Building Your Beverage
BYB Brands Creates and Sells Brands People Want!
Norman George sat among his Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated peers antsy—ready for a change. He’d been with the company for several decades. He loved the complexities of the beverage industry; that every day brought a new challenge and new reward. He also appreciated the Christian-based leadership of J. Frank Harrison III, chairman and CEO of the Charlotte-based company.
But, his entrepreneurial spirit needed to be fed in a new way. So, he decided to toss an idea to the board.
“At the time, I was wondering how unknown beverage ideas bring their flavors to life,” George remembers, leaning back in his chair. “For me, Coke would always be at the top of the list. But, I knew that people’s tastes were expanding, and I thought the company had an opportunity to expand with them.”
With the agreement of the board, George began the process of creating BYB Brands as a division within the company dedicated to brand creation for new beverages with George as general manager.
“I wasn’t aiming for the role, but I guess he who has the idea has to make it happen, right?” he chuckles, recalling the swift transition in his career.
In the last 10 years, George and the BYB Team have launched two major beverage lines and elevated the company to new ownership and a wider distribution base.
Building a Brand
The first brand created by BYB was Cinnabon Lattes. George, with his creative passion for business, saw an opportunity in beverages that started as niche.
Bottled coffee was a new concept and popular with a wide demographic, so BYB cut a license deal with Focus Brands, Cinnabon’s parent company, to build the sweet and decadent flavor of the world-famous Cinnabon rolls into a premium ready-to-drink coffee.
Cinnabon Lattes were in the marketplace for about a year and a half while bottled lattes were all the rage; however, this brand could not gain national consumer traction and the BYB team decided to retire the product and move on.
“The beverage industry is tough,” George affirms, shaking his head. “I’ve been in it more than 30 years and I continue to marvel at what works and what does not.”
Over the years, George’s team built and launched a multitude of beverages including Country Breeze and Bazza Teas, Bean and Body coffee, Fuel in a Bottle, and Tum-E Yummies. Of these, only Tum-E Yummies remains in the marketplace.
In fact, Tum-E Yummies is growing in reach. The low-sugar, fruit-flavored beverage is No. 1 in retail dollar sales in the convenience retail channel across the U.S. (AC Nielsen) in the Juice Drink Category and now expanding into grocery stores.
Tum-E Yummies hit the market in February 2006. George and his team saw an opportunity in low-calorie beverages for children. With a marketing plan targeted specifically to parents and caretakers who want to treat their children with a low-sugar drink, his team began formulating Tum-E Yummies.
Tum-E Yummies is a line of great-tasting, non-carbonated, fruit-flavored water drinks. They are loaded with 100 percent daily value vitamins B6, B12 and C. Each bottle has 50 calories, 13 grams of sugar, and no sodium. Tum-E Yummies are packaged in a 10.1 oz. bottle with a sport cap and are available in five flavors (Very Berry Blue, Orange-arific, Fruitabulous Punch, Greentastic Apple, and Sour-sational Raspberry).
Within in three years, Tum-E Yummies grew into 85 percent of the Coca-Cola Bottling direct store delivery markets. In 2009, when many were having challenges, BYB’s Tum-E Yummies was succeeding. Tum-E Yummies is now in more than 100,000 retail outlets across the U.S.
“Tum-E Yummies was cash-positive after three years and has been every year since,” George remarks. He hails his hard-working team for the success; many were selling Tum-E Yummies out of personal vehicles, in parking lots, basically anywhere and everything to build a product in which they believed.
The brand has also launched a multi-pack line extension sweetened with a blend of real sugar and stevia. The additional blend features the same vitamin-packed ingredients as the company’s original product, while being responsive to the growing demand for alternative sweeteners.
Beverages That Succeed
George’s pride in his team has helped them reach the shared destination that completes the vision of BYB. The company’s destination is to “Be leaders and win in the marketplace.”
Creating a beverage that succeeds in the marketplace takes a balance of art and science. Choosing different drinks, flavors and ideas requires a variety of tactics: evaluating categories and consumer needs not being met or with few choices in the space, attending beverage entrepreneurial shows to see emerging products, and entertaining very small beverage upstarts interested in investments or purchasing from BYB.
Once a beverage is in the BYB wheelhouse, the company begins to study its competitive landscape. They need to understand the targeted consumer base for the product and the growth potential in the marketplace.
The beverages are then packaged and branded for testing in consumer focus groups throughout the country. BYB tests things like the concept and packaging first, i.e., no brand name is attached to a beverage when it hits the senses of the consumer focus group. The idea is to gather as much information as possible regarding the consumer’s willingness to purchase it before branding it.
However, George knows that testing, research and data analysis can only get a beverage so far in this highly competitive industry.
“The best potential product in the world will not overcome picking the wrong distribution partner,” he explains. “Not all products are suitable for the big brand beverage companies. Some are better served through more nurturing routes that will allow them to build to scale. It’s for that reason that BYB exists.”
George points out that building the next billion-dollar brand takes more than tenacity. “It takes an understanding of the industry, the courage to take risks, the grace to accept failures, and a leadership ability that embraces success while exuding humility,” a talent that he comments is almost lost in the business world today.
BYB Brands will continue to move down the path of trying to answer consumer need states that haven’t been met yet, George says.
“We’re innovators, and we’ve got to think differently,” he says. “We’ve got a different mission that has a different feel to ensure that we’re quick, nimble and easy to do business with. We’ve got to be quick to respond.”
