Protein drink maker gets $8 million to expand, moves HQ from New Orleans to California

The startup behind the healthy protein drink Iconic has landed $8 million to fund its expansion, though it will now do so as a West Coast company. The company has relocated from New Orleans to Santa Monica, Calif. to be closer to the booming market for healthy food and drink in Southern California.

Billy Bosch, a Baton Rouge native who founded Be Well Nutrition and helmed development of the Iconic formula, said the startup will always have deep New Orleans roots. He said the city and the support of local investors and places like the Idea Village gave the fledgling health drink startup the perfect runway to launch from. Bosch still has a home in New Orleans and splits his time between here and California when he isn't on the road for business.

Bosch said Iconic needs two things in order to grow to the next level -- big cities and access to large pockets of the type of health-conscious consumers who are likely to try an on-the-go protein drink. Southern California has both of those things, he said.

"The challenge for me was to look around and say, 'How can I drive growth for the brand?' Quite frankly the population isn't there in Louisiana," Bosch said Friday (Sept. 15), speaking over the phone from a trade show in Baltimore. "New Orleans helped us build the company, but if we're going to be a successful company we've got to go sell in population centers."

Bosch got his start back in 2013, hand labeling bottles of Iconic and convincing local retailers such as Rouses, Robert Fresh Market and Breaux Mart to sell the drink. Iconic is made using dairy protein from grass-fed cows in New Zealand and comes in flavors like Cafe Au Lait and Chocolate Truffle.

"Those were three earlier believer chains," Bosch said. "They were with us in the early days."

Today, Iconic is sold in about 30 states and is carving out markets in major cities such as Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago. Be Well Nutrition has seven full-time employees who work remotely from across the country, including from bases in Austin, Indianapolis and San Diego. Another 15 to 20 part-time contractors work at the company's warehouse in Elmwood.

Be Well Nutrition founder Billy Bosch led development of the formula for Iconic, which is made using dairy protein from grass-fed cows in New Zealand and comes in flavors like Cafe Au Lait and Chocolate Truffle. (Image courtesy Be Well Nutrition)

Bosch said the company will continue to warehouse its products in Elmwood, but its new Santa Monica address puts the company squarely in the backyard of the U.S. health food industry.

Bosch, who spends much of his year on the road finding new vendors and handing out Iconic samples at trade shows, said he has traveled to Santa Monica increasingly over the years.

The largest health trade shows take place in Santa Monica, and it was there Bosch first got face-time with Bill Moses, a co-founder of KeVita, the kombucha maker acquired by PepsiCo last year for around $200 million. Moses is now an investor and has joined Be Well Nutrition as executive chairman.

"Those are the type of really unique opportunities you can get when you're spending more time on the West Coast," Bosch said.

The recent $8 million funding round, led by private equity firm KarpReilly, will allow the company to continue to expand its footprint and improve its packaging. Iconic will launch in Publix grocery stores in Florida in coming months.

Bosch said his focus right now is to grow a successful company. He hopes to one day be able to repay New Orleans in part by helping launch health and wellness initiatives in the city.

"I'm looking forward to where we can take things," Bosch said. "The faster we can grow this brand across the country, the more impact we can have."

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