LA Libations' SIP program helps beverage brands find success

A team of beverage CPG professionals provides resources, savvy and connections to help brands achieve commercial success and longevity. Take a look.

Keith Loria, Contributing Writer

July 8, 2024

6 Min Read
LA Libations SIP program helps beverage brands find success

LA Libations SoCal Incubation, also known as the SIP program, is a beverage incubator and accelerator dedicated to innovative, better-for-you brands.

The program, which leverages LA Libations’ extensive industry relationships and expertise to demonstrate its brands’ market momentum in California, launched version 2.0 in 2023 and is working with dozens of brands to help them become a force in the retail space. Roadmaps for scaling brands normally require between 12 and 18 months. All along, SIP reviews key statistics to determine if the brand is ready for national sales representation in larger chains like Walmart, ACI, Kroger and Costco, said Celeste Bodin, SIP project manager.

The birth of a company

LA Libations started 15 years ago when three Cola-Cola employees—Danny Stepper, Dino Sarti and Pat Bolden—realized the beverage industry was shifting into the natural space. The trio left Coke to form LA Libations, and as with many other entrepreneurs they began the business—named after the founders’ daughters Lauren and Annika—in a garage.

“At our core, LA Libations is a brand creator, incubator and accelerator,” Bodin said. “While our founders had experience in the brokerage space, this was only one piece of the puzzle. So, they decided to make their own networks and offer our services for other entrepreneurs experiencing similar pain points.”

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LA Libations analyzed each phase in the product lifecycle to establish the services it now offers. The first division to launch was the LA OPS department, which offers commercialization, research and development, planning and procurement, fulfillment and consumer services, Bodin said. After that, LA Libations’ sales team went to work.

“With the unique brands we were creating, we needed to gain placements, establish a route to market, create relationships, sample the products, and conduct tests to establish market needs before heading into larger retail channels,” Bodin said.

This was the launching point for SIP, spearheaded by the company’s now-CMO, Bonnie Shah. Today, Bodin and director Dan Weisbach lead the program.

“While we are not a silver bullet in CPG, our odds of success are much higher,” Bodin said. “We also provide all the resources you may need under one roof to save time and money for brands. With so many options available, it makes sense to partner with a company like LA Libations for guidance.”


Selection criteria

The SIP team’s selection process is rigorous. And competition is robust. The team has spoken with between 300 and 550 brands a year since the program began.

“We are extremely selective in who we bring on; brands with intention and purpose who genuinely identify as better for you have the best success stories,” Bodin said. “And it must taste good enough to drink or be so functional that benefit wins out.”

The review process includes analyzing industry trends through SPINS and IRI, attending industry events to experience brands first-hand, testing product samples and identifying white spaces in the sector based on psychology, historical data, storytelling and more, she said.

After these key first steps, the team determines if the brand fits into the portfolio, and if the team strongly supports the product.

“We love seeing brands that bring a strategy to the table that will bring customers back into brick-and-mortar stores,” Bodin said. “Understanding the cost of doing business in retail in comparison to building the brand in DTC (Direct to Consumer) first are two vastly different strategies. Essentials for success include solid supply chains that yield consistent product without running out of stock, accessibility, coachability and communication.”

Equitea founder and CEO Quentin Vennie formulated this caffeine-free Spiced Hibiscus green tea with adaptogens and botanicals as part of his journey to heal himself from anxiety, depression and prescription drug addiction.

Ongoing support

When LA Libations partners with brands, it provides distribution management, administrative duties, category review schedule management, consultation, route to market in SoCal, and exclusive opportunities as they scale.

“We focus on smaller accounts first, with between one to 10 locations, to gain a solid understanding of product fit, movement and consumer feedback,” Bodin said. “Our next grouping is retailers with between 11 to 50 doors, followed by 51 to 150, and towards the end of the program we offer an opportunity to participate in exclusive cooler programs at CVS, Albertson’s, Vons, Pavilions and more, as well as tackling retailers with 151 to 515 doors.”

The first part of the SIP program involves crafting best-in-class sales collateral and creating a savvy go-to-market strategy. Each brand is assigned a dedicated brand manager to ensure nothing falls through the cracks and brands have a direct line of communication to the LA Libations team.

Bodin and Caden Wiese work diligently to provide support and resources for all brands in an administrative capacity and work closely with Senior Key Account Manager Jess Rodlin to identify opportunities that provide a return on investment.

The team also builds independent sales in the natural, liquor, convenience and local delivery channels that use HiTouch Libations as a route to market. The company's field sales and distribution manager, Rachel Fictum, is often responsible for giving brands their first points of distribution in SoCal.

“This allows us to start getting some depletion data, retailer feedback and in-store placements,” Bodin said. “All the while, we are taking all presented opportunities with retailers to gain feedback. If they only review a specific category once a year, we want to share it early and late in hope to get direct feedback and show growth in the future. It is all part of creating the positive sales story. Tracking all progress, next steps, and results are essential for true incubation.”

Success stories

Some of the early success stories of the SIP program have been Saint James Iced Teas, Chamberlain Coffee, Hawaii Volcanic Naturally Alkaline Sustainably Sourced Premium Water, Don’t Quit protein drinks and Minus Coffee.

“Our experience so far has been extremely positive,” said Maricel Saenz, founder and CEO of Minus Coffee. “The SIP team feels like an extension of our own, and they care for our success as if it were their own. This support has been invaluable as we navigate the challenges and opportunities of bringing our product to market.”

Equitea, another LA Libations success story, won a New Hope Network NEXTY Award for Best New Beverage at Natural Products Expo East 2023 for its Spiced Hibiscus flavor.

Looking ahead

The goal of SIP is to leave brands better off than the day it first started working with them, and it’s only looking to grow and help more companies in the years ahead.

“I’m extremely excited about where SIP is headed,” Bodin said. “This year, we have started expanding our reach to service smaller natural markets across the U.S. I would love to see a day where we have region-based incubation programs to help brands work within costs, especially with freight and warehousing costs on the West Coast.”

Correction: Caden Wiese's last name was incorrect when this story was posted to It was corrected on July 10, 2024.

About the Author(s)

Keith Loria

Contributing Writer

Keith Loria is a freelance writer and father.

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