Coca-Cola Bets on Kobe Sports Drink in Fight With Gatorade

August 14, 2018 Updated: August 14, 2018

Coca-Cola Co. is buying a minority stake in a sports drink brand backed by basketball star Kobe Bryant, it said on Tuesday, seeking to mount a stronger challenge to PepsiCo’s Gatorade.

Coca-Cola’s investment in BodyArmor—which will make it the brand’s second largest shareholder—comes as its Powerade drink steadily cedes market share to Gatorade. Coke has also been rattled by falling demand for its trademark fizzy drinks.

While Coke says there is “much work to be done” at Powerade, PepsiCo said last month that Gatorade was seeing higher demand after launching zero-sugar versions.

Gatorade and PepsiCo’s other sports and energy drinks account for nearly a third of a market worth roughly $20 billion a year, according to Euromonitor International. Monster Beverage and Red Bull follow close behind in the U.S. market, with Coke trailing in fourth place with a 7% share. Coca-Cola also has a 16.7% stake in Monster.

“(BodyArmor) is a positive for Coca-Cola, which is continuing to pursue its product portfolio diversification strategy,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Nik Modi.

The companies did not disclose the size of the investment or other financial details but Coca-Cola said it could increase its ownership in BodyArmor, whose energy drinks are priced above average and are known for using natural ingredients.

Bottles of Coca-Cola.
Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen at a Carrefour Hypermarket store in Montreuil, near Paris, France on Feb. 5, 2018. (Reuters/Regis Duvignau)

“We would not be surprised if Coca-Cola eventually acquires the remainder of BodyArmor,” Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said.

Coca-Cola, however, has historically stayed away from full-blown acquisitions, settling instead for acquiring partial stakes in companies – a strategy that allows it to test-drive potentially risky bets.

Agreement Termination

Bryant, who first invested in BodyArmor in 2013 two years after it was launched, is now its third biggest shareholder. The brand also has endorsement deals with baseball player Mike Trout and another NBA star, James Harden.

BodyArmor is also backed by Dr Pepper Snapple—now part of Keurig Dr Pepper—which made a $20 million investment in 2015 and boosted its ownership to 15.5% in 2016.

But Wells Fargo’s Herzog said Coca-Cola’s investment could end BodyArmor’s agreement with Dr Pepper.

“We have learned that BodyArmor has notified Keurig Dr Pepper that they are terminating their existing distribution agreement,” she said. “Although the timing and mechanism by which distribution will transition over to Coca-Cola’s bottling system is still uncertain.”

Neither Keurig Dr Pepper nor BodyArmor immediately responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.

By Aishwarya Venugopal

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