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Armstrong partners with Steamboat’s Honey Stinger

Seven-time Tour de France winner joins ownership team

Honey Stinger owners

— When Len Zanni teamed up with Lance Armstrong for the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race in 2008, he had no idea what the impact would be for his company.

Zanni is marketing director for Steamboat Springs-based Honey Stinger, a manufacturer of honey-based nutrition foods. Armstrong tried the company's products during the event, and he was impressed. The company announced Wednesday that the seven-time Tour de France winner has become part of the Honey Stinger partnership and a member of the ownership team.

Bill Gamber started Honey Stinger in 2002 with his father, William, a mainstay in the honey industry, as well as food product developer Bob Stahl and beekeeper John Miller. Gamber, Rich Hager and Zanni also run outdoor and clothing equipment companies BAP and Big Agnes.

This is the biggest news ever for Honey Stinger, Gamber said.

"As far as worldwide recognition for Honey Stinger specifically, it's unlike anything we've experienced," he said.

Zanni noted that Armstrong, a cancer survivor who combats the disease through his Lance Armstrong Foundation, recently made Forbes' list of most influential athletes. But his appeal is broader than that, the three Honey Stinger owners said.

"Lance is more of a household name than a famous athlete," Hager said.

Honey Stinger will have worldwide rights to Armstrong's name, brand and image.

Gamber predicted that Honey Stinger would be a different company in two years with the influence of Armstrong and his name. The athlete is expected to help with product development, and Honey Stinger plans to have products on hand at major events affiliated with Armstrong.

"I was impressed with the great taste and energy they provided," Armstrong said about Honey Stinger products in a news release. "Honey Stinger works for me in training and racing because you want to eat them and they work. I like the whole team — they understand what athletes need and they're great to work with. I'm excited to be part of the Stinger team and work with them on expanding the products and business."

The company owners hope Armstrong's influence will help them gain footing in the energy food market.

"We've always known we've had great products, and everybody who's tried them likes what we do," Gamber said, "but it's such a big market and such a competitive market that we've fought for every sale every step of the way."

The company is not disclosing the terms of the partnership. But the local Honey Stinger team said it goes beyond a product endorsement.

"I wouldn't just go buy a bike because somebody endorses it, but I see that Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France on a Trek, so I think, 'A Trek is a good bike,'" Gamber said. "He could have any energy chew he wants, and he chooses Honey Stinger."

Gamber, Hager and Zanni said they're excited about gaining international exposure to their products, though they plan to take it slow in terms of distribution. It's a challenge to export food, Gamber said. The company's biggest international distribution points are the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada, Hager said.

They also praised their team of employees, saying the group could handle whatever comes with the newfound exposure.

Zanni said Armstrong would be part of the website, social media campaigns and eventually packaging for Honey Stinger. He said the cyclist might be involved with "maybe a few signature events" but did not give specifics.

The local owners said they were excited to join with a guy who already had earned their support with his extraordinary cycling success. Armstrong has said he plans to race in the Tour de France again this year.

"Now we're cheering on our business partner," Gamber said.

— To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com