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Originally published Friday, April 9, 2010 at 12:25 PM

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New CEO at Jones Soda says he plans to grow business

If new CEO William Meissner has his way, Seattle premium beverage company Jones Soda will grow and "maintain a high level of independence."

Seattle Times business reporter

If new CEO William Meissner has his way, Jones Soda will grow and "maintain a high level of independence."

Those are big concepts for a company that has struggled mightily in recent years, beginning with the botched rollout of its canned-soda program in 2007 and more recently with an economy that has battered premium-soda sales in general.

The Seattle soda-pop marketer warns in securities filings there are doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern, although CFO Michael O'Brien said it has enough cash to operate for a year and that sales projections have not continued to be revised downward.

Jones has considered three buyout offers since December, when Big Red Holdings of Texas made a $7.9 million "indication of interest."

Last month, Jones entered a "letter of intent" from a Los Angeles soda company called Reed's to acquire Jones for about $10.1 million in stock and cash.

That deal was nixed weeks later, when Jones paid $75,000 to back out of the deal to consider another offer from an unnamed bidder.

In the meantime, CEO Joth Ricci stepped down.

Meissner, Jones' fourth CEO in three years, sounds a lot like former CEO Stephen Jones, a veteran of Coca-Cola who took over when Jones founder Peter van Stolk stepped down in late 2007.

Like Stephen Jones, Meissner talks about Jones' great brand and opportunities for growth. Stephen Jones hired dozens of people to help boost sales, but they eventually were laid off in the dismal economy.

Unlike Stephen Jones, Meissner, 43, has worked for years at small beverage companies.

He helped build SoBe Beverages and Fuze Beverage into brands acquired by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, respectively. Most recently, he was president for 18 months of TalkingRain Beverage, a privately held company in Preston, King County.

Meissner characterized last year — when Jones had to repeatedly revise sales projections downward — as "brutal" for the premium-beverage industry.

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"There was a major shift to cheaper beverages, and private label was the only thing that did extremely well," he said.

He wants to increase sales at outlets where Jones is already sold and offer more products through those stores.

"This is a brand that's been underperforming for a number of years relative to its opportunities," he said.

In a securities filing, Jones said Meissner will receive a salary of $250,000 a year, a $500-a-month car allowance and 100,000 in stock options that vest immediately. His maximum bonus is $125,000 a year.

Jones Soda stock gained 9 cents to close at 80 cents a share in Friday trading. Its stock has traded between $1.53 and 40 cents a share during the last year.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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