Brian Neumann joins Yerbae Sparkling Water as CMO

From the C-Suite newsletter: The former Kraft Heinz marketer will build the U.S. beverage brand using tactics like "acts, not ads."

Brian Neumann

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For a young marketer, working for a major advertiser like Kraft Heinz has its benefits. You get to learn from “so many smart people” and build a deeper understanding of marketing fundamentals, says Brian Neumann, the CPG’s former associate director of brand build and innovation. At the same time, working on powerhouse brands can leave you feeling like it’s impossible to fail, he says.

That’s what prompted the 29-year-old marketer to leave a brand he has helped propel to the top of marketing awards shows for a new opportunity as chief marketing officer at Scottsdale, Arizona-based Yerbaé Enhanced Sparkling Water, a beverage startup whose line of energy drinks are plant-based and free of artificial ingredients, sugars and sweeteners and calories.

Neumann, who started this week, will continue to be based in Toronto. He says the brand – which is only currently sold in the U.S. – intends to expand to Canada and hire a Toronto-based CFO in the near future, adding that the gig will require a significant amount of stateside travel.

“I was looking forward to moving into a new space, a bit of a startup space that allowed me to really bet on myself, learn how business operates in a new way,” he says.

Neumann adds that the opportunity to lead the brand presented itself at an exciting time for the company, which has recently surpassed some “critical growth milestones.”

In the U.S., over 1,000 new beverage brands are launched each year, and less than 10% of those make it to year two – with only 10% of the latter group eventually hitting $1 million in revenue, according to Neumann. In that sense, three-year-old Yerbaé is somewhat of a “proven entity,” he says. In July, it became the first non-alcoholic beverage brand to raise more than $1 million through crowdfunding.

At Kraft Heinz, the marketer was involved in a slew of recent efforts for Heinz Ketchup, Kraft Dinner and Crave Frozen Meals that have gained widespread attention. He also has prior CPG experience from Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, and he intends to put those experiences to the test building Yerbaé’s brand and marketing department from the ground up.

As CMO, a lot of his early work will consist of implementing the fundamentals he learned at Kraft Heinz, including establishing a strong brand identity and purpose. He also plans to leverage social media to help Yerbaé stand out in a competitive category, having previously worked with Kraft Heinz’s internal social agency, The Kitchen, on “moving at the speed of culture.”

And once the brand is a little more established, Neumann says he plans to lean into a creative process called “acts, not ads” – brand gestures that can help companies “hack culture and ultimately earn more attention” – which he had success with at his former company.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Kraft Heinz. They’ve been so great to me, and I’ve been able to have a lot of success there and the people are so incredible,” Neumann says. “But when an opportunity comes across your desk for you to be able to get in near the ground floor with less risk, because the product and the brand has been proven out in the marketplace, but you still have the autonomy to build something – it was something that I couldn’t turn down.”