People Moves: Bhakti Chai Hires New VP of Sales

Bhakti Chai Hires New VP of Sales, Cuts Two Execs

Bhakti Chai has repositioned it sales team, bringing on a new VP of sales while letting go of two executives as the brand looks to broaden its food service business.

Last month, the RTD tea maker hired Megan Siegel Jansen to serve as its top sales executive, CEO Sarah Bird told BevNET by phone last week. Jansen most recently served as VP of sales at free2b Foods, and has held prior positions at Third Street Chai and Zuzingo Inc.

According to Bird, Jansen was ideal for the position due to her experience dealing with food service, an increasingly significant portion of Bhakti’s overall sales. Bird was also quick to squash rumors that the brand was phasing out its retail business and emphasized that the company is focused on both channels; retail with its recently launched shelf stable chai line and on premise accounts with its aseptic 32 oz chai concentrate products.

Bird added that the company is pursuing independent coffee shops and national cafe chains with its concentrate line, while its RTD is entering select King Sooper and Safeway stores. The line is also in Target and Costco stores.

“In my two years [with Bhakti] there has been a lot of foundation work to develop the right products, the right packaging, the distribution,” Bird said. “All that work has been done and now the goal is to get it out everywhere. We are laser-focused on exploding the business with what we’ve got.”

Jansen replaces former VP of sales Melanie Knitzer as well as former director of sales Becca Ray, taking the responsibilities of both positions. According to Bird, letting Knitzer and Ray go was a difficult choice but was necessary to grow the company.

“They are dear people and great friends, but we had to make a strategic decision,” Bird said.

Knitzer joined the company in November 2017, having held prior positions at Q Drinks, Honest Tea, and The Coca-Cola Company’s Venturing and Emerging Brands unit (VEB). She is currently an advisory board member of No Evil Foods, according to her LinkedIn profile. Similarly, Ray also held sales positions at Q Drinks and Honest Tea prior to joining Bhakti.

Welch’s Names Bynum as CEO

Grape-based product maker Welch’s has named former Schwan’s Company president Trevory Bynum as president and CEO, effective October 1, to replace outgoing chief executive Brad Irwin. According to a press release, Bynum brings two decades of CPG experience, including positions at General Mills and WhiteWave Foods.

“I am very excited to join Welch’s during such an exciting time for the brand,” says Bynum. “On top of the great tasting and wholesome grapes grown by more than 800 farm-owners, Welch’s is truly an American staple with a very impressive history within the CPG industry. I see so much growth potential and opportunity to foster the advancement of the business and expand Welch’s reach across the country.”

Humm Kombucha Hires New VP of Marketing

Oregon-based Humm Kombucha has named John Peirano as its VP of marketing, the company announced today. Peirano is the co-founder of protein powder brand Plant Works Nutrition and has previously held executive marketing positions at Talking Rain, Red Bull and Muscle Milk.

According to a press release, Peirano will focus on day-to-day marketing efforts aimed at driving trial and increasing consumer awareness about the emerging kombucha category, of which the company estimates only 20 percent of the consumer population is aware.

“I love the challenge of building brands in emerging categories,” Peirano said in the release. “I have been a consumer of kombucha for a while now and believe that Humm is the best tasting kombucha and so well positioned to drive the future growth of the category.”

Mark Walen Joins Topa as CEO of Beverage Distribution Group

Former Columbia Distributing CMO Mark Walen has joined Topa Equities Ltd. to helm its beverage distribution group as president and CEO, the company announced in a press release this week.

“I couldn’t be more grateful that Mark is joining our team, particularly at this critical time of new growth for us,” said Bill Anderson, executive chairman of Topa Equities, in the release. “As the head of our beverage distribution group, Mark will bring dynamic leadership essential to the further development of our distributorships and our teams, and will help us to continue to invest in our brands and supplier relationships.”

The company, which began as a beer distributor in 1956, also includes automobile dealerships, real estate holdings, property management, and consumer finance and insurance. Its beverage distribution business services California, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Distill Ventures Taps New Non-Alc Leader

Beverage investment firm Distill Ventures has named Heidi Dillon Otto as portfolio director for its North American non-alcoholic drinks business, which currently includes non-alcoholic spirits maker Seedlip. In a press release, the company said Otto will focus on growing the brand’s non-alc portfolio and will work closely with brands as an “advisor and mentor.”

Otto has experience working with CPG startups including Somersault Snack Company and Wonderbag Global, and she created consumer marketing programs for LUNA and Starbucks.

“We are thrilled to welcome Heidi to the growing Distill Ventures team here in the U.S.,” said Gonzalo De La Pezuela, founder and managing director. “Heidi’s deep marketing, beverage and startup experience will be of great value to the entrepreneurs within our portfolio. Additionally, there is an abundance of opportunity in non-alcohol drinks, a sector Distill Ventures has long thought to be the most exciting and dynamic category in drinks, and we are confident that Heidi’s capabilities will help us increase our growing presence within this category.”