Milk … a commodity?
It doesn’t have to be. The nearly $1 billion flavored milk-based
drinks category – according to industry reports – proves
flavored milk is a beverage category worth grabbing some market share.
Bravo! Foods International Corp., North Palm Beach, Fla., knows firsthand
the growth the category can achieve.
While the company’s mission could be to sell a
lot of milk, it’s not. “Our mission is to ignite brand
passion,” says Stan Harris, chief marketing officer for Bravo! Foods.
“We are the first company that I’m aware of that is selling
milk as a brand and not as a commodity. We’re selling milk with the
same disciplines that a soda company sells soda.”
In fact, the company teamed with a soda giant last
year. Through its exclusive distribution agreement with Coca-Cola
Enterprises, Bravo! Foods has seen sales of its top four sellers –
Milky Way Slammers, 3 Musketeers Slammers, Slim Slammers and Pro
Slammers – climb exponentially, and expects CCE to grow it to $70
million to $80 million in sales in 2006.
Distribution has been key
to its success, but Bravo! Foods’ strategy of co-branding with
Masterfoods USA, a division of Mars Inc., allowed the company to secure
licensing agreements for Milky Way Slammers, 3 Musketeers Slammers and
Starburst Slammers and fine-tune creations to specific demographics. And at
the end of last month, Bravo! Foods and Masterfoods extended their U.S.
licensing agreement for five additional years to the end of 2012. The
extension allows Bravo! Foods to continue providing consumers with Slammers
versions of the popular candies.
“Bravo! brought a tremendous technical advantage
with their milk stabilized drinks,” says
Michele Brown, vice president of licensing for Masterfoods USA. “It
enabled us to enter a good- for-you segment
with our brands and have this be a very innovative breakthrough in the
Bravo! Foods also has expanded into other food groups
by entering into a licensing agreement with General Mills Inc. for its
Trix, Coco Puffs and Wheaties cereal brands.
“We’re finally treating milk like a
beverage,” says Roy Warren, a founder and chief executive officer of
Bravo! Foods. “We have the brands to do it, we have the distribution
to do it, and we have the technology to support those two things, both from
a shelf-stable processing point of view and from a packaging point of
Developing as a beverage
Beginning as a milk company, it took Bravo! Foods nine
years to turn into the brand development company that it is today. The
business actually finds its origins in China. Warren, who enjoyed a 17-year
career in the securities brokerage industry, was approached by a previous
client to help raise funds for the client’s joint venture with the
Ministry of Agriculture in China to bring pasteurized-milk products to the
He soon realized that pasteurized milk was a huge
challenge for China, which had little refrigeration for the products and
few funds to spend on Western technology. However, in the process, Bravo!
Foods developed a single-serve flavored milk specifically for kids. Bravo!
Foods partnered with Warner Bros. to introduce five Looney Tunes
single-serve flavored milks in 200-ml. gable-top cartons in China.
“We were able to compete with a branded product
with different flavors targeted at kids,” Warren says. “We were
able to double the price of our flavored milk, and we outsold our No. 1
But even though branding worked, Bravo! Foods still
had the wrong technology in a difficult environment. “I came back to
the board and said, ‘We have a good idea, but we’re on the
wrong continent,’” Warren explains.
In 1999, Bravo! Foods began distributing the same five
flavors of Looney Tunes gable-top milks through five regional U.S. dairies.
The company quickly converted the packaging to a 12-ounce bottle with a
21-day shelf life.
While Bravo! Foods was able to compete with market
leaders, increasing distribution became a problem because the
company’s regional dairy processors were unable to go beyond a
200-mile radius, and the milk had a short shelf life.
In order to increase shelf life, Bravo! Foods teamed
with Jasper Products, Joplin, Mo., a manufacturer that could develop
beverages with extended shelf life (ESL) technology, and began exclusively
producing its beverages there in 2002. ESL technology would sterilize the
milk, rather than just pasteurizing it. The product still required
refrigeration, but shelf life was increased from 21 days to six months.
That allowed the company to use a refrigerated distribution system to deal
with mass retailers and convenience stores that have proprietary chilled
ESL technology helped the company stay alive while it
honed its branding strategy, Warren says. Bravo! Foods realized it was
renting the Looney Tunes brand name with no branding of its own, so the
company developed Slammers as the edgy brand name that was also
“slammed” full of nutrition. “The Slammers name we
thought would carry us into a marketing position that was unique,”
Hoping to broaden its demographic base, Bravo! Foods
also released Pro Slammers, a protein-enriched drink, and Slim Slammers, a
no-sugar added, low-fat milk.
