Finding Mr. Pink is not easy.
Everyone knows what he does, except no-one really knows who he is. Go to almost any major celebrity bash in Los Angeles, and “Mr. Pink” Ginseng drinks pretty much own the place. Launched only last October, many Hollywood celebrities from Lindsay Lohan to Michael Jackson’s children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, for the first time ever since their father’s passing, have helped turn Mr. Pink Ginseng Drinks into one of the biggest sensations on the US West Coast. It is already in 50,000 locations in California, with plans to “conquer” the globe well underway. Investors are confident that not only is this wellness drink “the next evolution” in the functional beverage market, it has all the ingredients to grab a huge chunk of the energy drinks market, where last year alone Red Bull notched up $3bn in US sales.
“We think Mr. Pink is a brand that will be making $30bn a year in sales in a decade,” says one of “Mr. Pink’s” advisors.
The founders of Mr. Pink are already confident they are currently sitting on top of a $3bn empire.
None of this comes any close to explaining exactly who Mr. Pink is. The man behind the phenomenon has never attended one of the many parties he throws. In fact not only he has never been pictured in public before, but his name has never been printed anywhere. Potential investors and partners are diverted to a company called Mr. Pink Collections, which in turn is owned by Kings International Investment Group, an LA-based company that describes itself as a global investment firm. There is a management team and a CEO, but nobody there is willing to say who “Mr. Pink” is.
“He doesn’t do media. No need to. Goodbye,” says a receptionist.
After several months of phone calls and emails, I eventually get a message that “Mr. Pink” himself is ready to talk. But even that is not straightforward. Macau becomes Monaco, which becomes Beverly Hills. Each time, the venue is changed or cancelled, as I am told “Mr. Pink” is having second thoughts about giving an interview.
“He’s never given an interview to anyone before, so he’s still not convinced he should now,” explains an advisor.
In June, I get a phone call out of the blue. “Are you in London?”
By pure coincidence, I am. Two hours later, I am sitting in front of a 33-year-old Chinese billionaire called Poe Qui Ying Wangsuo. He is young, ultra-smart, trendy and looks more like a fashion model. He is also the Mr Pink. And he is pretty direct.
“I’m not happy about doing this interview. I really didn’t want to, but my advisors said you told them it’s the only way you would ever agree to write about Mr. Pink drinks. So here I am. What do you want?”
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It’s easy to see why Wangsuo likes to stay out of the limelight, as his products do the talking and they do it very well. There are just four variations of the drink on the market, plus three Mr. Pink “sparkling teas” soon to launch. By the end of this year, around 3 million units a day of Mr. Pink drinks are likely to be sold. Not bad for what has so far been a $100m investment, but Wangsuo knows that regardless of what’s happening in the global economy, the beverage industry shows no sign of slowing.
Just in US sales, Coca-Cola sold $48bn and Pepsi sold $66.5bn in 2011. The global beverage industry is expected to reach a value of $1.347 trillion by 2017.
Companies like China’s Wong Lo Kat have increased over tenfold surpassing even Coca-Cola and Pepsi, boasting over RMB17bn ($2.7bn) in sales in China alone. Analyst Ewa Hudson, Global Head of Health and Wellness Research at Euromonitor International, says that steady real term growth of the global health and wellness market of 7.2 percent (current prices) is “expected to continue to 2017, with global health and wellness sales on the way to hit a record high of $1 trillion by 2017.”
Put more simply, Mr. Pink is banking of the theory that energy drinks promote energy but not necessarily wellness. So it is going after consumers used to energy drinks in nightclubs, gyms and supermarkets.
“Since drinks are consumed every day by people around the world, we wanted to provide a healthier alternative of giving people a natural boost without the harmful ingredients like in other energy drinks,” Wangsuo says, adding: “There is no other business in the world today that can make the kind of revenues and daily cash flow like the beverage business because every single day, every human being around the world has to drink. For example, every single day around the world, approximately 1.8 billion people drink a Coca-Cola product, which amounts to approximately 657 billion units per year. We also want to impact the world like this with our line of products.”
