Shaquille O’Neal Joins FORTO As Investor

One of basketball’s biggest ever stars is backing one of the beverage industry’s smallest products.

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has joined FORTO coffee shot maker Dyla Brands as an investor and will be the face of a $20 million media campaign for the product this fall, CEO and founder Neel Premkumar told BevNET. The size of the investment was not disclosed.

According to Premkumar, the partnership with O’Neal evolved organically after the four-time NBA champion tried the product and reached out to the Dyla team.

“He got in touch and told us ‘I’m drinking this all the time. Literally, this little coffee gives Big Shaq energy,’” Premkumar said. “It was an amazing revelation for him that if this works for him, it’s going to work for everybody.”

Despite retiring from basketball in 2011, O’Neal has remained a popular figure through his work as an NBA pundit, TV host and brand pitchman. He is also a prolific investor and franchise owner, having recently purchased a stake in nine Atlanta area locations of pizza chain Papa John’s and joined the company’s board of directors.

“He’s got a personal philosophy where he only invests in billion dollar opportunities that he thinks can change lives and how people consume,” Premkumar said. “For him, the idea of building an entirely new category or product was what he got excited about.”

FORTO plans to showcase O’Neal as the face of its new media campaign, which will begin with TV ads that will debut by early next year, Premkumar said. The combination of adding dedicated marketing to O’Neal’s already strong position as a popular influencer (27 million followers across social media) is aimed at helping grow the brand’s household penetration.

“Not that many celebrities have such a big platform that can make a huge difference in awareness,” Premkumar said. “[Shaq] conveys the exact product benefit just by being himself. The very fact that this enormous guy is holding this little coffee — it conveys the entire proposition, so we are really excited about that.”

In addition to appearing in marketing, O’Neal will also join FORTO for select trade events, such as the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show, where he may run into a familiar face in former teammate-turned-rival Kobe Bryant, an investor in sports drink BodyArmor.

“BodyArmor has done a terrific job with Kobe,” he said. “We’re going to be there at the same shows like NACS with Shaquille O’Neal so I think it’s going to be funny.”