The company also discovered that the Looney Tunes
brand reached a demographic of kids aged three to six, but wanted to expand
its reach to kids five to 12 years old. So it entered into a licensing
agreement with Marvel Comics in early 2004. “We thought Marvel gave
us an opportunity to go with an older and broader demographic,”
Late in 2004, technology and branding started to
progress for Bravo! Foods. Technologically speaking, Jasper Products, which
already had taken the company from fresh to
ESL, now offered Bravo! Foods the technology to produce a 14-ounce,
single-serve, shelf-stable milk in a plastic bottle that could be stored at
ambient temperature for up to six months. This technology took the company
out of the realm of just cold-chain distribution.
“Technology and advancements in processor
capabilities allowed us to enjoy a first-to-market advantage with the
launch of a shelf-stable bottle that appears to consumers to be a
traditional milk container, but enables a distributor like Coca-Cola
Enterprises to deliver it ambient on the back of their 54,000 trucks and
then be chilled in all channels,” says Benjamin Patipa, chief
It was Chief Revenue Officer Michael Edwards who got
the company in the mindset that if it wanted to start competing with the
major players in the dairy drinks category, like Hershey and Nestlé,
then the company would need to co-brand with a candy company. Bravo! Foods
developed a relationship with Masterfoods USA, and by the end of 2004 had
a licensing agreement for the 3
Musketeers, Milky Way, and Starburst brands.
The company further developed its own brand name,
Slammers, and instituted a co-branding strategy using Masterfoods
intellectual properties. During this time, the company realized that in
co-branding for beverages, appetite appeal is even more important than
intellectually property awareness.
“[Marvel’s] Spiderman on our chocolate
milk certainly brought attention to our chocolate milk, but it didn’t
communicate anything about the chocolate milk,” Edwards explains.
“There was no appetite appeal certainly, and there was no real bridge
between the intellectual property and the milk. On the other hand, you look
at Milky Way chocolate and you get it. You understand exactly why
it’s on a milk product, and you also understand the brand
While the dairy case traditionally has been viewed as
commodity products, Bravo! Foods wants to bring excitement to the aisle,
and offers beverages that target consumers from six to 54 years old under
the Slammers and newly developed Bravo! brands. The Slammers brand includes
edgy and fun products, while Bravo! branded products are indulgent and
inspirational, Harris says.
With the new General Mills licensing agreement, Bravo!
Foods has Trix Slammers and Coco Puffs Slammers in the works. Aimed at
children ages six to 11, the products will be formulated to be suitable for
elementary schools, and will be launched in the fall for back to school.
Pro Slammers, aimed at middle school kids – specifically 12- to
16-year-old boys – are fortified with a double shot of whey protein,
and feature skateboarders on the packaging.
“At 12 to 13 years old, kids stop drinking milk
and start moving to other types of beverages,” Edwards says.
“…With these brands and the benefits of milk and what
we’ve added to it, it is making kids want to drink milk
For high schoolers, Bravo! Foods targets Starburst
Slammers. While almost every product the company produces is 100 percent
milk, Starburst Slammers is a juice and milk combination that contains 2
percent juice. “It’s the first time we’ve walked outside
the immediate milk arena,” Patipa says.
After the high school-aged group, Bravo! Foods offers
Milky Way Slammers targeted to men and woman ages 18 to 29, and 3
Musketeers targeted to women ages 25 to 39. Because Masterfoods’
Milky Way brand is more decadent, the beverage product contains 2 percent
milk and sugar. 3 Musketeers, on the other hand, is Masterfoods’
lower-fat, guilt-free indulgence, so the Slammers beverage is 1 percent
milkfat, with one-third the calories and carbs of normal Slammers and
no-sugar added. Additionally, General Mills’ Wheaties cereal will
appear as Wheaties Slammers, aimed at men 39 to 54.
Like 3 Musketeers, Bravo! Foods’ Slim Slammers
is targeted to women ages 25 to 39, but it’s the company’s diet
offering. “Slim Slammers have pretty much the same calories as 3
Musketeers, but a very different positioning,” Harris says.
