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New Company In Northwest Arkansas Enters Drinks Market

4 min read

The restaurant column occasionally veers from strictly restaurant or food-related news, and this month it has a beverage bent.

A conversation with Steve Collins, CEO of Pure Fiber U.S. Corp. of Bentonville, maker of a beverage relatively new to the market, vibi+, underscored the high regard business executives have for northwest Arkansas, particularly its talent pool, and the increasing importance of the functional beverage market.

What are functional beverages? Research & Markets, a market research firm, defines them as “non-alcoholic drinks which contain non-traditional ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, dietary fibers, probiotics, and added fruits.” They include energy drinks like Red Bull, sports drinks like Gatorade and fruit drinks and functional water enhanced with fiber, vitamins or other supplements.

The sector is big and growing, with the global market expected to increase from $121.18 billion in 2020 to $130.51 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 7.7%, according to Research & Markets.

Collins is also a co-founder of Pure Fiber, launched in October 2019, whose vibi+ (pronounced “vi” as in “vivid” and “bi” as in “bee” and “plus” as in, well, “plus”) contains vitamins and prebiotics. The vibi+ website describes prebiotics as fiber “responsible for feeding the good bacteria in your gut. Essentially, helping probiotic bacteria thrive, resulting in a balanced digestive system.”

“It’s a drink infused with prebiotic fiber,” Collins said in describing his product. “It gives you 8 grams of your daily fiber, which is a really convenient, delicious way to get fiber in your diet.”

Among its benefits, he said, is as an aid to digestive health, disease immunity and absorption of minerals, as well as helping curb appetite.

Many consumers are probably familiar with probiotics, live microorganisms — good bacteria — that can have health benefits. Prebiotics, according to the National Institutes of Health, “are nondigestible food components that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of desirable microorganisms.”

“Prebiotics are like the fertilizer that feeds the garden,” Collins said.

Vibi+ comes in three flavors, orange mango, blueberry pomegranate acai and strawberry kiwi. And though Pure Fiber is located in Bentonville, the drink is produced in Pennsylvania.

The market for the product, Collins said, are people who are currently using fiber supplements or buying functional beverages.

“Our profile really reaches from like age 25 up to about 64, and income is all over the board,” he said, though it skews to the $50,000-plus range. “But we’re actually seeing about 20% of our sales coming from people who are on government subsidies. We’ve been a little bit surprised about that.”

The company has targeted about 34 million consumers in the United States as its primary market.

Vibi+ can be found at Amazon, Harps Food Stores, Walmart’s central region stores, the Sprouts Farmers Market chain and in Texas Albertsons, Tom Thumb and Randalls grocery stores, among others. “In total, we’ll be in about 1,400 doors in the U.S.,” Collins said. “During the COVID time and for a beverage, I’d say we’ve been very blessed to have the opportunity with retailers to sell our product.”

Launching the company required an initial investment of more than $1.5 million, Collins said. Pure Fiber currently employs six, and its average annual sales are ranging from $400,000 to $1.2 million, he said.

“We believe very strongly that this is going to be a strong, growing market,” Collins said.

Collins has had a long career in the consumer packaged goods industry, 37 years, with 25 of those with Mars Inc., the global food, confections and pet care company whose iconic brands include M&Ms and Snickers. He was Mars’ Walmart global vice president for more than three years and has lived in Bentonville for about 15 years.

He called the city the “perfect place” to locate a new CPG company headquarters “for a lot of reasons.”

“The world of CPG comes through northwest Arkansas,” Collins said. “Most places have satellite offices here, do business here, mostly focused on Walmart, but you can get connected to the rest of the country through their organizations.”

In addition, “the talent pool here is unbelievable,” he said. “Most companies bring the best of their best that they have to offer to manage their largest customer.”

Collins also cited the region’s standard of living, called it “a very enlightened community” and praised its emphasis on sustainability, diversity and inclusion.

“There are so many key things that lined up to make this a great place to open a business.”

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