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Larry Trachtentbroit and Mike Oringer have more than 25 years of combined experience from the Coca-Cola Company, and both have a track record of success in building the next generation of beverages. Prior to founding Brain-Twist, Larry created and marketed Planet Java ready-to-drink coffee, a brand acquired by Coca-Cola in 2000 that revolutionized the RTD coffee market. Mike has worked on such notable projects as Coke Zero, Dasani bottled water, and the Seagram’s mixer line. Despite the dominance of several major players, the energy drink market is growing at a steady rate of 15% per year.
Brain-Twist® Inc is known for its success in identifying, conceiving and producing the next generation of beverages. After bringing SLAP Energy to market last year, Brain-Twist® launched SLAP FROZEN Energy in April. The first and only non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverage in a pouch, SLAP FROZEN Energy is a blend of ingredients that prevents the drink from fully freezing and allows for a maintained slushy consistency. It is available at major nationwide retailers including Wal-Mart® and Casey’s General Stores®.
MO: How did the two of you meet and what inspired you to go into business together?
Mike: Larry and I crossed paths when I worked at Coca-Cola Enterprises. I was VP of Marketing, responsible for building the brand portfolio with volume and profit generating opportunities. At Coca-Cola, we were #1 or #2 in every carbonated/sparkling beverage category. But we were a distant #3 or non-existent in many other emerging categories as we strived to transition from being a carbonated soft drink company into a non-alcoholic beverage company. Since Coca-Cola did not have an iced coffee to compete with Starbucks (which was being distributed by Pepsi bottlers), we pursued discussions with many different iced coffee companies. That’s when I reached out to Larry, who was CEO of Planet Java. Larry showed up to our office and we were so impressed with the product that we put it on all Coke trucks in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), and the relationship was underway.
Larry: Mike and I kept in touch after the Planet Java deal. Five years later, when I started Brain-Twist, and I was looking for a President, I knew Mike was the guy. We complement each other really well. We each bring something different to the party because of our varied experiences which make us a good team.
MO: What inspired you to create a frozen energy drink and why do you think that no one had tried it before? Did you experience any specific challenges in being first to market?
Mike: The genesis of SLAP FROZEN Energy came from a meeting with a buyer for a leading mass merchandising chain. He was a new buyer to the non-alcoholic beverage space, so we asked about his experience as the chain’s alcoholic beverage buyer. He enthusiastically shared the success story of Daily’s, the market leader of ready to drink alcoholic pouches.
Larry: We asked tons of questions about all of the facets of what makes Daily’s so successful. On the spot, we asked the buyer if he would like us to explore applying the Daily’s concept to our area of expertise, energy drinks. The rest is history.
MO: Can you talk about the unusual distribution system of SLAP FROZEN?
Larry: To get SLAP FROZEN Energy to market, we knew we had to network and build off of our past experiences and relationships. From a distribution perspective, we networked with old colleagues that had left the beverage industry and entered the ice cream business. We quickly learned that ice cream distributors had relationships and assets we were unfamiliar with. They work closely with different retail buyers — frozen vs. beverage. They control their own ice cream freezer cases, and they are hungry for innovation with high margin and volume potential. By tapping into our existing network, we were able to create a unique and different distribution route to market.
MO: Your beverages are available at many main retailers including Wal-Mart® and Casey’s General Stores®. Can you provide our readers with some tips on pitching to major nationwide retailers?
Mike: The key to pitching retailers is for them to feel your passion for your brand. Offering them a great tasting, functional beverage and customized marketing initiatives will help bring them on board. Our success is directly attributable to this approach – and maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. During every sales call and meeting, we begin with exploratory questions asking what the retail chain is looking for in the beverage space and what they are seeking from a manufacturing partner from economics to marketing. After this discussion, we go back to the retailer with specifics about how our product portfolio aligns with their needs. We also pride ourselves on finding inspiration from these conversations for the formulation of new products – that’s how SLAP Frozen Energy was created.
MO: Can you talk about what influenced the design of the SLAP FROZEN pouches?
Larry: The catalyst for our design was the tear open alcoholic ready to drink pouches. We wanted to differentiate ourselves with a portable, resealable pouch. The pouch was designed into a shape that fits perfectly into the hand….kind of like a joystick for a gaming device. We worked closely with the buyer of a major chain on every aspect of SLAP FROZEN’s packaging design and graphics. It was a multiple month process of exchanging feedback and course correcting as we worked with suppliers to evolve to the ideal packaging of today.
MO: What trends are you currently excited by in the beverage industry?
Mike: Consumers are hungry for great taste, functionality and they are promiscuous….seeking new solutions and innovation. The FROZEN opportunity for non-alcoholic beverages is a 1st to Market idea with tons of room for growth and line expansion across other non-alcoholic categories. Other categories with growth opportunities include coconut water, aloe water, low calorie sparkling beverages, and other functional wellness beverages.
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