Creating a Culture
George admits the first 18 months were tough. Through the brands launched and many more ideas considered, he discovered success has a short memory. He’s learned from mistakes made, but has not dwelt on them. And, he’s surrounded himself with a strong team.
He says his folks hustled for their success because they believed in the brands they were creating. But even more than belief in the brands, they believed in the culture being modeled by the leadership team.
George readily acknowledges he knows who he is and what kind of people he wants to lead. He emphatically states, “I have passion every day I get up. I enjoy the industry and its complexities. If you have a good product and good people who believe in the product, you will do great.”
“Hiring is the most important decision you will make,” he declares. His hiring process has always been a team activity from the very beginning.
The process centers around the mission of BYB Brands: To create and sell brands people want! It then leads into values which include: innovation, passion, undying optimism, and respect. During interviews, candidates are asked situational questions in an effort to glean how they have responded to similar situations in prior work and life experiences.
Through the interviewing process, George and his team begin to assess how a candidate will respond to another core part of the BYB culture: The “Gotta Do’s.” Upon talking about the “Gotta Do’s” George presents a freshly laminated document listing them to demonstrate how serious he is about these 14 actions that each person on his team has “gotta be willing to do.”
The actions include: Always do the right thing; be flexible and fast; take action; live within our means; have fun and demonstrate a sense of humor.
George says that to succeed, potential team members have to have muscle and experience. They have to be willing to share experiences in the field—be book smart and street savvy. George also stresses the importance of surrounding one’s self with different people who have different experiences from different walks of life.
Team members have bought into George’s vision and “Gotta Do’s” readily. What started with George and his idea has grown to 40 full-time team members stretching from San Diego to Charlotte to Boston.
George emphatically attributes their success and growth to the culture. “People look at your feet, not at your mouth,” he says repeatedly. “Culture is a huge part of who we are. I’m so proud of our folks.”
BYB Brands success isn’t limited to the brands it has built. It recently was acquired by The Coca-Cola Company in a stock purchase, becoming the newest addition to the Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) business unit. BYB Brands now finds itself in unit with such illustrious brands as Honest Tea, Hubert’s Lemonade, Hansen’s Natural Soda, and ZICO Coconut Water.
Coke’s VEB unit was created in 2007 to identify and build the next generation of billion-dollar brands in North America. VEB breaks down the players in the beverage market into one of five phases of development based on company revenues: Experimentation (less than $10 million), Proof of Concept (between $10 million and $50 million), Pain of Growth (between $50 million and $150 million), Scale to Win (between $150 million and $350 million), and Mainstream (billion-dollar brands).
Rather than waiting until a company breaks into the mainstream to consider an investment or acquisition, VEB identifies interesting companies earlier along the growth curve. Specifically, VEB targets companies that have reached the Proof of Concept phase, since they have already beaten the odds and established themselves in the marketplace.
VEB’s strategy is to take a minority interest in the company first and, then, if the company continues to be successful, The Coca-Cola Company might acquire 100 percent of the business.
Only 3 percent of all beverage brands reach VEB’s Proof of Concept phase, and George and his team can take the credit for boosting BYB’s Tum-E Yummies into the inner circle.
“We’re very excited about our new owners, and equally grateful for the incredible support of the Consolidated board,” George says, with more than a little pride.
Being part of the larger entity will extend BYB Brands Tum-E Yummies’ reach into grocery stores. It’s currently No. 1 in consumer sales in the youth drink category in the convenience retail category. George believes this top rating, along with the nurturing environment with VEB, will bring strong standings in grocery stores as well.
With change in ownership comes a new opportunities for BYB, too. In September 2015, the BYB teams began helping support Peace Tea. Bottled teas are the top product for the late teen to early 30s demographic and second overall for most-consumed non-alcoholic beverages.
Peace Tea is marketed as the connector of people, places and things which inspire, encourage and promote peace. It comes in six flavors and is only 50 calories per serving, with no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors.
George knows working on Peace Tea is an exciting moment for his team. It allows them to leverage previous learnings to lead to more success.
George says he is looking forward to continuing the integration with Coca-Cola North America’s Venturing and Emerging Brands business unit, and to support new opportunities while experiencing compounded growth for the Tum-E Yummies and Peace Tea brands.
George enjoys building…building brands…building divisions…building cultures. It’s likely, within the next decade, he’ll build the next billion-dollar beverage. It’s also likely he’ll give all the credit to his BYB teammates as he sits back in his chair and enjoys a cool beverage of his own design.
But then, maybe, he’ll throw back an ice-cold Coca-Cola in celebration of the brand’s 100th anniversary of its patented “hobbleskirt” bottle.
BYB Brands, Inc.
(Part of Venturing and Emerging Brands of Coca-Cola North America)
2101 Rexford Rd., Ste. 236E
Charlotte, N.C. 28221
Principals: Norman C. George, General Manager; Erin Kelly, V.P. Marketing; Michael Rigtrup, V.P. U.S. West Region; Kyle Thomas, V.P. U.S. Central Region; Brad Keinsley, V.P. U.S. East Region; Gerry Vetter, Director of Supply Chain/Procurement
In Business: 10 years (purchased August 2015; created by previous owner Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated)
Current Brands: Tum-E Yummies; also supports Peace Tea
Business: Incubation unit, founded by Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, is now part of Coca-Cola North America’s Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) business unit, for brand creation.