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Tufts E-News --Alum's New Brand On Fire

Tufts E-News --Alum's New Brand On FireJohnBello, founder of SoBe beverages and a 1968 Tufts graduate, isgetting a warm reception to his new line of firefighter-themedfood products. Norwalk,Conn.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.22.04] In the post-9/11 world,firefighters have become cultural icons of heroism and sacrificewhose images are increasingly being translated to the commercialsphere. That includes a soon-to-be nationally distributed lineof chips and soft drinks run by Tufts graduate John Bello –an entrepreneur with a long track record of building trend-settingbrands.

“Firemenare real-life heroes with working-class values,” Bello toldUSA Today, describing the inspiration behind the company.

Bello andco-CEO Bruce Burke are staking millions on the hope that consumerswill whet their appetite for firefighter imagery with his newbrand of snacks and drinks.

“[Thepair] have plans to take Firefighter Brand nationwide within thenext year and post annual sales of $500 million within five years,”reported USA Today. A Florida rollout began in early October,according to the company.

Among theproducts: potato chips, soda and bottled water called HydrantWater. The soft drinks sport catchy names like “IncendiaryCitrus” and “Courageous Cola.”

The companybegan as a regional brand started in 1993 by a retired Tennesseefireman and an Indiana bottler, the company said in a press release.Bello – who has a long track record of success buildingpopular and profitable brands including SoBe beverages and NFLproperties – came on board in 2003.

The firefighter-themedbrand hits stores on the heels of a recent surge in firefighter-relatedprojects, including the recently-released movie Ladder 49and the acclaimed FX television show Rescue Me.

But the companyis making it clear that it does not intend to exploit the interestin firefighters – Bello has promised 25 percent of FirefighterBrand’s net profit will be donated to firefighter-relatedcharities. The company says it is committed to donating up to$1 million to firefighter-related charitable organizations beforeturning a profit.

"Ourgoal is to change the way business, civic organizations and communitiescome together to create real value,” Bello said in a pressrelease. “Consumers will find the brand and its way of doingbusiness to be a refreshing alternative to corporate greed andan endless assault by marketers on American values."

Bello madea name for himself when he founded SoBe – which stands forSouth Beach Beverage – in 1995, essentially creating the“health refreshment” drink market.

The line ofnon-carbonated beverages – distinguished by its double-lizardlogo evoking Bello’s nickname of “The Lizard King”– attained great success. Bello’s company was worth$250 million in 2000.

In 2001, Bellosold SoBe to Pepsi for $370 million. That year, he was also namedEntrepreneur of the Year in the retail industry by Ernst &Young.

In a statementBello made upon receiving that honor, the mindset that driveshis involvement with Firefighter Brand is evident.

"Consumersare a lot more sophisticated than many believe," Bello said.


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