By the time Mother Beverage’s appearance on reality TV show Shark Tank aired in December 2018, the Texas-based apple cider vinegar drink maker had already closed the $400,000 deal investor Rohan Oza offered it during filming.
Seven months later, Mother announced this week that it has secured additional funding from CAVU Venture Partners — the food and beverage investment firm Oza co-founded — and this month hired former Whitewave Foods SVP Jason Vieth as its CEO to help guide the brand as it scales nationwide.
Speaking with BevNET on Thursday, Mother co-founders Allison and Stephen Ellsworth said Oza, who took a 25% stake in the company in exchange for his individual investment, arranged meetings between Mother and CAVU shortly after filming Shark Tank. In February the brand secured additional financial backing from the firm, but did not announce the deal until this week.
Both Oza and a representative of CAVU gained board seats but additional terms were not disclosed.
“I think what CAVU saw in us is that we are a little bit of a smaller brand,” Allison Ellsworth told BevNET. “We got a lot of national press with Shark Tank, but we’re not like a Health-Ade or the other big beverage companies they’ve invested in in the past. They look at us as something they can grow and mold.”
Launched in 2016, Mother’s apple cider vinegar drinks are currently sold in about 600 independent and natural channel Texas stores. Stephen Ellsworth said the brand expects to triple its distribution footprint by the end of the first quarter of 2020 and is plotting a national expansion into Southern California, Chicago, and New York.
Earlier this year, the brand shifted from self-production to Mother has also partnered with co-packers in the Midwest and on the East and West Coasts to grow its capacity, the Ellsworths said. The company is also hiring a VP of sales, who will join the company this summer.
As Mother scales, it will introduce new branding and packaging within the next three months that will help position the brand as a “healthy soda infused with apple cider vinegar,” according to Allison Ellsworth.
“Vinegar is a smaller space in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “We want to be that better-for-you soda that has apple cider vinegar in it and tastes great.”
In addition to new labels for its 12 oz glass bottle products, the company will also introduce 12 oz cans for ecommerce. According to Stephen Ellsworth, Mother’s online business has grown significantly since their appearance on Shark Tank. The cans, he said, will reduce both shipping freight and the risk of product breakage. However, the brand will keep its bottles for natural and specialty retailers in order to maintain a “premium look and feel.”
Mother is also investing in innovation. The brand, which currently offers six sparkling flavors, will release next month a still Peach Tea variety, made from a green tea base and with added apple cider vinegar. The company is also in discussions with natural retail chains to create exclusive flavors which are expected to launch in March.
Vieth joined Mother as CEO this month, taking over the position from Allison. The Ellsworths retain co-founder titles and board seats and are closely involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. Vieth most recently served as senior vice president at Life Time Fitness, overseeing their Life Cafe business. Prior to Life Time, he spent nine years with WhiteWave in senior management roles overseeing brands including Horizon Organics and Silk.
According to the Ellsworths, the involvement of Oza, CAVU, and now Vieth has given Mother an air of legitimacy in the beverage industry that it previously lacked. The company, Allison said, now has the necessary space to “build the foundation” for long term growth.
“They’ve given us the industry contacts,” Stephen Ellsworth said. “When we approach these national retailers now it’s no longer just sending samples and hoping for an email back. It’s having phone calls with the right people, sitting down and going over our product and saying ‘this is who we are, this is where we’re gonna take you, and this is how we’re going to get there.’ That’s where Jason has really come into play, and that all came from CAVU.”