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Augmenting Push Into High End, Big Red Snags Kemper Soda

Beverage Business INSIGHTS:

Big Red Ltd, which made unsuccessful run at Jones Soda a year ago, has bagged a high-end entry in the soda biz after all: Thomas Kemper Soda, which had been seeking a partner or buyer. In sale orchestrated by Kemper investor First Beverage Group, Austin-based marketer of Big Red and Big Blue sodas, All Sport isotonics and other mass-oriented lines will take ownership of Portland, Ore-based boutique soda, which was spun off from Pyramid Brewing about 5 years ago. Expectation is that Big Red ceo Gary Smith will keep on Kemper ceo Bill Germano in primarily sales role, while putting brand in hands of Scott Miller, Twelve bev vet who’d recently joined Big Red to run direct-sales biz. Expected to help sort thru brand’s various marketing quandaries will be Pepsi and Genesis Today vet Thomas Oh, who’d come aboard as Big Red’s vp biz development. Short-term moves? Gary expressed reservations about Kemper’s previously cited plans to drop its squat bottle in favor of conventional longneck, move partly driven by exit from Pyramid copacking agreement; after all, Gary packs NuGrape in same bottle. It’s also not clear whether expensive switch from HFCS to cane sugar has done much to garner additional traction for brand; perhaps that will be rethought. And Gary and team also have to sort out which of 2 rival stevia-sweetened, zero-calorie natural entries to keep: Kemper’s Naturally Diet or Big Red’s Sans entry, both recently released. With First Beverage having flipped most of Activate stake to Tata, its remaining bev investment apparently is recently taken stake in Purity Organic juices tho with broad mgmt team now assembled it’s likely to step up hunt for investments. It had hung out shingle for partners or acquirers of Kemper several mos ago. More next week.