Yerbae, maker of a line of enhanced sparkling waters made with yerba mate, has raised $5 million in a round led by Arizona-based firm Zenfinity Capital. The investment will fund the company’s 2019 distribution expansion, which includes a partnership with New York metro distributor Big Geyser set to begin in January.
Zenfinity CEO Kevin Easler, who is also a co-founder of Sprouts Farmers Market, will join co-founders Todd and Karrie Gibson on Yerbae’s board of directors.
Speaking with BevNET, Yerbae CEO Todd Gibson said Easler and his team at Zenfinity, including partners Ray Burgan and Mike Schopin, will be essential to guiding the brand’s distribution and expansion strategy as it plans to grow its placement from about 2,500 retail stores in 2018 to more than 8,000 by the end of 2019.
“These guys are absolutely amazing, they’re strategic at every level of the business whether it’s the experience at Sprouts or other leadership within the grocery executional space,” Gibson told BevNET in a phone call. “Obviously Kevin knows distribution, he knows grocery, he is the right type of investor to bring in at this stage of the game for our brand.”
In addition to Zenfinity, chain restaurant magnate Todd Zelfer, founder of Ra Sushi and The Morning Squeeze, joined the funding round via his firm Canal Partners, Gibson said.
The funding comes as Yerbae preps to expand distribution to the New York metro area via a partnership with Big Geyser. According to Gibson, Big Geyser will carry the brand’s 16 oz. cans starting next month, and will later add its 12 oz line.
“You can’t win in the Northeast without having a strong strategic backbone in New York,” Gibson said. “What a lot of companies will do is they’ll take the easier path and they’ll hit Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in hopes they can influence New York. Our approach is exactly the opposite. We want to hit New York we want to get the right partner in New York, which will then lend its influence throughout the entire Northeast. So we can grow from New York City out instead of growing into New York City.”
While much of Yerbae’s focus is currently on New York and Los Angeles, the brand is also entering the Midwest with Wawa and Circle K stores. According to Gibson, Yerbae recently finished a pilot with Circle K in the Rocky Mountain region, and has now been authorized for a chainwide expansion that includes more than 2,000 stores — giving the brand placement in what Gibson called key regions including Texas, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis.
“Literally this takes us light years ahead of where we were in 2018, that was our test year,” he said.