Once viewed as potentially broad segment, cap-dispensed functional bevs have endured long shakeout that’s left bare handful of broadly targeted players still in market, as consumers have declined the added complexity and expense of Vitaminwater alternatives despite pitch that the technology keeps active ingredients more efficacious. So to lotsa bev people twist caps have been dead issue. But playing at more elevated tier where value of dispensing mechanism is more explicit, Boston-based GoLive has been quietly building momentum for superpremium-priced prebiotics/probiotics play, entering broad range of retailers, adding its first DSD partner and at some point in recent months drawing investment from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Zx Ventures venture fund, as its ceo Tim McKeown confirmed to BBI this week.
On Zx front, not much more we can say but that investment was made. We hear several million sometime in past few months for minority stake, but all ceo McKeown would do was acknowledge partnership and avow, “They’ve been great to work with.” Microbiologist at Zx who runs exploration efforts “totally gets us,” Tim said. (That would seem to be exploration vp and dairy vet Patrick O’Riordan.) He declined to say more. Beyond GoLive, tho, news signals that after backing away from NAs for a spell, Zx has been back in the game (see below).
First profiled in BBI 5 years ago (BBI, Mar 12 2012), GoLive offers promise of maintaining integrity of the live cultures until moment of consumption. Unlike some other probiotics-containing brands, GoLive dispenser employs foil rather than plastic barrier, better maintaining freshness. McKeown has lately tweaked brand, moving to more approachable new label with water drop shape that contains imagery of key flavor notes, and broadening distribution to include many UNFI distribution centers and, just now, DSD shop Dora’s Naturals in NY, which is soft-launching both its RTD bevs and its powders. Co also is in pursuing DSD representation in Southern Calif; McKeown said he’ll seek refrigerated DSD where he can. Brand has been entering broadly targeted retailers like Kroger and Publix, and this month is entering Walgreens drug chain, always pushing for cold-box presence even tho shelf life is adequate to maintain some dry-shelf presence. “We won’t get velocity on the dry shelf, so we try to be very careful, go very slowly in the cold cases,” he told BBI this week. Going the cold-box route also distances brand from failed cap-dispensed entries like Activate and connotes premium positioning that justifies $3.29-3.79 price to shoppers. So his strategy is: “Once people know the brand, we can go into aisle 7 and endcaps.” At point brand reaches broad awareness, he hopes to move to aseptic production process to extend life further and open brand to conventional ambient-only distributors. McKeown, a former IBM and Digital Equipment exec, has been getting some help on strategy from Cascadia Managing Brands of Ramsey, NJ.
GoLive Investment Shows Zx Ventures Is Back in NAs For a while, at least, Zx had backed away from investments in NA brands, tilting focus to alcoholic brands, technology plays and disruptors like Northern Brewer online homebrew supply store (BBI, Nov 8). To our knowledge, only publicly known NA play was Owl’s Brew tea-based cocktail mixer marketer, tho A-B quickly tilted that into alc realm with launched of more wholesaler-friendly canned radler line that’s now viewed as the horse driving future growth. (The radlers, playing on traditional style, are beer/organic tea combos, a natural fit with Owl’s Brew’s tea identity.) A coupla weeks ago Owl’s Brew closed on $4 mil Series A funding round led by Zx and Cambridge Companies Special Projects Group, with money earmarked for radler expansion. Line has been rolling out throughout East Coast since beginning of year. So the GoLive investment shows Zx has ventured back into NA realm; it’s quite possible the tight-lipped Zx has other NA holdings, too, that we haven’t heard about. Besides pegging GoLive, grapevine has had rumblings that Zx may be invested in kombucha entry, too, beyond the low-alc Kombrewcha brand that represented one of its first investments, but we have no details on that.