NICHOL WANTS TO ENERGIZE COTT'S BEVERAGES

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TORONTO-Former Loblaw Cos. supersalesman Dave Nichol's first priority when he takes over as president of Cott Corp. on Oct. 1 is to expand its beverages well beyond the existing core soft-drink business.

And that is just the beginning.

"Then I want to try to develop a series of other categories that can be Cott-esized."

The 54-year-old multimillionaire told Advertising Age that his experience is golden "because I understand the way a retailer thinks and what a retailer really needs."

He'll work closely at first with Cott Chairman-CEO Gerry Pencer to secure new accounts. In addition, he said, there's a lot of incremental volume from current accounts, such as Wal-Mart Stores.

Cott now has annual sales of $438 million, compared with $31 million in the fiscal year ended Jan. 27, 1990, and produces private-label soft drinks for more than 100 retailers worldwide.

Just taking care of business, though, is not Mr. Nichol's style.

"The other thing I hope to do, because of my experience with a multitude of different categories that Cott is not in, is to create a line of products that will be attractive as [private-label] brands, that would help Cott's customers make a lot more money in those categories," he said.

That's "Cott-esization"-the application to other products of the company's effective formula for making private-label soft drinks.

"The Snapple-type product has been very successful in the United States," Mr. Nichol said. "I would think that that would be something that should be looked at."

He also sees opportunity in ice tea and spring water. "We do [ice tea] for Wal-Mart and Loblaw" among others and are reviewing its success.

"We already supply [spring water] accounts in Quebec and Ontario and suspect there's a major opportunity in the U.S. We are currently looking at that," he said.

"So there are many categories very closely associated with Cott's core beverage business, and that could be distributed through that system. In addition, there may be categories such as cookies ... that in the future we might be looking at putting together."

The Decadent Chocolate Chip cookie-which Mr. Nichol introduced to the Loblaw President's Choice line along with more than 4,000 other products-is the best-selling cookie in Canada and now is winning over U.S. taste buds.

Mr. Nichol arrived at struggling Loblaw in 1972. One of his greatest coups, and a later boon to Cott, was his creation of President's Choice Cola.

The soda contributed to giving private-label soda sales a 28% share of soft-drink sales in Canadian supermarkets, second only to Pepsi at 32.9%, while Coke remains third at 25.2%.

President's Choice Cola was initially produced by Coca-Cola Beverages in a co-packing agreement in Canada. However, Coca-Cola decided it wanted out of the private-label business, and in 1990 Mr. Nichol signed a deal with Mr. Pencer of Cott, a small Montreal bottling outfit that wooed Loblaw with the rights it had obtained to use Royal Crown Cola's recipe.

A Nichol-Pencer friendship budded and Cott bloomed, rapidly picking up international soft-drink contracts for retailers such as Wal-Mart in the U.S., the U.K.'s J. Sainsbury PLC and Ito-Yokado Co. of Japan. Although most of Cott's sales come from soft drinks and other beverages, it has some private-label customers for potato chips and pet foods.

At the end of 1993, Mr. Nichol left as Loblaw president to form a consultancy working with both Loblaw and Cott. By this June, Dave Nichol & Associates worked exclusively for Cott, and on Aug. 31 he was named Cott president, effective Oct. 1. He succeeds Heather Reisman, who left in late August.

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