The Road Back

YOU KNOW THOSE FABULOUS commercials, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?” I love that stuff. But in at least one instance, I don’t want it to be the case.

See, I just returned from three exhilarating days in Vegas attending the NACS show. We don’t have to rehash, in detail, what has transpired to our country and industry over the last year and a half, but we’ve all taken a hit as the economy and our financial institutions went into free fall. Investment came to a halt, dollars were tight, growth non-existent, and new initiatives were put on a back burner.

So I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Sin City. We’ve seen signs that our problems were easing up, but I remained skeptical. NACS would be a good litmus test to our recovery.

And having seen the show, I think the road back is running through convenience stores. At NACS, the excitement, energy and innovation blew me away. The halls were packed with retailers and distributors alike, all trying to grasp the sheer volume of new brands to assess. NACS has always been associated with new product introductions. The time of the year dictates that. But the amount of new launches, re-launches, line extensions and redesigned packaging were the most I’ve seen in many years.

Functional beverages took the lead in this plethora of brands introduced. There are exciting new categories to explore. Just as the launches of the 90’s lead the industry into a golden age, there’s a new generation of concepts that are generating excitement. While these new brands may never achieve the scale of the extraordinary successes we witnessed before, they will certainly become a force.

The energy shot success story continues, and they’ve added an interesting new corollary tale, relaxation drinks. Those of you who know me understand that I’m pretty high energy, but these suckers really worked. I’m surprised I got back to the show floor. We now have hangover drinks, as well, which to my eyes have the potential to change society in a way similar to penicillin! Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself, but think of the benefits. I’m pulling for them. There are also new sex enhancement drinks and shots. Imagine the possibilities! Just don’t forget the penicillin.

The tea category took the center stage when it came to mainstream drinks. I’ve chronicled the rollercoaster ride of teas, and I’m glad that they are on the upswing, speeding into convenience through canned premium brands. They have always been a bellwether for measuring the industry, and I’m feeling a strong pulse there.

Water and all its variations were well represented, as well, with açai and other exotics serving as key additives in the latest good-for-you drinks. Some açcai growers are certainly benefiting from the prevalence of their product. Kid’s beverages were also out in force, turning into a segment that is increasingly well-served by healthful, nutritious offerings. They seem to have gotten it right.

I could go on and on about the success of NACS, and the comeback it signals for the industry. But I won’t. The work we’ve still all got to do won’t stay in Vegas, that’s for sure.

Barry is spreading the word about what happened in Vegas.