Upstart CBD brand Ojai Energetics has added two beverage industry veterans to its management team, with former Coke executive Tom Hicks coming on as COO and Jim Tonkin joining the company’s advisory board.
Hicks is making the leap into CBD after establishing a reputation for helping build brands ahead of major exits; he served as president of Naked Juice through its sale to PepsiCo in 2007, then as senior VP of sales and operations at Monster Energy Corp. prior to The Coca-Cola Company’s major investment in the brand in 2015. Following the sale, he joined Coke’s Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) unit for just over a year before departing the company in November 2016.
Since then, Hicks has been an executive VP of sales and operations at Boise, Idaho-based food brokerage house Impact Group. Speaking with BevNET last week, he said that the possibility of working with Ojai and founder/CEO Will Kleidon had come up at various points as the two crossed paths over the past several years, eventually coming to fruition after Alan George, a finance specialist with whom Hicks had worked at Naked and Hansen’s Beverage, joined Ojai as CFO.
Along with Hicks, another experienced beverage hand, Jim Tonkin, has joined Ojai’s advisory board. Former Nestle Waters North America and Chobani president Tim Brown is also a member of the board.
“My reputation is that I put together really good teams, regardless of the industry,” Hicks said. He noted that Ojai’s ownership of several CBD patents — related to emulsion, treatment applications and other uses — was particularly attractive considering the category’s rapid growth trajectory.
“The demand (for CBD) is going to be there, and the companies that are going to win this game are the ones with the patents,” he said. “If not, it’s going to be a race to the bottom. If you don’t have IP that works, it’s going to become commoditized very quickly.”
Billing itself as a “cannabis IP technology company,” California-based Ojai, produces CBD tinctures, oils and topical creams made from organic Colorado-grown hemp. With regards to CPG, Hicks said that Ojai’s business will primarily consistent of licensing and supplying CBD to third-party food and beverage manufacturers. The company has already engaged in R&D with “some of the largest beverage companies in America,” including major beer brewers, he said. All licensed products will feature a “Powered by OE” badge on package labels.
The company will also continue to develop and release products, including edibles, under its own trademark; Hicks said Ojai eventually plans to “bring on a high level marketing person who will come in and build the brand.”
Innovation is set to arrive in various forms; along with ingestible products, Hicks said Ojai is currently developing an exclusive line of premium CBD-infused cosmetics with “one of the largest skin care companies in the country.”
“The only thing we aren’t going to do is get into beverage,” he said. “Why would I go out and do a beverage when I have the third-largest (beverage) company saying, ‘We’ll do the beverage for you.’ I don’t want to compete with the large beverage companies of the world. We’re going to be their supplier.”