“We’ve aimed this product at women who say, ‘I’m on
a diet. What can I drink?’ as opposed to women saying, ‘I want
to be sensible, but I want something that tastes like
Adding another dimension to products targeted toward
women, Bravo! Foods recently launched Bravo! Blenders, under the Bravo!
brand name, that are aimed at working moms on the go. Originally called
Breakfast Blenders, Bravo! is taking “breakfast” off the label,
because the beverage is suitable as a total meal replacement at any time of
All of Bravo! Foods’ products are “better
for you” and none are just “health neutral,” Harris
emphasizes. While all products contain milk and are vitamin-fortified,
regardless of the indulgence factor, the company offers products that are
also no-sugar-added, low-sugar, protein-fortified, low-fat and
Selling like a beverage
Even with technology and branding, distribution may be
the most critical part of growing a beverage product.
“The beverage industry saw single-serve,
ready-to-drink milk drinks as a half-billion-dollar category,” Warren
says. “[They thought] ‘It’s not worth our
The company had begun distributing through regional
beverage distributors, when Coca-Cola Enterprises entered the picture. In
August of 2005, Bravo! Foods signed an exclusive 10-year distribution
agreement for Coca-Cola Enterprises to distribute Bravo! Foods’ Slim
Slammers, Pro Slammers, 3 Musketeers Slammers, Starburst Slammers and Milky
Way Slammers nationwide. The agreement covers convenience retail, education
channels, vending and small independent stores. While the companies dropped
discussions about CCE acquiring a majority stake of Bravo! Foods, part of
the distribution deal includes 30 million warrants that have been granted
to CCE, which if exercised within three years, would give the bottler a
minority share of approximately 10 percent of the company.
While Bravo! Foods is a little more than 90 days into
the agreement, the company’s marketplace penetration is up to more
than 5 percent. “The growth is just phenomenal, and the gates are
just opening up,” Edwards says.
With CCE’s six business units across the
country, Bravo! Foods expanded its sales staff to eight regional sales
mangers administering to CCE’s sales centers and growing the brand.
The region that has embraced Bravo! Foods the most since the CCE agreement
is Florida, where the company now is at 25 percent market share. Before
CCE, wherever Bravo! Foods was strong in grocery stores was the
company’s strongest region, which happened to be the Northeast,
Chicago and California.
The agreement with CCE
also is opening up new opportunities in vending. While the company’s
bottles previously were vended in glass-front drop machines, its bottles
didn’t have the stability needed for most stack vending machines,
which are used by the soft drink industry.
“What we have done is gone back to the drawing
board and designed a ribbed bottle that has the stability to vend
successfully in all those machines,” Patipa says. “It opens up
vast new opportunities for us.”
Set to launch in July, all of Bravo! Foods’
lines will appear in the ribbed bottles.
Instead of traditional
advertising avenues, Bravo! Foods utilizes grassroots marketing. For 2006,
the company is the sponsor of Erica Enders from Cagnazzi Racing’s
National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock Team. The 22-year-old Enders
will drive the Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevy Cobalt in 23 races, and make
appearances across the country representing Slammers.
Additionally, Bravo! Foods renewed and expanded its
sponsorship as the Official Milk of U.S. Club Soccer for youth soccer
players in 47 states. Samples of Slammers products will be handed out at
U.S. Club Soccer events, and the company will launch a
“Slammin’ Goal Contest.”
Moving forward, Bravo! Foods wants to market products
in other “good-for-you” and “better-for-you”
categories such as water, tea and juice, because those are the type of
products in which it sees growth. “It’s easy to get caught up
in 48 different SKUs and not look at the big picture,” Warren says.
“The big picture we’ve been looking at is platforms. Whether
it’s tea or juice or what we’ve done with milk, wherever we can
come up with a super-premium version of those ‘good-for-you’
and ‘better-for-you’ products, we think that’s the wave
of the future in the beverage business.” BI
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The February 2020 issue dives into Essentia water, their high-pH and high aspirations for ongoing innovation. Speaking of innovation, this issue also features a special report on how (and why) the zero-proof functional beverage market is growing. Also, check out what types of rifts and shifts are shaking up the wine category and discount variety stores, as well as the latest ingredient highlights (hint: exotic fruits make an appearance). To cap it off, peruse new product releases, the latest appearances in packaging, and holistic approaches to cognitive health. Thirsty for more? Subscribe to get the latest stories delivered right to your inbox.
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Check back throughout the month for additional content.