The East Coast Emerging Office will be in Honest’s current home in Bethesda, MD, but without any additional capabilities.

Brands in VEB’s investment portfolio, which includes Fairlife, Suja, and BodyArmor, will not be affected.

The changes will also impact staff as individual brands and their supporting teams are aligned with existing CCNA operations and teams. VEB Field Marketing and Sales will be integrated with CCNA Strategic Marketing, national retail sales, foodservice and on-premise, and franchise leadership teams, according to the memo. The exact number of jobs affected could not be confirmed.

The move provides a degree of clarity on VEB’s future after a transitional past year for the unit. Jim Murphy succeeded Matthew Mitchell as VP, strategy and venturing, in April, while Jimmy Faa, general manager of craft beverages at VEB, moved to the role of SVP and Global Leader of Juice, Dairy & Plant-based Beverages in March.

In clearing certain brands from its plate, the unit is poised to function as an in-house accelerator that can quickly put brands on a path to success and full acquisition. In the memo, Uzzell notes that VEB is empowered to “keep a rich pipeline of brands flowing into the CCNA business” by identifying trends, investing quickly and supporting founders “so that when brands are thoughtfully graduated into CCNA they can scale with success.”

According to the memo, a webcast with employees will be held today to further explain the changes.