Greco has experience ‘in preparing and bringing companies to acquisition’

AquaBall maker True Drinks taps CPG veteran James Greco as CEO

AquaBall maker True Drinks taps CPG veteran James Greco as CEO

Former Sbarro CEO James Greco has taken the helm at True Drinks Holdings – the firm behind kids’ flavored water brand AquaBall – while Kevin Sherman (who has been in charge since Lance Leonard departed in December 2015) will stay on as president.

Loss-making True Drinks has been through a challenging period in which it lost several retail accounts as it changed its formulation and packaging and moved to new bottling partner Niagara Bottling last summer.

However, it has since managed to regain nearly all of the accounts that it had lost, and recently secured $3.7m - money that will meet its needs for the "foreseeable future," said Greco, who told FoodNavigator-USA: "I think the work done by the team over the past nine months or so has really changed the dynamic at the company.

"Not only have we regained accounts that were interrupted, but many more have come on board along with distribution networks that cover almost all of the country," added Greco, who is currently president and CEO at Pilgrim Holdings, a consultant to and investor in, the restaurant and food manufacturing industries.

Greco is not taking a salary for the first six months, “only stock, given his confidence in the continued, rapid growth of the company,” said Sherman, who brought on Greco as a director in February and said his “experience in preparing and bringing companies to acquisition is vital to True Drinks as AquaBall grows into this stage of development.”

Asked whether this meant AquaBall was being geared up for a sale, Greco said: "As we expand sales we believe that will create considerable shareholder value and that may lead to opportunities in terms of interest from potential acquirers, but our focus right now is on realizing all the sales opportunities."

Cleaner label, more glide-rack friendly bottle

AquaBall - a zero-calorie, vitamin-infused beverage for kids sweetened with stevia that has done licensing deals with Marvel and Disney (both of which have just be renewed, said Greco) – is now bottled using a hot-fill process in a newly designed bottle that has enabled it to clean up its labels and ditch preservatives such as potassium sorbate.

However, the transition was painful, as the initial production run with Niagara Bottling was not ready for shipment until the beginning of June 2016, which “greatly hindered our ability to get the new product on the shelves during the second and third quarters of fiscal 2016,” Sherman told FoodNavigator-USA last month.

However, the new easier-to-hold slimmer bottle design means AquaBall (which debuted with a spherical bottle design) is now able to fit into glide racks used in c-stores, while the preservative-free formulation makes the zero calorie product more appealing to schools and many other potential buyers.

AquaBall is now sold in over 14,000 convenience and grocery stores including 7-Eleven, Albertson’s, H.E.B., Rite Aid, Piggly Wiggly, Shaw’s, Food Lion and Stop & Shop.

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