Innovation

With the resignation of Mary Minnick from the Coca-Cola Co., the question of innovation, or the lack of same, in the beverage industry has been on my mind. I started to think of the innovation that happened at Coke under Minnick’s watch and the watch of all of those who preceded her. I started to realize that her short reign isn’t very different from the ones that others have had. It’s symptomatic of the malaise Coke is suffering from. And it’s not just Coke.

Why is it that the big guys don’t seem to have a clue about creating exciting new products? Too often, their own offerings have no real positioning, but when they acquire smaller boutique brands, they don’t understand their uniqueness and the consumer suffers by their neglect and demise. This has to change at the retail level.

I have been privileged to see, over the years, launches from some of the most creative organizations and brands that grace our industry.

Whenever I see the folks from Arizona, Glaceau, Hansens, Fuze, Honest Tea, Jones, Fiji and other dynamic companies, I always come away with the same reaction: They get the consumer proposition. They understand that the consumer is changing, and they have rolled with the changes.

What do they have in common? First and foremost, they have a willingness to take risks. Second, they can take an idea from concept to the shelf faster than you can say “Mukhtar Kent.” They forgo the researchers, analysts and consultants and go by their gut. They usually partner with a supplier that has a stake, an emotional tie-in or at least a strong understanding of their creation. They see a market segment that isn’t served and try to fill it. The real innovators don’t believe in “me too” brands. As outsiders, for the most part, in the major distribution systems, they must expend inordinate amounts of time and energy to create a hybrid route to market. So give them an extra look. Innovation should be rewarded by the industry. To my retailer, distributor and wholesaler readers, learn from these companies. Embrace their efforts. Stock their SKU’s. You and your customers will be better-served for it.