Surging Cannabis Beverage Company Expands Reach With Acquisition

(Bloomberg) -- A beverage company that has been riding the recent marijuana stock surge is using some of that equity to get bigger.

New Age Beverages Corp., which has seen its share price more than triple since it mentioned plans to make CBD-infused drinks in September, is buying Morinda Inc., in a deal valued at $85 million. The acquisition of the American Fork, Utah-based drinks company, which sells products through multi-level marketing, will boost New Age’s revenue five-fold and give it a larger international presence.

The deal includes $10 million worth of New Age stock, with the remaining balance being paid in cash, according to Brent Willis, the company’s chief executive officer. The company has taken advantage of the increased interest in cannabis to raise $90 million in recent months and is putting some of that work to fund the deal.

New Age, a small maker of tea and kombucha, captured investors’ attention earlier this year when it said it planned to launch a line of CBD-infused drinks nationally. The ingredient is found in marijuana, but unlike cannabinoid cousin THC, it does not get users high. At the end of August, the stock was trading under $1.50. The shares shot up to $8.95 on Oct. 1, but have since pared part of the gain.

New Age expects to finish the year with more than $60 million in sales, while Morinda is a $240 million operation, Willis said. Half of that comes from subscription-based home delivery. Morinda sells juice made from noni fruit, native to Southeast Asia and Australia, along with essential oils and skin-care and lip-care products.

The deal gives New Age a direct-to-consumer platform to sell its growing line of health-focused beverages, including a set of CBD drinks currently in production ahead of the expected federal legalization of the non-psychoactive marijuana component.

‘Nuclear Overdrive’

“It puts us on nuclear overdrive,” Willis, 58, said of the acquisition. “We have the infrastructure to be first globally on CBD.”

The legalization of marijuana in Canada and the easing of restrictions in many U.S. states are driving a cannabis investment boom. It’s also put CBD on the map, making it a buzzy new ingredient that is showing up in everything from face cream to beer.

Weed remains illegal federally in the U.S., and that’s kept big public companies and institutional investors largely on the sidelines. But the farm bill being debated by Congress would legalize CBD derived from hemp, a development expected to drive a surge in products containing the ingredient. Coca-Cola said earlier this year it was closely watching the use of CBD in drinks.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have said they’ve reached a deal on the farm bill, with passage expected as early as next week.

Getting Ready

Willis, meanwhile, has been testing CBD drinks in Colorado since the beginning of the year. He said he has commitments to roll the drinks out nationally once the regulatory situation is resolved. Morinda also has a big presence in Asia, and Willis said the region will be a massive market for CBD drinks.

Multi-level marketing can be controversial, however, and Morinda has had brushes with regulators in the past. Willis said those issues were “more than 10 years old and well in their rear-view mirrors.” He sees Morinda’s platform as a way to directly reach millennial consumers as shopping shifts away from traditional grocery stores.

Willis, a West Point graduate, is a veteran of Coke and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV. He took a stake in New Age and become the CEO in 2016. At the time, the company was a struggling craft brewer that was losing millions each year. Willis, who says the big beverage companies with sugar-laden drinks are “selling diabetes in a can,” pivoted to healthy beverages, using acquisitions to build a portfolio.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.