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First Beverage Makes Another Foray Into Nas, This Time With Thomas Kemper Sodas

Beverage Business INSIGHTS:

First Beverage, investment shop run by veteran beer man Bill Anderson, has made another investment in NA bev space, taking small stake in Thomas Kemper Soda Co of Portland, Ore. As part of deal, First Beverage’s managing dir of operations, Joth Ricci, who’s based in Ore and vet of that state’s distribution scene, will take board seat in co that was bought from struggling Pyramid Brewing by investor group several years ago. Prexy/ceo Bill Germano told BBI investment co was intrigued by recently launched natural offering, Purely Natural Soda, that’s gotten off to good start and become main vehicle for expansion outside West. First Bev’s other NA play is Activate, much buzzed-about enhanced-water brand that employs twist-cap to dispense nutrients into water at time of consumption.

“For us, we consider Thomas Kemper to be an emerging brand on a national scale, with opportunities with its (current) portfolio and new products and geography,” Joth told BBI yesterday. “It’s attractive to get in now.” He said First Bev admires both co’s current management and the ownership group (which includes Columbia Distributing, where Joth served as gm earlier in career). Key investor is Adventure Funds, whose principal, Tal Johnson, earlier ran Tazo Tea, now part of Starbucks, and was part of investment group that bought into Columbia Distributing.

Investment comes as Kemper actually has decided to exit Columbia in favor of 6 smaller houses, mainly Bud shops, that might be offer brand greater focus in non-grocery accounts (BBI, Oct 5). Over past year, Kemper has pulled back some on national geographic footprint on grounds that most regions are well-served with local entries, making its new Purely Natural entry its main vehicle for national presence, via the natural-foods and gourmet channel. It’s taken more gourmet approach, with flavors like Blood Orange and Spiced Ginger Ale.