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, 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.
She declined to offer projections at this early stage of how much G Force can lift sales, but said. "We've found this individualized approach is more effective to communicating fueling needs."
But muscling into the hardcore workout world won't be easy. Bodybuilders are notoriously fickle when it comes to supplements and Gatorade's mass appeal might be a turnoff to true fitness junkies, experts say.
In Orlando, Fla., a market Ad Age visited last fall to see G Force in action, Gatorade's penetration in high schools is up 58%, and it's acquired 90% more space in athletic facilities than it had prior to the program's launch, according to the company. Ms. Fairchild said those figures are being echoed throughout other G Force markets. And while it's not clear how many markets G Force could eventually be present in -- Ms. Fairchild said she doesn't necessarily imagine it will be expanded to every city across the country -- she was adamant that PepsiCo is committed to investing in the program for the long term.
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 three-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."
The launch of 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.
Jonas Feliciano, a beverage analyst, and Chris Schmidt, a consumer health analyst, both with Euromonitor, are skeptical Gatorade will be able to penetrate the "hard-core" bodybuilder or endurance athlete from a sport-nutrition perspective. But both agree Gatorade has an advantage with younger athletes, given mom's comfort level with the brand.
"There tends to be quite a bit of brand loyalty among sport nutrition users, so [it's important] to hook them when they're young," noted Mr. Schmidt. That said, "it's hard to say what the return on investment is. If they're really serious about getting into sport nutrition, [G Force] could help, but it's a long-term prospect."
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 key locations, from high schools to training facilities, have easy access to G Series products. G Force customers, including schools, are given preferred pricing on products. Alfie Brody, director-marketing for the athletic channel, wouldn't disclose specifics, but said the pricing varies based on the venue.
Creating G Force
It's not unusual for beverage brands to invest in field marketing teams, though often they focus on sampling events and reaching a broad swath of consumers. Gatorade's hybrid team was modeled, in part, after the teams used by mrketers like Nike to educate athletes on their products. Mr. Brody said Gatorade also closely studied PepsiCo's food-service field sales operation and field marketing teams, and in several cases, borrowed from their playbooks.
"We studied everything from how they design [key performance indicators], build territories and assign geographies, initiate and manage field relationships, to their use of technology and proprietary software," Mr. Brody said. "We replicated the rep-to-manager ratio, utilized similar marketing tools, including cars, home-office setup, activation tools, etc. and built a similar overall P&L and budget."
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. They spend time at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, as well as Gatorade headquarters in Chicago as part of the "Gatorology" training program. They often have a background in sales or athletics -- Meg Yoder, the rep for Orlando, joined Gatorade from Adidas and is an avid runner -- though it's not a requirement.