Tru Inc. Raises $6.5M Series A to Support Footprint, Team Expansion
In February, functional beverage maker Tru Inc. raised $6.5 million in a Series A funding round led by BTomorrow Ventures, an existing investor and the corporate venturing arm of British American Tobacco.
Founded in 2015 by CEO Jack McNamara, a former pro hockey player, and tech entrepreneur Yashwardhan Banthia, Tru initially went to market with a line of 1.69 oz. shots. However, the business was slow to grow, and in December 2020 it shifted focus to a full-sized functional sparkling water line. That pivot proved to be a game changer for the Massachusetts-based startup – earlier that year Tru had received a critical $1.5 million cash infusion necessary to “save” the struggling company.
Since then, Tru has now reported two consecutive years where revenue grew about 120% annually and this new financing is poised to help the brand reach new markets and grow headcount.
“I continue to be impressed by the stellar growth the Tru team have achieved over the past year,” said Lexy Prosszer, founder & investment principal of Btomorrow Ventures, in a press release. “We are excited to continue our great partnership, supporting the brand in this next expansion phase as they look to strengthen their position in the market across the USA.”
BTomorrow had previously participated in Tru’s $3.6 million financing round in 2021, which also included investment from (and a DSD distribution partnership with) Bay State powerhouse Polar Beverages. According to the company, that relationship has now helped Tru to expand its footprint to around 2,000 stores within the grocery and convenience channels, including Market Basket, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, and regional Walmart locations.
Positioning itself as a “carbonated complement to Vitamin Water,” Tru’s portfolio of 12 oz. canned drinks includes Power, Energy, Defend, Focus, Dream, Rescue and Beauty varieties, each made with different vitamin and ingredient blends.
Answering questions via email, McNamara said Tru has recently added retail partners like Tops and Discount Drug Mart. The brand has launched in ShopRite and Stop & Shop stores and an expansion into the New York City market “is imminent.”
Positioning Tru’s full-sized offerings as an enhanced water, McNamara added, has allowed the brand to stand out more within its retail locations.
“Rather than swim against the current, we are following the flow of data which suggests that customers are looking for more benefits in beverages, aluminum packaging in the water set, and less sugar,” McNamara said. “Having executed this with great flavor, we will continue to drive trial in-person via samplings while adding online awareness through social media.”
Since BTomorrow first invested in Tru in 2020, McNamara said the relationship with the venture group has been significant in aiding the company’s strategy across nearly all aspects of the business, providing insight and guidance in manufacturing, sales and marketing. He credited BTomorrow with helping Tru to mature as a business “by transitioning to a data centric approach that maximizes for growth and efficiency.”
Tru is now working to expand its team and intends to bring on a full-time CFO and double its sales force this year, McNamara said. Although growing its store count is part of its strategy going forward, the top priority will be on going deeper in existing accounts and increasing individual store velocities.
“We have always taken a balanced approach to allocating capital so that we can continue to elevate every discipline of the business…. [O]ur key to winning this game will be controlled growth with a premium level of customer service that touches every level,” he said.
Snoop Dogg Enters Cold Brew Coffee With Indo
Get this Dogg a drink.
Rap legend and prolific entrepreneur/marketeer Snoop Dogg has stepped into the ready-to-drink coffee space with Indo, which launched its line of unflavored cold brew, packaged in 12 oz. cans, online in March.
The brand is the brainchild of Michael Riady, a former real estate investor in Southeast Asia who pivoted into the specialty coffee business in 2017 as a partner in Los Angeles-based, Indonesian-focused roaster and cafe Tentara Surf & Coffee Roasters. After the company’s two physical stores shuttered during COVID, Riady continued to import and roast Indonesian coffee and sell it online while mulling his next move. Citing The Honest Company as an example, he set his sights on securing an “A-list” celebrity partner with whom to grow a revamped version of the brand.
In the midst of that search, Riady reconnected with an old friend from Los Angeles with connections to the entertainment industry, which led to an introduction to Snoop Dogg. The hip hop icon joined Indo as an equal equity business partner shortly thereafter and his impact was immediately felt; it was his idea to change the name.
In an email to BevNET, the rap legend explained “Michael Riady came to see me with the best cup of coffee that I’ve ever had and from there we came together to create a company that embodies my belief in hard work and ownership.”
Over his career as a businessman, Snoop Dogg has occasionally dabbled in the beverage industry, mostly as an alcohol marketer. Longtime fans will recall his memorable ads for St. Ides malt liquor in the early 90s, but his track record stretches well into the 2000s (as a pitchman for Blast by Colt 45) to the present day, where he’s currently seen in commercials for Corona. He’s been particularly active in wine as of late, having worked a multi-year partnership with Australian label 19 Crimes (alongside frequent pal Martha Stewart) and releasing a limited edition Death Row Records red wine. In a nod to his breakout single “Gin & Juice,” in 2020 Snoop collaborated with celebrity spirits seller Trusted Spirits on Indoggo, a gin infused with natural strawberry flavor.
