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Former Coca-Cola exec joins Lemon Perfect

ATLANTA — Former Coca-Cola Co. executive Jim Brennan is bringing nearly three decades of experience to Lemon Perfect, a fast-growing brand of flavored lemon water. The beverage industry veteran was named president and chief revenue officer at the Atlanta-based startup.

Mr. Brennan joined Lemon Perfect as a board member and strategic adviser last year after concluding a 32-year run across various sales roles at Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Enterprises. He most recently was executive vice president of national retail sales, where he led total customer management and the strategic selling vision for the top national retail customers across multiple channels of trade. He was responsible for an $8 billion beverage portfolio.

Mr. Brennan said he thought his full-time roles were complete after he retired from Coca-Cola in late 2020. Then he met Yanni Hufnagel, founder and chief executive officer of Lemon Perfect.

Mr. Hufnagel launched the brand in 2017. Its enhanced water is free from sugar, artificial flavors and sweeteners. It contains electrolytes from potassium as well as antioxidants like vitamin C. Varieties include original lemon, pineapple coconut strawberry passion fruit, peach raspberry, dragon fruit mango, blueberry acai and kiwi star fruit.

Powered by cold-pressed organic lemons, the beverage offers a host of benefits around heart health, digestive support and immune defense, along with increased metabolism, collagen synthesis, stress relief, clear skin and fresher breath, according to the company.

“I’ve always had a longing to work with a small brand and scale it,” Mr. Brennan said. “The product itself is tremendous. It’s a zero-sugar beverage with a great taste and healthy hydration credentials. That’s what really captured me.”

The flavored lemon waters have gained distribution since Mr. Brennan joined as an adviser last spring. With his help Lemon Perfect quadrupled its business in 2021. The company, which recently raised $31 million in a Series A funding round headlined by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, aims to scale to more than 40,000 points of distribution by the end of 2022.

“From a brick-and-mortar standpoint, we’ve focused on large format to build scale,” Mr. Brennan said. “We went from about a 15% all commodity volume (ACV) in April 2021 to about a 65% ACV in June. We’ve made a lot of progress on a distribution standpoint across that ACV environment.”

The brand will shift its focus to convenience retail and foodservice channels throughout 2023 and 2024, he added.

Lemon Perfect also offers its beverages direct-to-consumer through its e-commerce platform. Mr. Brennan expects the online business will reduce over time as the brand continues to scale in physical locations.

 “The online platform will serve the purpose of building awareness and trial over time,” he said. “We’ll also invest in additional brand and content marketing through social media and other mediums.”

Mr. Brennan’s long-term goal is to grow Lemon Perfect into the No. 1 brand in the multibillion-dollar enhanced water category by market share. It was the fastest-growing brand in the category for the 52 weeks ended June 26, 2022, according to data from IRI.

“There’s a lot of blurring going on across categories, whether that’s sports drinks, seltzers and other water- or hydration-type products,” Mr. Brennan said. “Ultimately, that blurring leads to a huge opportunity in terms of where we can go.” 

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