BevNET Live: Get Cultured with Vita Coco, Food Should Taste Good, and Sambazon Executives

Yes, brand matters, and so do sales, marketing, execution, financing, and product. That’s the bone and muscle of a company. But where is the heart and soul? It’s in the people, in the cues they get from leadership, in the culture and purpose that underlies it all.

From Glaceau to Honest Tea, SoBe to Vita Coco, company culture has been the single most important intangible to building a successful entrepreneurial company. No matter its ultimate identity, nearly every successful entrepreneurial organization features a distinct culture – and on June 5, BevNET Live will play host to a special panel on company culture that features founders and executives from some of the most successful businesses in the food and beverage industry’s recent history.

Peter Lescoe, the founder of snack chip brand Food Should Taste Good – which was sold to General Mills in 2012 – will join coconut water category leader Vita Coco’s co-founder Michael Kirban and veteran food and beverage marketer Greg Fleishman, currently the CMO of Sambazon, for a discussion of the role their companies’ distinct cultures have had in their ability to grow and be profitable.

A good culture helps companies attract and retain talent, improves teamwork, and provides a framework for success, but it should be noted that there is no single cultural model for a food and beverage company. Some, like Food Should Taste Good, were growth-driven and sales oriented; others, like Sambazon, emphasize the “Tribe” and incorporate social cause with profit motive; Vita Coco has an easygoing vibe but clearly defined roles for employees.

The three entrepreneurs will talk about how, through leadership, hiring, and operations, entrepreneurs can help their stakeholders believe in their company culture. They will also provide examples of the ways a well-defined and consistent culture can help sustain the company through difficult junctures, help it build a consumer base, and energize stakeholders like distributors, retailers, and investors. Fleishman, who has had leadership roles at Kashi and Fuze and Kashi as well, will also introduce best practices from those organizations to the conversation. Lescoe can reflect on the effect of a strategic acquisition on the culture, while Kirban can speak to the issues of keeping culture consistent when an organization grows from two employees to several hundred. Hearing these entrepreneurs compare their methods for building their own cultures will provide BevNET Live attendees with a tool kit for building this key component to their own companies’ future success.

After all, it’s your company. You should get to run it the way you think it should be run.

About Michael Kirban

Michael Kirban, the co-founder and CEO of Vita Coco, helped create the fresh coconut water category in the U.S. in 2004. A classic “born entrepreneur” who started selling homegrown tomatoes to his grandmother’s bridge club when he was just 8 years old, Mr. Kirban made his first coconut water sales by personally going door-to-door on his roller blades and introducing Vita Coco to local bodegas and grocery stores in Manhattan.

In the nine years since the product’s debut, Mr. Kirban and co-founder Ira Liran have built Vita Coco into a multi-million dollar beverage brand that expects to sell 15 million cases this year. Vita Coco has seen triple-digit growth every year since 2007 and is now sold in over 75,000 retail establishments in the U.S.

Under Mr. Kirban’s leadership, Vita Coco has grown from a two-man start-up to an increasingly global operation with hundreds of employees, offices in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and manufacturing facilities in South America, Southeast Asia and Mexico. Vita Coco is privately owned, with investors that include Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore.

The recipient of numerous food entrepreneur awards – including BevNET’s “Person of the Year” for 2011, Mr. Kirban resides in New York City, where Vita Coco has its headquarters.

About Pete Lescoe

Pete Lescoe is the founder of Food Should Taste Good (FSTG), a snack chips company committed to making products from all-natural, high-quality, healthful ingredients.After starting the snack food brand in 2006, Mr. Lescoe and his team built one of the fastest-growing natural products companies in the industry before being acquired by General Mills in 2012. He is currently employed by General Mills as Creative Director.

Mr. Lescoe studied economics and philosophy at Holy Cross and earned his MBA, with a concentration in entrepreneurship, from Babson College’s Franklin W. Olin Graduate School of Business. Mr. Lescoe was a veteran of the food and beverage business from an early age, spending his high school, college, and post-college years working for grocery stores, distribution warehouses, and food brokers.

About Greg Fleishman

Mr. Fleishman joined Sambazon in Sept. 2010 from The Coca-Cola Company, where he served as Chief Marketing Officer of the $800 million FUZE and USA Energy Portfolio (NOS, Full Throttle, Relentless, Monster Partnership brands). Prior to TCCC, Greg spent 14 years at Kashi and Kellogg Company where he worked in progressive marketing roles, most recently as Vice President of Marketing & New Business Development. During his tenure, Greg played a key role in growing Kashi from a $5 million private startup in 1994 to an $850+ million Kellogg-owned business unit by the end of 2008. Greg created and built some of the world’s largest and most successful natural foods brands, including GOLEAN and Heart to Heart, as well as leading the acquisition and integration of Stretch Island Fruit Co. and Bear Naked Food Co. He started his career as a marketer and stage manager at Bill Graham Presents, the largest event promotions company in the U.S., specializing in concerts for such acts as U2, Grateful Dead, and Lollapalooza.

About BevNET Live

BevNET Live is a two-day forum for beverage entrepreneurs, suppliers, distributors, retailers and investors to gather, speak, exchange ideas through interactive panels and lectures, and enhance their marketing and product development strategies. Attendees can tap the expertise of investment professionals who can help groom them to attract money, business owners with inspiring success stories, and the community, which has spent a decade dedicating itself to careful reporting on the fast-moving beverage industry. More than just a conference, BevNET LIVE includes networking options including the BevNET LIVE Expo, beverage breaks, a cocktail reception and more.

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