But what about the competition? “There is no competition for our Ginseng Drink category. Our product is derived from a Ginseng root, which has been the crown jewel of Asia for over 5,000 years. Ginseng was first available in Asia for the rich and the royal families before, and now it is available to all to provide benefits like longevity, vitality, health and wellness, and it gives your body balance and protection. This, in addition to all the B-Vitamins infused in our beverage, packs a powerful product.”
It also packs a powerful profit. The largest age group of energy drinkers are eighteen to 24-year-olds, who account for a huge 25 percent of all energy drink sales. Mr. Pink is targeting more than 200,000 nightclubs in a bid to convert college age energy drinkers to his wellness drinks. Nearly $500m will be invested to make this happen, but the returns could be huge: he forecasts that in the next year, 100 clubs will gross $6.7m in sales, rising to 26,000 clubs raking in $1.7bn within five years — and in a decade, at current growth rates, that equates to $13.5bn from just the nightclub scene. Add to that retail stores, gyms and restaurants, and the figures — he believes — start touching on $30bn a year after a decade.
“When people think of Ginseng, I want them to think of Mr. Pink because Mr. Pink will own the Ginseng market globally. Also, there is no new business in the world other than the beverage business that can generate $30bn continually year after year, but with our unique beverage products, we will be one of a few beverage companies that will in the future,” he says.
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The US is where the Mr. Pink action is concentrated right now, but Wangsuo is putting the final touches on his expansion plans in Asia, India, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
“We are already in China, will be launching in India this September and plan to launch in the Middle East very soon as well, as we see great opportunity and need in the Middle East marketplace for a non-alcoholic healthy wellness beverages,” he says.
Mr. Pink has already signed up an exclusive distribution agreement with Coca-Cola in India and is partnering with Sequoia Capital China, which is one of the largest venture capital funds in the world, for the Chinese market, but the Middle East market still remains an additional major growth potential for the company.
“The Middle East is very important because I feel the population values premium healthy products and once they get a taste of Mr. Pink Ginseng Drinks and Sparkling Teas and understand how healthy they are, everyone will drink like I do so many times every day. I also have friends in the royal family that have tried our drinks, love the taste and always ask when we will bring the product to the Middle East, so I am convinced it will be a great success. Especially for the Middle East, because people need the benefits of Ginseng to keep their body balanced, in good shape, healthy and good looking,” he says.
With Hollywood superstars like Lindsay Lohan and Michael Jackson’s kids, Prince, Paris and Blanket, more than happy to endorse the drink among many others, it’s hard to believe that the Mr. Pink brand was officially launched only on 11 October last year. The drink may well be a healthy choice, but undoubtedly it is its founder’s natural-born salesman ability that is also driving the success.
Wangsuo, who says he drinks around seven cans a day himself, has been selling products since the age of twelve. He says his “first business” came at that age, selling candy, paper and pens to other students in his class. “My family taught me the mentality that whatever you want to do in life, you can. If you buy a candy bar for six cents, you can probably sell it for seven. That’s what I did, that’s how I started in business. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I learned the basics,” he says.
By the time he left college, he was already successfully buying and selling real estate in Beijing, and invested the profits into various stocks. While most of his friends were graduating, Wangsuo was already on the way to becoming one of the country’s richest — and also least known — individuals.
“My advice is that it doesn’t matter how successful you are, where you come from, what colour you are, don’t just think about yourself but share with those people around you that need for happiness and you will also succeed. Also, it is important to have a unique idea, a great road map and a clear vision to take strong action on a daily basis towards your goals. You must surround yourself with the right team at all times because everyone has a different skill, and with the proper execution, the impossible can be achieved. Finally, it’s important to always be truthful, grateful, and humble and never forget about giving back to charity,” he says.
Wangsuo, after some persuasion, agrees to a photo shoot, before heading to Heathrow en route back to Los Angeles. The Mr. Pink parties have become the hottest ticket in town, with even A-list celebs not guaranteed entry. It does of course all help selling millions of drinks each year. Now that he has been “revealed”, will he finally show up at one of his own parties?
“No. I never want to, I never will. I think the more private you are as a person, the happier you are. It just isn’t right for me,” he says.
Luckily for Wangsuo, Mr. Pink seems to be just right for millions of other people around the world.
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