L.A. Libations to Act as Broker for OWYN

If you’re looking for a plant-based protein drink in Southern California, L.A. Libations might have what you need.

The Coke-aligned beverage incubator, which consults and helps to secure retail placement for emerging brands, has begun working with Halen Brands as a broker of record to grow the retail footprint of Only What You Need (OWYN). L.A. Liabations will manage certain key retailers including Walgreens and 7-Eleven. L.A. Libations CEO Danny Stepper announced the agreement Thursday during BevNET Live Summer 2018 in New York, calling plant-based “the future” for the protein category. According to Halen Brands CEO Jason Cohen, this is an accounts relationship and does not include a financial arrangement or investment.

“I’m super excited to welcome [Jason Cohen] into the L.A. Libations family,” Stepper said during an interview on the BevNET Live Livestream Studio. “There’s not a lot I can teach Jason — he’s a baller. But we’re going to help him a little bit and fill in some of the holes.”

Speaking with BevNET on a phone call Friday, Cohen said the arrangement is a change of pace for L.A. Libations, as much of the incubator’s focus is on small startups without the financial infrastructure of Halen Brands, which was founded by Cohen and Leigh Feuerstein in an exclusive partnership with Clearlake Capital Group.

Halen Brands, which purchased OWYN in March 2017 in a rare pre-revenue acquisition, has leveraged its financial resources to grow the brand nationwide over the past year. OWYN, Cohen said, has grown to 25 employees and has partnered with distributors including Big Geyser, Haralambos, and Rainforest Distribution. While the brand has only been on the market for seven months, Cohen added that it is positioned more like a startup in its second or third year.

According to both Cohen and Stepper, the deal represents a “top-to-top” arrangement. L.A. Libations will focus on enhancing OWYN’s opportunities in key California retailers, but will not have to expend the same resources building the brand as they would a more traditional startup.

“The advantage to L.A. Libations is that they get to walk in with a company with really strong financials, a really good organization, with a good liquid,” Cohen said. “Versus a lot of the brands that they represent don’t really have an infrastructure and may not have the financials yet to support some of these larger retailers that they’re talking to.”

Cohen said Halen will leverage L.A. Libations’ relationships with retailers including Kroger, 7-Eleven, and Walgreens to add doors to its DSD partners.

L.A. Libations will primarily focus on OWYN’s beverage line of plant protein drinks, but Halen will use the new retail relationships opened via this deal to build the brand’s protein bar line, set to launch on August 1. Cohen said he sees OWYN, which also produces a line of protein powders, as having potential to make a large-scale platform play similar to brands like Kashi.

“We hope that as Halen looks at either making investments, or acquiring, or building brands, that we’ve got L.A. Libations as another alternative opportunity to leverage our infrastructure,” Cohen said. “And also, as L.A. Libations is cultivating emerging brands, they may make sense for Halen to acquire or make an investment in.”