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Bodyarmor taking shots at Gatorade

We often get notes and pictures from readers who see something of note and tell us about it. What arrived into our inbox on Tuesday really caught our eye.

It's a billboard taking a shot at Gatorade a couple of blocks from where Gatorade executives work at the PepsiCo headquarters in Chicago.

Take a look:

The sign says "Ditch Artificial Sports Drinks/Switch To The #1 Natural Sports Drink."

The bottle on the left is clearly meant to be Gatorade, while the brand on the right is Bodyarmor.

It's not located in the most prominent location, as you can see, so it seemed to be a sign meant to get into the heads of Gatorade execs. But how much more was there to this?

Our next call was to Mike Repole, founder and largest shareholder of Bodyarmor, a five-year-old sports drink brand that has managed to be the first brand not named Gatorade and Powerade to make a serious move into the sports drink space.

Repole, who co-founded Vitaminwater, first confirmed that it was indeed part of a campaign to go national with digital, print and in-store marketing to come.

"Gatorade is distributed by Pepsi, and Powerade is distributed by Coke, it's obvious why they've dominated this space through distribution and marketing power," Repole said. "We were a million-to-one to get here."

While Gatorade annual sales are north of $5 billion and Repole said his brand will do about $125 million at retail, he said now was the time to make a more serious move and take a shot at the competition.

"Over the last 30 years, there has been evolution in every single category, except the sports drink business," Repole said. "Gatorade is the same stuff it has been since 1965, and we feel like we have a better-for-you proposition that has what people need in a sports drink, but with natural sweetener, natural flavors and no artificial colors."

Bodyarmor differentiates itself by having coconut water in its drink. It does have a similar amount of sugar to its competitors (32 grams per 16 oz bottle), but Repole notes that it's natural cane sugar.

"Sugar has to have a purpose," Repole said. "It can't just be for taste. In our case, it's a sports drink, and it's giving you what you need."

Bodyarmor has long gone with "Upgrade Your Sports Drink," but the latest effort is more in your face.

Repole isn't shy to bash the big boys, saying recent innovations from Gatorade like smart bottles are just "smoke screens."

"The bottom line is that nothing is going to change with them," Repole said. "They'll still have Red 40 and Yellow 5."

When reached, and showed the billboard, Gatorade officials would not comment on Bodyarmor's new campaign.

"Recent innovations that Gatorade has announced are just a smokescreen for what they really are," Repole said. "They might have been the Yankees, but there's a rivalry now. We're the Red Sox."

Bodyarmor costs about 100 percent more than Gatorade does, but it has distribution power with Dr. Pepper Snapple group, which owns nearly 16 percent of the brand.

"It has taken this long for someone to come along that had the beverage experience, the distribution muscle and the money to take them on," Repole said. "We're ready. The sports drink market will be about a $10 billion business and we want to own $1 billion of it."