Bottler of the Year

Brand Building

Whether they’re selling, marketing or merchandising soft drinks or beer, Admiral Beverage’s team is dedicated to being No. 1 in customer service. Admiral Beverage’s retail accounts consist of about 35 percent national chains and 65 percent local, or independent, stores, he adds.


Sales staff are organized by retail format and territory, and they’re also responsible for merchandising the product. In the past, employees were drivers, sales personnel and merchandisers all-in-one, says Patrick Reed, senior vice president of sales and field marketing. That kind of experience began the practice that has continually allowed the team to “own” their territories and learn the different facets of the business, he says.


The team focuses on its brands’ presence, promotion, and then price at retail, Reed says. Its sales staff not only are known for their creativity, but have won awards for some of their creative displays. For instance, Lane McPheeters, merchandising manager, spent two months building a Mountain Dew display to promote the new Xbox Kinect video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.” Another merchandising promotion involved building a stage out of Pepsi cases and holding a singing contest, notes Wayne Swain, vice president of sales for Admiral’s Western territory.


“It costs you money to [build creative displays]: your time, your labor, your energy of building them, maintaining them, taking them down, but we really believe that it gives us a point of difference,” says Tom Taylor, senior vice president and chief operating officer. “Customers shop typically in a grocery store because they need to shop in a grocery store … people don’t come here because they didn’t have anything to do. They come here because they have to shop, so anything that you can do to make it more of an experience will attract them to you, and we’re such a high impulse item that if you get that attention, you’re probably going to have the benefit of that sale.”

The company also has a heavy focus on the foodservice side of the business. It has experienced growth from utilizing flavor shots, which are 1-ounce servings of flavored syrups that consumers can mix with a PepsiCo fountain drink, Reed says. For example, if someone wants a Cherry-Vanilla Pepsi, he can push the Cherry and Vanilla flavor shot buttons, then fill the rest of his cup from the Pepsi dispenser on the fountain. The flavor options offer mixology experiences for consumers and innovation for the market, according to the company.


“One of the things that we use to measure our success is how much of our concentrate is fountain, or foodservice, versus can and bottle,” Taylor says. “We’ll reach as high as 30 percent, which is almost twice what the [average level in the] country is. … We invest heavy in foodservice, which is fountain, and we invest heavy in vending and in coolers for single-serve type products. Growing up in the business, what we learned early was to put the product where people are and then when they go to the store, they’ll buy your product.”

Standing from left to right: Rob McGee, AJ Jenness, Kevin Lempka, Robyn Bryant. Seated from left to right: Roger Lawley, Don Reutter, Greg Venable and Dave Willard.
Standing from left to right: Rob McGee, AJ Jenness, Kevin Lempka, Robyn Bryant. Seated from left to right: Roger Lawley, Don Reutter, Greg Venable and Dave Willard.

It’s all about getting the consumer to have a Pepsi experience, which will in turn help market your brand, he says.


“And that crosses over into the beer business, too,” Clay adds. “If you’re in the beer distribution business and you have a high on-premise share in your taverns, bars, restaurants, and good penetration and exposure to your brands, that carries over into your off-premise business, into your retail business.”


To encourage the purchase of a brand, the product needs to be everywhere the consumer is, and that includes parts of a retail store that aren’t typically considered for beverages, Reed says.

“You’ve got to have presence throughout the whole store, not just the obvious ones,” he says. “You’ve got to find those auxiliary points within the store to get [shoppers’] attention, and then you win the battle.”


The next step is point-of-sale materials, he adds. Admiral Beverage has its own printers for point-of-sale displays, adding a special touch to attract consumer attention, the company says.

While the company’s presence, promotion and price strategy aims to encourage purchase of all of its brands, certain regions see higher sales of some brands than others.


“There is a regionality to brands,” Clay affirms. Mountain Dew and Diet Mountain Dew perform exceptionally well in the company’s eastern territories, and its Pepsi, Dr Pepper, SoBe, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona and Heineken brands also have been selling very well, he says. In 2010, the company started selling Gatorade in convenience store and gas station channels. According to Clay, the brand has far surpassed the growth rate hurdles that PepsiCo anticipated the bottler to sell.

Yet, a lot has changed in the last 25 years, he notes.

Lane McPheeters, merchandising manager, spent two months constructing a creative Mountain Dew display to enhance the retail experience around a video game release.
Lane McPheeters, merchandising manager, spent two months constructing a creative Mountain Dew display to enhance the retail experience around a video game release.

“Twenty-five years ago you had the great flagship brands of Pepsi, 7-Up, Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew, and also the flagship brands of our competitors,” Clay says. “Today there are so many more entries in the marketplace and in the industry for consumers to reach for, whether they’re isotonics, teas, energy drinks, water — there’s, I think, a new category invented every quarter. So you’ve got to have a diversified portfolio if you’re going to be in business today.”


Admiral Beverage offers ready-to-drink teas, bottled waters, 100 percent juices, beer, full-calorie soft drinks, zero-calorie soft drinks, and with the recent addition of Dr Pepper Ten, even mid-calorie soft drinks. Overall, it still puts the focus on its core brands, but makes a point not to ignore emerging products.


“You’ve got to take care of your core, but you can’t miss the opportunities with the growth of the future,” Clay says.


Proving his point, Clay notes the company’s foray into its own water brand, Aquavista. About 20 years ago, Admiral Beverage saw a need to get into the water business. Just 20 miles outside of Worland is one of the world’s largest Artesian wells that free-flows out of the Madison formation at about 4,800 gallons a minute, he adds.


“We take 6,000-gallon stainless steel tankers out to the well site, we pick up the water, we bring it in, we filter it and ozonate it, so it’s a natural Artesian water, and we market it locally,” Clay says. “We’ve got a few outside customers, but it’s been very successful for us, and it’s a great water.”

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