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Advertising Age
Print Version
September 9, 2013
Pg. 12 Vol. 84
802 words
Sports-beverage titan seeks to extend reach by going directly to schools, athletic facilities
Natalie Zmuda;

Orlando's Lake Highland Prep is known to locals as an elite private school. To Gatorade, it's a "point of sweat."

As the country heads back to school, so does Gatorade's G Force, a hybrid field-marketing and sales team that's rolled out to 13 markets throughout the Midwest and South. The aim is to put Gatorade products within arm's reach of athletes in colleges, gyms, athletic facilities and high schools like Lake Highland Prep, where 27 of 200 graduating seniors last year signed to play college sports.

Courting these niche markets may seem picayune for a brand that commanded a 70% share of the total sports-drink market in 2012, according to Beverage Digest. But a brand so dominant in its category must find new outlets if it is to continue to grow.

"It's a key part of PepsiCo's strategy to move the portfolio toward high-growth spaces, positioning the product where it can win," said Andrea Fairchild, Gatorade's VP-global brand marketing. In Orlando, Gatorade's penetration in high schools is up 58%, and it's acquired 90% more space than it had prior to the program's launch. Ms. Fairchild said those figures are being echoed throughout other G Force markets. Launched in spring 2012, G Force supplements Gatorade's traditional means of distribution to big-box, convenience and grocery stores. It's a key differentiator for Gatorade-and key to promoting its 3-year-old G Series.

"Those are sites and accounts which conventional sales forces don't often focus on," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "Given the importance of Gatorade building brand preference when consumers are young, it's a smart move. [PepsiCo] needs to defend [market share] and find ways to grow and gain advantages for Gatorade."


G Series, a collection of beverages, chews and shakes organized into categories including prime, perform and recover, is one way Gatorade aims to leverage its huge lead in sports drinks into the booming sports-nutrition category. According to Euromonitor International, that category, which includes beverages, bars, shakes, powders and gels, has grown 63% since 2007, reaching $4.7 billion in 2012.

G Force is charged with educating athletes, coaches and trainers about the merits of fueling before, during and after workouts, while at the same time ensuring that locations from high schools to training facilities, have easy access to G Series products. G Force customers, including schools, are given preferred pricing. Alfie Brody, director-marketing for the athletic channel, wouldn't disclose specifics, but said the pricing varies based on the venue.

Mr. Brody said Gatorade closely studied PepsiCo's food-service field-sales operation and field marketing teams, and in several cases, borrowed from their playbooks. Thirty-two full-time G Force reps and regional managers blanket the markets, while two execs with G Force responsibilities-Mary Doherty, senior director-experiential and athletic-channel marketing and Mr. Brody-are based at Gatorade's Chicago headquarters. Gatorade invests heavily in training and managing the G Force, whose members are not compensated based on sales.

Anna Florzak, a former college basketball star, was the G Force rep responsible for launching the Orlando market before she took a job at the NBA. She started by educating coaches, and when invited, speaking to high-school teams. At Lake Highland Prep, she gave a speech on nutrition, and with the blessing of Frank Prendergast, the high school's athletic director, became a fixture in the weight room, on hand to answer questions.

At Lake Highland Prep, which Ad Age visited last fall, a prototype climate-controlled vending machine has also been in test. The machine enables Gatorade to stock beverages at cooler temperatures and chews at warmer temperatures. In 2012, 50 units were tested exclusively in G Force markets, with plans now in place to launch another 300 to 400 machines.


The G Series approach has boosted sales and market share, according to Ms. Fairchild, without offering specifics. According to IRI, sales of all Gatorade products were $4.3 billion in the 52-week period ending Aug. 11. Justin Cirillo, operations manager at the 360,000-square foot RDV SportsPlex in Orlando, called Gatorade's lineup of chews and shakes a "revenue stream we didn't expect." He said that within seven months, the G Series was proving so successful the products were added to RDV's concessions business.

Lake Highland Prep, where coaches hand out Gatorade products before, during and after workouts, last year won state championships in boy's wrestling, basketball and lacrosse. The girls' swim team was state runner-up, and the girls' soccer team competed in the regional finals. "I'm sure the G Series helped with some of our success," Mr. Prendergast said.

September 12, 2013

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