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.
On the ground
Anna Florzak, a former collegiate basketball star, was the G Force rep responsible for the Orlando market until November, when 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 Prendergat, the high school's athleteic director, became a fixture in the weight room, on hand to answer questions.
"I take pride in making sure athletic directors and fitness club owners can call me at any time, and I can provide them with what they need, whether it's a poster for education on the products or coming in to talk about nutrition," she said.
G Force also gives Gatorade an opportunity to test ideas and seed new products. At Lake Highland Prep, which Ad Age visited last fall, a prototype climate-controlled vending machine has been in test mode. 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 beverage industry does have formal "School Beverage Guidelines" in place that limit offerings in schools to lower-calorie options and smaller portion sizes. But Gatorade says its products fall outside those guidelines when provided to athletes by coaches and athletic trainers. Those guidelines don't address marketing in schools.
Unexpected revenue stream
"G Force efforts focus on the sports nutrition needs of athletes only," said Mr. Brody. He added that products are only available during athletic activity, and any vending machines are equipped with timers allowing them to be used only during specified hours, ensuring compliance.
The G Series approach has boosted sales and market share, according to Ms. Fairchild, without offering specifics -- the company doesn't break out the products separately. According to IRI, sales of all Gatorade products were up slightly to $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." The center boasts ice rinks, basketball courts and tennis courts, in addition to being home to Orlando's Solar Bears hockey team and the Orlando Magic offices. "We're a health-conscious facility, so I like the fact we're getting into this," Mr. Cirillo said in October. "If a kid buys chews instead of a Snickers, that's great."
He said that within seven months, the G Series was proving so successful the products were added to RDV's concessions business. Now kids are trading in candy and energy drinks for G Series products, and Mr. Cirillo is working with his G Force rep to find new ways to market the product.
At the high school level, Mr. Prendergast said one of the biggest problems coaches face is getting kids fed following a game or a workout. Without proper fueling -- and replacement of calories -- coaches found kids would lose weight and muscle mass as the season progressed. Football players who started out the season bench pressing 225 pounds wouldn't be able to bench 200 pounds six weeks into the season.
Now, coaches at Lake Highland Prep hand out Gatorade products before, during and after workouts. The results speak for themselves.. Lake Highland Prep had an incredibly successful year in sports, winning 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.