Post-Acquisition Streak, Life On Earth Set for 2019 Sales Push

Despite a busy past 12 months, 2019 can be considered Year Zero for Life On Earth.

After spending a year and a half acquiring and developing three distinct beverage brands — Just Chill, Wild Poppy, and Victoria’s Kitchen — Life on Earth president JC Romagosa said the New York-based beverage company is now gearing up to begin supporting those products with a concerted sales and marketing push. The publicly traded company is coming off its first Natural Products Expo West trade show, and just hired a publicist and social media manager.

“What we’ve been doing is improving these brands from soup to nuts, including supply chain, production, branding, and design,” Romagosa told BevNET last week. “We’ve spent months building the infrastructure of the operating company, and now it’s time to push sales.”

Life On Earth’s approach thus far has been to seek opportunities to acquire struggling beverage brands in need of a turnaround and reposition them for success. The company, formerly known as Hispanica International, acquired Los Angeles-based almond water and lemonade brand Victoria’s Kitchen in October 2017, and followed that by picking up natural relaxation drink Just Chill in August and adding juice and soda maker Wild Poppy to its portfolio this year. Gran Nevada, which markets a variety of Latin beverage products, is also part of the roster.

The company also operates two DSD distributors — Giant Beverage in New York and Energy Source in California — which provide its brands coverage in key markets. It also works with distributors such as Haralambos in Southern California, as well as KeHE and UNFI.

CEO Fernando Oswaldo Leonzo, who ran Latin brand Gran Nevada prior to its acquisition, said the company aims to achieve cost savings and economies of scale by consolidating operations for multiple brands, such as sales and merchandising, under a single roof as they collectively scale up revenue and volume.

“Having one sales manager to cover a certain market but who is now responsible for several brands that can go into the same kind of channels alleviates the need for coverage without adding the costs of having more people on the ground,” Leonzo said, noting that the company is for the moment holding off on hiring dedicated brand managers in order to keep costs low. “Smaller brands need very high turn initially to cover their expenditures in key markets.”

With its acquisition of Just Chill, an organic natural relaxation beverage formulated with L-theanine, an amino acid that can promote relaxation and facilitate sleep, Life On Earth is aiming to play in several categories at once, including in the growing CBD beverage market. Forthcoming innovations from Just Chill include a CBD alkaline water and an organic hemp drink, both of which will be separate from the original lineup. Those innovations, due to hit stores this summer, will coincide with new flavors and zero-calorie SKUs for the core line, which is currently available in four flavors and sold in retailers such as Whole Foods (Southern California), Kroger and H-E-B.

“We believe that something that probably started 8-10 years ago, the relaxation category, got all the buzz at that time but has fallen flat because of the notion of unhealthy drinks with melatonin and high sugar,” Fernando said. “Now we fast forward to today and we think that category could possibly be an opportunity for a new category to emerge in which people are looking not so much for relaxation but for a level of functionality that does not include being juiced up from an energy standpoint. More importantly, it’s something that speaks to health conscious, organic consumers.”

While the immediate focus will be on supporting its existing brands, Romagosa said Life On Earth is still scouting for new brands to join the growing roster. He hopes the performance of its current portfolio will help attract further interest.

“We’ve been acquiring these brands for the last 18 months or so, and we expect by this summer that the plans we have been working on to make them better will come to fruition,” Romagosa said. “It gives us the ability to point and say ‘We bought this brand last year, and look what we’ve done.’ Other brands can look at that and see a proven track record.”

“We are looking at it from a synergy standpoint,” he continued. “These are the kind of things where people look at us and say ‘Is it doing something for me?’ That’s from the aspect of health, environment, social responsibility. From our perspective, we are looking for anything that can have that synergy so to speak. That’s where these products have a place in our portfolio and that’s the bet that we are making as a company.”