Ottawa native targeting industry heavyweights with Seattle-based hydration beverage

As CEO of Seattle-based hydration beverage maker nuun, Kevin Rutherford encourages people to achieve their personal bests.

 

But as the 45-year-old Ottawa native battled through the heat Sunday at the half marathon, he wasn’t too concerned about matching his own personal best of around one hour 25 minutes.

 

“I think I can go 1:35 or 1:30. It’s what I hope to do,” he told OBJ a couple days ahead of the race, adding he had a 75 mile bike ride scheduled for Saturday, part of his continuing ironman training.

“I also believe you need to walk the talk,” he said.

Mr. Rutherford’s most recent trip home blended both business and pleasure as this year marked nuun’s first year as the hydration partner for Ottawa Race Weekend. Sold in tablet form, the premixed beverage was on course for runners throughout the weekend.

Mr. Rutherford said race organizers could have received a larger lump sum payment from a bigger brand but their beliefs aligned more with nuun’s.

“We’ve added a lot of value beyond dollars,” he said of the deal which he said was mostly in kind. “At the end of the day, we’re not a huge company so we couldn’t spend a ton.”

In addition to being on course, the nuun also provided some online hydration education and had a presence at the race expo at the Shaw Centre.

Being on course is a great way to build the brand, Mr. Rutherford said, adding nuun is replacing heavyweights like Gatorade at similar events “at a rapidly growing rate.”

Ottawa’s was not the only race for nuun over the weekend. It also partnered with a 10K in Boulder, Colorado, a race Mr. Rutherford said was the third largest in the United States. It will also be on course at Ottawa’s Army Run in September, as well as races later this year in Barrie and Vancouver.

nuun began 11 years ago by a group of triathletes in the northeastern United States, Mr. Rutherford said.

“One of the guys was training for an ironman and was looking for an alternative to better hydrate and fuel himself to be prepared for the race,” he said. “As he was training, hydration needs were going up but his fuel needs were not. If you recall, sports drinks back then, there really wasn’t much choice. It was all combined, a lot of sugar and calories with some electrolytes.”

By separating hydration and fuel needs, nuun allows athletes to hydrate and avoid muscle cramps without adding unnecessary calories.

Mr. Rutherford joined nuun in December 2013, tasked with accelerating growth that had started to stall. The uOttawa economics graduate came with a track record of success as CEO of all-natural cleaner Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, marketing director at cereal-maker Kashi, and senior brand manager at Miller Brewing Company and SC Johnson.

While nuun was the number one hydration beverage in specialty stores in the United States, it appeared the company didn’t know what to do next, he said.

“We worked on a whole reformulation around it and I said ‘This thing should have ingredients – every single one should have a purpose and a purpose that works with your body,’ so we basically transitioned the whole product to become all natural,” he said.

Couple that with a reworked distribution program and nuun has doubled its business in the last three years, he said.

Mr. Rutherford said he expects sales of around $25 million this year and wouldn’t be surprised if nuun were a $100 million company in five years. While specialty stores, like Mountain Equipment Co-op, Running Room or Bushtukah, are still the focus, the company will expand to all-natural stores and eventual go for a broader retail base, he said.

“I really think we can give Gatorade a run for their money,” he said. “Do I think in five years we’ll be as big as GatorAde? No. Do I think they’re noticing us now? Yes. And do I think they’re going to notice us a lot more? Yeah.”

Mr. Rutherford has proven to be successful at meeting his expectations. His time Sunday? 1:34:08.1.