On his way to becoming president of Kitu Life — the makers of Super Coffee, Super Creamer and other Positive Energy products — Tyler Ricks, MBA ’96, has taken a leadership journey through the food and beverage industry.
After graduating and spending two years in marketing at Fisher-Price, he joined PepsiCo, quickly rising to director of marketing and vice president of sales. But after nine years, Ricks says it was time for a change.
“PepsiCo provided industry-leading training and encouraged autonomy and unparalleled responsibility at junior-executive levels,” he says. “I treasure the experience and know this foundation has been a key driver of my success. However, better-for-you consumer trends were emerging, and I was eager to join a more entrepreneurial company.”
Over the next nine years, Ricks went on to lead sales, marketing and innovation at three food startups, all of which resulted in successful buyouts: Bear Naked Granola was acquired by Kellogg’s, Health Nutz was bought by Hudson River Foods and Plum Organics was acquired by Campbell’s.
From there, he served in a series of roles at companies owned by JAB Holding Co., including chief marketing officer and general manager at Peet’s Coffee, president at Noah’s New York Bagels, and CEO of Bagel Brands, where he oversaw nearly 1,200 restaurants across the Einstein Bros., Bruegger’s, Noah’s and Manhattan Bagel chains.
“My experience as a venture investor, combined with my exposure to mergers and acquisitions while at JAB, led me to focus on a shift into private equity,” says Ricks.
In 2019, he joined Continental Grain, a hybrid investment firm where he served as a director for six portfolio companies during the pandemic, which he says provided a lifetime of critical experiences, before returning to an operating role with Super Coffee to help steer his largest personal investment to a successful liquidity event.
The coffee market is a competitive space, but Ricks says that Super Coffee has disrupted the ready-to-drink segment by providing a healthier alternative to high-sugar drinks like Starbucks’ Frappuccino and Dunkin Donuts’ iced coffee.
“Super Coffee provides positive energy by significantly improving the nutritional profile relative to Starbucks,” he says. “We encourage people to stop drinking your calories and we’ve taken millions of pounds of sugar out of the American diet.”
Ricks says his experience in the School of Management’s MBA program set him up for success in the business world by providing a framework for critical thinking and decision-making.
“Professor Arun Jain’s marketing research class prepared me to bring the latest techniques to the workplace,” he says. “As an intern at Fisher-Price, I developed a comprehensive segmentation of the Preschool Role Play segment. My boss, the director of marketing and an NYU Stern graduate, was impressed with the methodology and the quality of the work.”
Outside the office, Ricks leads an active life, spending time with his wife, Brianna, and their three children, along with their dogs (and granddogs). Ricks, who was captain and MVP of the UB Bulls soccer team, still plays on a men’s soccer team in Connecticut, and enjoys downhill skiing, paddle boarding and mentoring young professionals.
But his business leadership shines through in his off time, too.
“My personal passion is venture investing, a hobby I started in 2007,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed meeting and supporting a talented roster of entrepreneurs across nearly 40 companies.”
Written by Kevin Manne