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Bob Kral: “Family First”

Family First — I never missed my sons competing in whatever sport or school event they were in. I’d fly four times a week just to make sure I could be there for them. You don’t want to miss opportunities like that! As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their […]

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Family First — I never missed my sons competing in whatever sport or school event they were in. I’d fly four times a week just to make sure I could be there for them. You don’t want to miss opportunities like that!


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Kral.

Bob Kral began his career at Walgreens in 1980 as a pharmacist and rose through management and operations roles to Senior Vice President of Purchasing, Merchandising, and Marketing Initiatives where he was responsible for the purchasing and marketing of all non-pharmacy related products for over 7,000 stores. In 2009, Bob took the role of Senior Vice President of Merchandising at GNC where he witnessed the emerging protein supplement market and its double-digit growth. After gaining entrepreneurial experience with ventures in the fitness and supplement space he launched Protein2o in 2013 to begin realizing his vision of protein beverage that is both lower in calories and as delicious as the most popular beverages on the market.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started out as a pharmacist, though I worked in that profession for a very short period of time. Most of my career was spent at Walgreens, working in operations and merchandising roles in increasing capacity until I left in May, 2007. While at Walgreens, I helped launch 5-Hour Energy and Vitamin Water and I saw the voracious appetite people had for functional products. Soon after, I was recruited to work at GNC, as SVP of Merchandising where at the time, 60% of protein products were sold.

I was astounded by the growth of protein, though I always thought it was much bigger than how it was being used….as a workout supplement. With all the benefits of protein, I saw the opportunity as broader — one that is more lifestyle focused. I decided to leave GNC to pursue development of a protein beverage that could extend well beyond an athletic supplement.

After a few iterations, trying to get the product right, we settled on Protein2o — a protein infused water — that would deliver meaningful protein to consumers without all the sugar and calories commonly found in protein beverages.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Just the very nature of what we’re doing is disruptive. Changing the way people think about protein, which has been shake-based, with a long list of ingredients, unnecessary sugar and high calories and often in a tub. Protein2o was the first lower calorie protein beverage on the market. Next week, we will launch the first-ever plant protein water to consumers. We are disrupting the conventional vision of protein with our products, by creating a protein category that has no barriers. Just great tasting, refreshing protein.

A good proxy for us is how 5-Hour Energy disrupted energy offerings. Not everyone wanted cans and calories. Many people just wanted to feel more awake. With a shot, 5-Hour changed the way people thought of energy — or at least gave people a really viable alternative. Much in the same way, Vitamin Water was the “everyday functional beverage” to a Gatorade’s focus on “sports beverage.” It brought more consumers into the functional arena.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There’s nothing funny about the mistakes we made unfortunately. Any one of them could have killed this business early on. As a retail guy, I had no idea how hard it would be to produce a protein water. At Walgreens, it was easy to put your muscle behind something…what I wanted, I was able to get. But when you’re an entrepreneur, it’s not the same. For Protein2o, early stage productions netted all kinds of taste and quality issues and we had to toss out thousands of cases of product. What happened to us would doom most young companies. But we persevered, with great partners and investors and we’re here to tell the story, having survived some real tough times.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My mentor was Bob Atlas from Walgreens. Sadly, he passed away recently. I was just an assistant manager at Walgreens in Florida and I wanted to get promoted so much that I resigned to work at another company. The SVP of Operations Bob Atlas flew down to FL and took me to lunch and convinced me to stay. I worked for Bob Atlas every step of the way through my career at Walgreens and ascended to become his peer late in our Walgreens careers.

He was the kindest, most patient guy — a true legend. He made me realize the kind of operator and boss I wanted to be. I have taken his lessons to heart and still try to make every single person who works for me to feel important in the way he made me feel. When I rose through the ranks at Walgreens and had thousands of people reporting to me, I made sure to know people’s stories, whether the cashier at a store in my region or her boss’s boss. I made sure to record personal information in my blackberry ( I know I’m dating myself) so every time I saw someone, I was able to connect with them, about their kid’s soccer game or a sick relative. I learned that if you make everyone feel important, you can create loyalty and appreciation and people will enjoy their jobs more. And I enjoyed mine more because of these personal connections.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

True disruption is about finding white space. You have to be able to have some insight into the future, but you also need to make sure you can have strong consumer demand. You can always make something better, but is that improvement really meaningful enough to disrupt the marketplace? The Hummer was disruptive, but there was no real purpose to it. It was a fad that couldn’t really sustain itself. Even now, with the plant-based movement in full force, I wonder about items like the Impossible Burger. Surely it’s disruptive in nature and more sustainable, but is it truly healthier? Are the compromises people making to eat this vs. a meat-alternative meaningful enough? I guess we will see.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Family First — I never missed my sons competing in whatever sport or school event they were in. I’d fly four times a week just to make sure I could be there for them. You don’t want to miss opportunities like that!

Value the people you have on your team and let them know it — We have folks who have fallen on hard times, but they are important to me and this business. I’ve helped them buy cars, find places to live, whatever they need. If they have a good life, they will bring their best selves to work every day. We build up trust and create an environment where people want to stay and build their career.

Work hard play hard — old cliché I know, but when we get deep into our jobs/careers, we often make choices that benefit work, but not your own personal wellbeing. You need to have balance. For me, I know I will almost always outwork someone else, so I make sure to try to “out fun” them too. I may not get all the sleep I need, but I have a great time with my family and friends and that enjoyment makes the work more worthwhile.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

We don’t take any customers for granted and we work hard for each Protein2o purchase. We generate great leads with influencers — whether that be health, nutrition or fitness influencers. We spend a lot of resources generating those relationships, so when they feel good about it, they pass along the great messages of Protein2o to their followers. These folks have a lot of credibility and they are very important to our business.

We also pride ourselves on having the best customer service in the industry. I read every customer complaint and 90% of the time, we can turn a negative into a positive and even transform an unhappy consumer into an advocate — just by showing how much we care about their concerns.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We are focused on bring our plant-protein water to market in November. Plant protein is not just for vegans — Americans are developing a flexitarian mindset and we want to be able to deliver Protein2o to them in multiple forms. This way anyone who wants a great tasting, lower calorie high protein beverage can get it!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I have read a lot from Warren Buffet and listened to his podcasts. I actually changed my way of thinking about negativity. As much as I can, I don’t spend time with people who make me feel bad or create a negative influence on me. Life is too short and there are so many more positive forces in the world that can enrich life vs. drag it down.

The people who have come into this company, my son Rob and Joey Suhey, who have been with me since the beginning; Andy Horrow and Brian Douglas, on my executive team — they always have a positive outlook and it keeps us in sync even as we battle through some tough issues.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dad was always the most important title to me. When one of my sons was a senior in high school, he was homecoming king. He had to give a speech. And he talked about his parents. In that he said, my dad never missed anything. He was always there for me. You realize how important your job is as a dad. You’re a role model for them as a future parent. Trying to manage being a dad and an exec is not easy, but it’s something you can’t get wrong.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be to give back and foster volunteerism. We’re lucky to be American. It doesn’t seem that way all the time, but helping others succeed is a very American value. I have told my team if there is a cause they care about, we can get involved. They can take time to volunteer. When I’m done working in the way I am right now, I’ll be volunteering a lot more of my time to help others.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m really not out there in front of the media or social media too much. I’m a big fan of doing, not talking about it. It’s just the way I have always been. But you can check out Protein20 at https://drinkprotein2o.com/, follow us @protein2o on Instagram.

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