ASPEN - A bike ride nearly two years ago between a Roaring Fork Valley marketing executive and Lance Armstrong blossomed into business deal Tuesday.
Honey Stinger, a Steamboat Springs-based manufacturer of honey-based nutritional foods with ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, announced that Armstrong bought into the firm and will work on product development and endorsements.
"It will hopefully fuel some good growth," said Len Zanni, a Missouri Heights resident and Honey Stinger's marketing director. "Honey Stinger is still very much the small up and comer."
Zanni and Armstrong met in summer 2008 when they ended up on the same team in the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race. Zanni and teammate Max Taam had the third member of their team pull out a few days before the grueling race. Armstrong decided to participate and got hooked up Zanni and Taam, two top local racers.
Zanni provided his three-man team with a healthy supply of energy bars, gels and organic chews from Honey Stinger for the race.(Their team won.)
A friendship evolved after that encounter. Zanni said he occasionally got together with Armstrong, an Aspen homeowner and part-time resident, on bike rides and eventually introduced him to Honey Stinger owners and officials. Armstrong raised the idea of taking on a role with the company, so they started working on formalizing the partnership about six months ago.
"It started on a bike ride and evolved organically," Zanni said.
Armstrong said in a prepared statement that he wanted to join Honey Stinger because he believes in the company's products.
"I was impressed with the great taste and energy they provided," Armstrong said. "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," Armstrong's statement concluded.
Zanni said it's obviously "the biggest thing that's come down the pike" for the 8-year-old company to team with Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion. Armstrong made an awe-inspiring recovery from cancer to become a top athlete. He continues to inspire millions of people with his efforts to build awareness of cancer and raise funds for research. E-Poll Market Research found in a recent survey that Armstrong is the most influential athlete in the United States, according to a posting on espn.com.
Zanni declined to disclose Armstrong's ownership interest in Honey Stinger. The partnership includes using Armstrong's image in packaging and in marketing materials. The company's products are sold by specialty sporting goods retailers, including REI, and natural food grocers, including Whole Foods Market.