People Moves: AQUAhydrate Names New COO Ahead of “Rebuilding Year”

Laarni Niro Named COO At AQUAhydrate Ahead of “Rebuilding Year”

Following the departure of CEO Hal Kravitz in April, alkaline water brand AQUAhydrate has named Laarni Niro as the company’s new chief operating officer as it looks to rebuild brand equity and financial performance.

Niro joined the Los Angeles-based company as its vice president of finance in 2012. In April 2016, she was promoted to senior vice president of finance and operations.

In a call with BevNET, Niro said the company would look to recapture a “grassroots mentality” as it seeks further growth in the thriving premium water category.

“We are moving in a different direction,” Niro said of the brand, which counts actor Mark Wahlberg, entertainment mogul Sean Combs and fitness guru Jillian Michaels as investors. “We are focusing on an entrepreneurial kind of culture.”

Regarding AQUAhydrate’s current financial position, Niro said that the company will be partnering with ROTH Capital to pursue new investment. The company presented at the 30th Annual ROTH Capital Partners Conference in March.

She added that Matthew Howison, who is also an investor and member of the company’s board of directors, is the company’s acting president and is tasked with investor relations and fundraising.

“Right now we are just focusing on building the brand equity; once you have stronger financial viability, investors will come to you and be interested, and not the other way around, because you are in a much stronger position,” she said, adding that the company’s three primary investors — Wahlberg, Combs and The Yucaipa Companies, LLC, which invested $10 million in the company in 2011 — would “always” be involved in future raises.

To reinforce brand equity, the company plans to unveil a variety of changes in the coming months, including a new website and enhancements to product and label design for primary and secondary packaging. Raz Inserra, director of brand and innovation, said the brand will be featuring a special version of its 1-gallon bottle with a red handle for 100 days this summer. Additionally, a special package that is set to launch in September will promote National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is in October.

Commenting on Kravitz’s departure after three years as CEO, Insarra indicated that the move was aligned with the company’s desire to shift gears. “The board did definitely want to move into a different direction — more of that high-energy entrepreneurial culture, and innovative strategies built to drive revenue and build the brand and badge value,” he said.

AQUAhydrate does not plan to make additional changes to its senior management team, Inserra noted, but strategic hires in Arizona, the Mid-Atlantic and New Jersey are planned.

“Right now [we are] focusing on building the brand and seeing how it goes,” she said. “This year is our rebuilding year.”

Eric Hoest Named CFO of Townshend Group

Portland, Oregon-based The Townshend Group, makers of Brew Dr. Kombucha, is continuing to expand its senior management team with the appointment of Eric Hoest as the company’s first chief financial officer.

Hoest is a former vice president of Stumptown Coffee, which is also based in Portland. He joined the coffee roaster in 2013 and worked to scale the company ahead of its sale to Peet’s Coffee in 2015. Hoest previously led a TSG Consumer Partners’ 2011 investment in Stumptown.

Hoest is also a strategic investor in Voilà Specialty Instant Coffee.

In his new role, Hoest will be responsible for developing financial, human resources and technology capabilities for the Townshend Group’s three core brands: Brew Dr., Townshend’s Tea and Townshend’s Distillery.

“As a longtime triathlete I have been a personal fan of Brew Dr. Kombucha for many years because of the premium taste, being low sugar [and] low calorie, and their leading approach to alcohol removal,” Hoest wrote in an email. “After meeting [CEO and founder] Matt [Thomas], I knew I wanted to join the team at Brew Dr. and Townshend’s to support the continued growth and success of this unique family of brands.”

Hoest is the third former Stumptown employee to make the move to The Townshend Group in recent months: former Stumptown marketing director Josh Groff joined as vice president of sales in October, while Marty Wall, who served as vice president of sales for Stumptown, was appointed as president of Brew Dr. in April.

David Ross Joins LIVE Soda as CEO

Austin, Texas-based probiotic beverage maker LIVE Soda, LLC has announced that chief operating officer David Ross will take over as CEO following the departure of founder Trevor Ross (no relation) last month.

According to a press release issued last week, David Ross will be “strategically leading the continued growth and innovation agenda for the brand and its expanding product lines.”

Prior to joining LIVE Soda, David Ross served as COO and CFO at Boundless Nutrition, which makes better-for-you snacks such as Oatmega bars and Perfect Cookie and was also founded by Trevor Ross: . In 2015, the brand was acquired by Amplify Snack Brands, Inc., which itself was acquired by The Hershey Company in December.

“I’m honored to be a part of a company that has a strong set of values, a talented team, and an incredible branded platform for growth,” said Ross. In the release. “I’m looking forward to continuing to play a key role in the company’s future and the opportunity to propel the team forward as a leader in the beverage category.”

LIVE Soda declined to answer questions regarding Trevor Ross’ exit from the company.

ABA President Neely Departs for Insurance Council

Susan K. Neely has left the top job at the American Beverage Association (ABA) after 13 years as president and CEO to lead the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI).

During her tenure at the helm of the ABA, the organization took a strong position against so-called “soda tax” legislation in places like Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The group provided financial support to fight the tariffs, framing them as a unfair penalty on small businesses and as an ineffective form of public health policy.

Prior to joining the ABA in 2005, Neely worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as assistant secretary of public affairs.

Kyle Furlong Leaves Grady’s Cold Brew

Kyle Furlong, brand strategist at New York-based Grady’s Cold Brew, has left the company.

“I’ve enjoyed my time in the beverage industry, but the design industry is one that has always called to me,” Furlong, who had been with the company since July 2015, wrote in an email to BevNET.

He has accepted a sales marketing digital accounts role at Rich Brilliant Willing, a manufacturer of LED lighting based in New York City.

“I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve built at Grady’s and will always consider the team my family,” Furlong wrote. “Anyone would be lucky to be a part of the company, as I believe its future is extremely promising and there’s not a better, more innovative line of cold brew products on the market.“

He added: “I have no plans to drink any cold brew coffee other than Grady’s for the rest of my days.”