Chris Reed, president and
chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Reed’s Inc., began his
career as a chemical engineer designing liquefied natural gas plants
— nearly as far from the beverage business as he could get. But a new
age lifestyle and an interest in herbal remedies proved a stronger calling,
and Reed soon followed. Actually, music was the stronger calling, but Reed
needed a day job.
“[I] bought a guitar, moved to Hollywood and
decided I was going to live large and do my dreams,” Reed says. One
of his daytime jobs included working for an advertising start-up company,
which planted an entrepreneurial seed. Reed’s interest in herbal
medicine and other cultures provided the rest of the inspiration.
“I started out in college, long before it was
trendy or hip, getting into meditation and yoga and vegetarian styles, and
hanging out with people who were really fringe,” he says.
Reed says the study of Indian and Chinese herbal
medicine resulted in a “very deep respect for ginger as a general
everyday tonic.” In herbal medicine, ginger is considered an antidote
for motion sickness and nausea. In addition, it is thought to ease
inflammation, potentially helping with problems such as arthritis and
migraines, and is used as a digestive aid.
He began looking up old recipes for ginger ale and
discovered formulations dating back to the mid-1800s. One of the most
compelling aspects of the old-fashioned tonics, he says, was the use of the
entire ginger root.
“From an herbal standpoint, here was the whole
wheat bread to the white bread — this was using the whole roots and
spices and fruits to make a fresh-brewed drink,” he says. “From
a craftsmanship thing, it was like crafting something like a fine micro
brew or fine wine.”
Following the micro-brew idea, Reed made his first
batches of ginger brew in 1987 in a beer brewery, and filled and capped
bottles by hand. He took the bottles home, glued on labels with a glue
stick and packed the bottles into his Volkswagen bug for distribution.
However humble the beginnings, the product soon caught
on. Reed gained distributors and moved to a larger — this time,
automated — brewery. Today, the company produces product at a
Pennsylvania facility through a co-packing arrangement, and its own brewery
in Los Angeles. The brewing process is essential to Reed’s products,
which are made from ginger, spices and juice, which is why he named them
Ginger Brews rather than Ginger Ales.
“I have more to do with a beer guy than I do a
soft drink guy,” Reed says. “I use a brewery. It’s not a
hybrid; it’s a full-on brewery. That’s the only way to do
Reed’s engineering background has come in handy,
helping him design the brewing process to fit his standards. While he says
the process is proprietary, Reed says he has picked up techniques from beer
and wine production and incorporated them into the ginger brew process.
“I developed technologies for the oil and gas
industry, and now I develop technology for the beverage industry,” he
Reed’s Ginger Brew formula is based on a
Caribbean recipe of ginger root, lemon, lime, honey, fructose, pineapple,
herbs and spices. In addition to Reed’s Original Ginger Brew, the
lineup includes Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew, which has a stronger ginger
flavor; Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew, sweetened with only honey and
pineapple juice; Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Brew, with 20 percent
raspberry juice and lime; Reed’s Spiced Apple Brew, with 50 percent
apple juice and apple pie spices such as cinnamon, cloves and allspice; and
Reed’s Cherry Ginger Brew, with cherry juice and spices.
The company expanded the lineup in 1999 with the
acquisition of Virgil’s sodas from Crowley Beverage Co. It now
carries Virgil’s Root Beer, Cream Soda and Black Cherry Cream Soda,
and also features China Cola made from Chinese herbs such as cassia bark,
cardamom, licorice and orange peel.
Moving to mainstream
Reed’s established itself in the natural food
channel long before natural and organic became the buzzwords they are
today. Now that natural products are taking off in mainstream channels, the
company also is moving in that direction. To finance the expansion, the
company decided to go public, first offering shares in 2005 through
bottleneck tags that invited consumers to buy stock. The following year,
the company listed on the OTC Bulletin Board, and in November of last year,
the company was approved for listing on the Nasdaq Capital Market.
After each offering, the company expanded, first
investing in a new brewing facility and then funding a move into mainstream
grocery and direct store delivery. Reed’s brought on board industry
veterans such as Rory Ahearn, who previously worked with energy drink
powerhouse Red Bull, and Neal Cohane, who hails from the new age SoBe
brand, to lead the move into more traditional retail outlets.
Reed estimates the company has the West Coast nearly
covered in terms of DSD distributors, and approximately 60 percent of the
East Coast. It also is beginning to enter Texas and some of the Great Lakes
The company also is generating more mainstream
marketing buzz, with a cross-promotion with Dewar’s Scotch Whisky,
and new 7-ounce bottles designed for mixing. “We’ve been
pushing into the bar and hotel business recently with that,” Reed
But for the most part, Reed’s marketing still is
based on sampling and sharing the story of Reed’s real-brewed recipe
and heritage. “We have a lot of guys on the street, working with
distributors, visiting the retailer, educating them on the brand and the
value of it,” Reed says. “That’s probably the main way
we’re growing the business right now, the old-fashioned way.”
It’s a long way from designing natural gas
plants, but Reed says his career experience has come full circle during the
past 20 years and now incorporates his engineering talents, herbal
interests and his artistic side.
“I needed to feel like this was something
unique, that was needed,” he says. “I felt there was a deep
need to go back to these old-fashioned drinks, otherwise I wouldn’t
be working on it.
“Everything I had done up to the point I got
this was almost some magical prep for all the skills I would need to do
this thing. It’s weird, but it’s true.”
I want to hear from you. Tell me how we can improve.
The May 2020 edition dives into where beverages fit in the future of cannabis. Readers also can find out how beverage market and retailers are adjusting to handle coronavirus. Additionally, this issue highlights the latest trends impacting protein and sports drinks, fiber and probiotics, packaging design and much more!