Leonard Marsh, legendary Snapple co-founder, dead at 80

Former window washer struck it rich selling drinks made Photo: Leonard Marsh, image unattributed

NEW YORK, May 23, 2013 – Leonard Marsh, 80, who started out in life as a window washer but went on to co-found and run breakthrough beverage company Snapple, passed away Tuesday at his home in Manhasset, Long Island New York. The cause of death had not been revealed as this article was being written.

Snapple was originally founded in New York as Unadulterated Food Products in 1972, selling natural fruit juices to health food stores. Mr. Marsh started the business with his brother-in-law Hyman Golden and his childhood friend Arnold Greenberg. The now well-known brand name didn’t appear until 1980.

Leonard Marsh was born on Jan. 5, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York and was raised there, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. According to the “New York Times,” Mr. Marsh’s father “was a cobbler; his mother and Mr. Greenberg’s mother, he later said, pushed them in baby carriages together.”

Of the three founding partners, Mr. Marsh was key in establishing Snapple’s unique niche in the beverage business and served as the company’s CEO for many years. Snapple’s fruit juice beverages, stringently manufactured from natural ingredients only, were the company’s original product, and they were sold primarily to delicatessens and health food stores. The company name, “Snapple” itself was derived from its original apple based fruit beverage.

Snapple beverages sporting earlier label design. (Dr. Pepper Snapple Group)

A key development in the company’s offerings became its line of bottled tea beverages, which soon developed an enthusiastic following when they were introduced in the late 1980s, due primarily to their noticeably intense, refreshing taste. The company attributed this to the fact that their teas, and indeed all their beverages, were made “from the best stuff on earth.” The real secret? Snapple’s teas were brewed fresh and bottled while still hot, employing no preservatives in the process, which resembled traditional home canning procedures.

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Eventually based in Valley Stream, New York, the company promoted its products with catchy and sometimes hokey advertising, including, in the early 1990s, “letters to the editor” style pitches from a New York Jewish mother character that came to be known as the Snapple Lady. She was actually a Snapple employee, a company order taker named Wendy Kaufman.

The following is an example of one of Ms. Kaufman’s snappy Snapple Lady commercials, dating from 1994:

By the mid-1990s, Snapple’s nationally known and highly popular beverage line was reportedly bringing in sales of approximately $700 million per annum. Numbers like these attracted potential suitors, and Snapple was bought out by the then-independent Quaker Oats Company for $1.7 billion in 1994, keeping on Mr. Marsh for a few more years as the Snapple subsidiary’s VP for planning.

As is all-too-typical when a mega-company buys out a smaller company with a popular product, Quaker’s attempts to generate synergies with its own business lines, notably its Gatorade sports drink subsidiary, only succeeded in fuzzing Snapple’s marketing prowess and marginalizing its once-unique, health-themed product line, allowing other competitors to step in with new offerings and grab market share.

Quaker itself was gobbled up by Pepsico (PEP) in 2001, but by that time, it had already divested itself of Snapple, having sold it to Triarc in 1997 for $300 million—a $1.4 billion loss on its original purchase. Triarc in turn sold it to Cadbury Schweppes for $1.45 billion, a nifty profit, in September 2000. Along with the Schweppes beverage line, Snapple was then spun off in May 2008 to beverage manufacturer Dr. Pepper, which renamed itself the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (ticker symbol DPS).

Mr. Marsh was preceded in death by his two original partners. In addition to his sister, Mildred Golden, Mr. Marsh’s survivors include, according to the “New York Times,” “his wife of 57 years, the former Marian Ebner; a daughter, Robin Ross; two sons, Bradley and Peter; and eight grandchildren.” Mr. Marsh’s death was originally announced by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.

     —AP contributed to this story

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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