BodyArmor Founder Mike Repole on how to slay Gatorade
Sports drink BodyArmor has seven new athlete partners, surging sales and all the momentum, so what does its chief exec really want? To beat Gatorade for his staff, himself and his late friend Kobe Bryant.
'BodyArmor is Netflix. Gatorade is Blockbuster,' per BodyArmor CEO Mike Repole.
BodyArmor sports drink founder and chief executive Mike Repole wants to buy the New York Mets, win the Kentucky Derby and dethrone Gatorade by 2025. For most, these statements would be complete hyperbole or maybe the musings of a barroom raconteur. For Repole, these are achievable goals.
Let’s start with the Mets. He is currently part of the investment team in the running to purchase the Major League Baseball team. The other investors include Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez. “It’s been fun getting to know them throughout the process,” he says.
Then there’s the Kentucky Derby. Repole currently owns 165 horses. One of which, Vino Rosso, recently won the Breeder’s Cup. He has had six horses run in the Derby to date.
And, finally, there’s defeating PepsiCo’s Gatorade, one of the most powerful beverage brands in history. Launched in 2011, BodyArmor wasn’t profitable for five years. “I cursed for until 2015. It wasn’t a good Harvard business model,” says Repole. Today the brand, which is now partially owned by Coca-Cola, is on the path to make a billion dollars in revenue by year’s end. What makes this all the more impressive is that “it had been hopeless in that category. Gatorade was so unassailable,” says Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights. Now, Body Armor has achieved “explosive growth” and is “coveted by Coke.”
So, why set these outrageous goals? “It’s the challenge. It’s what motivates me. The journey of doing things that are epic and historic,” says Repole. His mantra is: “Think big, dream bigger.”
Healthy learnings from Vitaminwater
Powerade, Accelerade, Propel, Honest Sport are just of a few brands that failed to make a dent in Gatorade’s dominance. However, one thing Repole noticed was that Gatorade drinkers were switching their allegiances for Vitaminwater. Repole was part of the team that built and sold Vitaminwater to Coca-Cola for $4.1bn in 2007. He’s also invested in Pirate’s Booty, Kind Bar and other successful brands.
Since the Vitaminwater sale, he said he also noticed a lack of innovation in the beverage market overall. “Energy drinks were on fire. Then there was coconut water. I was thinking is coconut water the best we have?” He soon teamed with Lance Collins, who sold Fuze Beverage to Coke for $225m, to start BodyArmor. “I knew it was going to be a billion-dollar business or a bust — one or the other.”
The key was getting to 1% share of the marketplace, he says. Getting a passionate base brewing was essential. This meant sampling, word-of-mouth, up-and-down the street brand-building, but mostly it meant creating a better product.
BodyArmor has electrolytes, coconut water and vitamins. It is low in sodium and high in potassium. It contains natural flavors and sweeteners and no colors from artificial sources. Gatorade is high in sodium and has artificial colors.
“Gatorade is Blockbuster video. It hasn’t changed or evolved. BodyArmor is Netflix,” says Repole. “Drinking Gatorade is like expecting tennis players to wear short shorts and use wooden rackets. Expecting today’s athletes to drink the same sports drink from 55 years ago is comical.”
Winning for Kobe
One early believer was the late, great Kobe Bryant who invested in BodyArmor in 2013. The basketball legend “has his fingerprints all over the brand. He believed in the vision and the concept,” says Repole. “He got to see it become a reality.”
Beverage analyst Khermouch says, “I’m always skeptical about celebrity endorsements, but Kobe was completely immersed in working on that brand.”
Other top athletes followed suit including NBA superstar James Harden and Major League Baseball All Star Mike Trout, both of whom have equity in the company. And yesterday, BodyArmor announced partnerships with seven new athletes: Trae Young, Christian McCaffrey, Sabrina Ionescu, Kemba Walker, CeeDee Lamb, Drew Lock and Ronald Acuna Jr. All seven are conducting a live Zoom chat today at 4 p.m. ET.
Why team up with BodyArmor? NBA star Young told The Drum: “As an up-and-coming athlete, I’m looking for a brand that’s also on the rise and has the potential to be something big. And when I look at a brand like BodyArmor, I see a lot of the same passion and desire – and that’s the drive to be the best. For someone like me, that’s really exciting to be part of.”
Also, on the team, former Vitaminwater and Pirate’s Booty employees. “It’s important to hire great people who believe in your vision. They know the playbook,” says Repole.
Still, the formula for winning as a sports drink has changed. Yes, there’s renewed consumer interest in professional sports as the leagues have come back, but Repole says it’s individual, amateur athletes that are truly fueling sales. “During the pandemic people became focused on taking care of themselves. They had more time to research their choices and make better decisions.”
Repole is excited about the surge in sales, his new pro sports partners and the future, but he’s remorseful that he can’t share it with Kobe. “It’s tough not having him around to text him and tell him good news.” He sees the brand’s victories as “winning for Kobe.”
The ultimate victory will be unseating Gatorade by 2025. A bold prediction considering Gatorade still the category leader by a large margin. Still the “Coke muscle and distribution” is not to be underestimated. That being said, when will Coke officially purchase the brand in its entirety? Repole says, “In the next five years, Coke will buy us 100% or I will buy them 100%. I haven’t decided yet.”
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