Better known for his love of cannabis, Snoop said his personal relationship with coffee goes “way back,” having helped fuel himself and collaborators during long nights in the recording studio. Getting involved in a coffee brand felt “like full circle for me as an owner and creator,” Snoop said in an email.
“My first record was Gin and Juice, you know the lyrics,” wrote the hip-hop icon, who is credited as a co-founder. “I was ‘rolling down street smoking indo, now I’m drinking Indo.’ It’s always been my 1-2 punch.”
With Snoop on board, Indo’s aim is to “make coffee cool and fun” and serve as a contrast to existing specialty brands in the RTD space, Riady explained, sprinkling in references to inspirational names like Red Bull and Liquid Death. The rapper himself is not featured or mentioned on the can; Snoop will promote the brand “in ways that he wants to,” Riady said, while he focuses on executing on the business. On its website, the brand is teasing the tagline “Sip It Like It’s Hot,” as well as forthcoming episodes of “The Owners Series” that spotlight creators and entrepreneurs such as artist Esther Anaya and CocoTaps founder Coco Vinny. Indo also had a marketing presence at Shaq’s Fun House, a music festival created by NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal that took place over Super Bowl Weekend.
When asked how he planned to promote the company, Snoop mentioned targeting specific consumer audiences including “college kids that need to fuel the dream, the nurses putting in long hours, or the engineers putting in the long hours in the studio.”
The coffee itself is a low-acid, organic Indonesian single origin with 250mg of caffeine per can, and is now available online at the brand’s website and via Gopuff, Bevmo and in all hotel rooms at Resorts World Las Vegas, a $4.3 billion resort, mall and casino complex that opened in 2021. The suggested retail price for one 12 oz. slim can is $5.99, and distribution is set to continue through authorized retailers like Erehwon, Albertsons and Safeway in the months ahead.
As Indo ramps up, Riady emphasized that the core of its business is still roasting whole bean coffee, which it continues to sell online. The company is also working on another RTD product: a 10% ABV espresso martini, priced at $24.99 per 4-pack, currently available for waitlist. Even with a big name partner, Indo remains a small operation: the team is less than 10 people, and just closed a pre-seed funding round from friends and family last year.
Jack Owoc Out At VPX/Bang
Jack Owoc, the controversial CEO and founder of Bang Energy maker Vital Pharmaceuticals, was dismissed in March as the company’s chief executive and chief science officer, and from its board of directors, where he had served as chairman. John C. DiDonato, Vital’s chief transformation officer, has been appointed interim CEO in addition to his existing role.
The company announced the move in a brief press release issued close to midnight on Thursday.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, we acknowledge Jack’s vision in founding this leading brand and creating a world-class product in the energy drink category. As the Company continues to pursue value maximization, we are grateful to Mr. DiDonato and the executive leadership team for their stewardship and to the talented and hard-working members of the Bang Energy team for their unyielding commitment to the brand,” said Steve Panagos, Chairman of the Board.
The release did not specify what potential role, if any, Owoc may play in the company’s future, but specified that he will “no longer serve in his current role.”
DiDonato is the National Practice Leader and Managing Director at Huron Consulting Company and brings “more than 35 years of experience leading companies through complex financial and operational transformations.”
As part of the restructuring, Gene Bukovi has also been elevated to the position of Chief Operating Officer.
Though his career in CPG and supplements precedes Bang, Owoc’s brash personality and management style have been a core element of the brand’s identity during its prodigious rise over the past decade, eventually becoming the third-largest energy drink behind Red Bull and Monster, as well as inspiring a new wave of workout-oriented, high-caffeine beverages. His approach has also snared VPX in multiple litigation cases, including ones in which he has been accused of misleading consumers about the ingredients and functional benefits in Bang drinks.
The company’s future was put into doubt after it declared bankruptcy shortly after a jury sided with Monster Energy Co. in its false advertising lawsuit against VPX in California federal court in September, awarding the company nearly $293 million in damages. Monster is currently seeking a further $167 million in punitive damages, lawyer fees and unjust profits.
In the months since, Owoc has touted Bang as being on track to complete “the greatest comeback in beverage history” by rallying around new products, formats and independent distribution partners. However, CPG veteran Kathy Cole, who joined Bang as COO in October to oversee the “integration of a new high-performance operations model,” departed the company within months. Meanwhile, several large chain retailers have reportedly stopped carrying Bang.