BevNET's Best of 2009 Award Winners

ONE AWARD WINNER has leveraged innovation to solidify a company’s place in the bedrock of the beverage business. Another award winner actually comprises three companies that are the vanguard of an emerging category, one on the verge of becoming a massive phenomenon.

Together, Monster Energy’s Mark Hall and the Coconut Water brands O.N.E., ZICO and Vita Coco took the top spots in BevNET’s Best of 2009 awards. In any given year, in deciding on Product of the Year, BevNET compares the merits of a major energy drink or tea introduction by a large company with an intriguing suite of functional products by a newer company with great potential. Judges often debate the weight of factors like a single drink’s innovative qualities or a new product line’s sales growth.

This year, the choice for BevNET’s Best Product of 2009 was an easy one, but it was complicated by the fact that this product’s functional benefits, innovative and environmentally beneficial packaging, execution, growth, and even attractiveness to investors have been simultaneously advanced by three fast-emerging Coconut Water brands: O.N.E., ZICO, and Vita Coco.

“While the realities of competition will eventually create separation between these companies, together, they have laid the foundation for this product to become a major category in the U.S.,” said BevNET founder John Craven. “We are excited that they will share the award this year.”

Competitiveness is also one of the major factors in the choice of Monster Energy’s Mark Hall as BevNET’s Best Innovator of 2009. This year, putting the pedal to the metal on innovation, Monster released a suite of three new products that tinker with the packaging, texture, carbonation and flavor of the energy drink category. By incorporating Nitrous Oxide, a long-lasting re-sealable can design and coffeehouse foam into three very exciting new products, Hall has proven that he and Monster aren’t just going to be satisfied with gains in distribution and sell-through, but that they will keep advancing products forms and raising the bar for their competitors to try to match

Product of the Year Innovator of the Year
Best Energy Drink
Best Packaging Innovation

What do you do when many people in the business believe that the energy drink category has passed its peak in the US? If you’re Hansen Natural’s Monster Beverage Company, you look abroad, which is exactly what they did with their Monster Import product. Used in Europe since 2008, Monster Import employs can from Ball Packaging Europe that features the “Ball Resealable End.” As a result, Monster Import’s slim 18.6 ounce package is not only attractive looking, but extremely practical, as the can is capable of holding carbonation for days. What’s inside the can is quite enjoyable as well, with a tweaked formulation that’s one of Monster’s best tasting in a while.

Best Functional Beverage
Best Product Re-Launch

Code Blue, which is billed as a “recovery drink,” has a formulation whose benefits and functions are noticeable, despite not being loaded with caffeine. What you get from a can of Code Blue are both hydration and energy, thanks to a formula that’s loaded with electrolytes, amino acids, antioxidants (including Sustamine), and D-Ribose. It fits nicely in between energy and sports drinks, which are two categories that are ever converging – and we think that Code Blue has what it takes to potentially lead that merger.

Best New Organic Beverage
Best New Carbonated Beverage

Thanks to the dollars and lobbying power of some larger organizations, Steaz found a huge opening in the CSD market and launched this brand, the first USDA Organic-certified zero-calorie carbonated soft drink. With a stevia-erythritol sweetener and four strong flavors, the company has also simplified its offerings while making a stronger play for the healthy soda market. With a great looking new label and a unified brand, Steaz once again appears poised to create a sustainable organic alternative to a mainstream product line.

Best New Non-Carbonated Beverage

Adina’s Holistics line is poised to do what many brands have for the past decade struggled to do: fill the giant shoes left by the likes of SoBe. Sure, they needed a heavy dose of John Bello, SoBe’s founder and now Adina’s CEO, to do it, but it works. The brand that Bello, along with Adina founder Greg Steltenpohl, have created blends just the right ingredients, including high quality flavor, great packaging, and an irreverent monkey character into something that’s fun and on point with what the mainstream but “trying to be healthy” consumer is looking for.

Best New Enhanced Water

Cap dispensing technologies have been around for a while now, but there are very few companies who have figured out how to utilize them in a way that adds value rather than gimmickry to their brands.

Enter Activate, whose enhanced water products come in a variety of different function and flavor combinations. Their approach is to keep the nutrients in the cap until the time of consumption, reducing the chance that they will deteriorate while the product is sitting on the store shelves. This, in our opinion, hints at a strong sense of responsibility for the bioavailability of the functional ingredients. Additionally, Activate’s package design is appealing and clean, with an easy-to-understand set of visual instructions contained on the back panel.

Best New Tea
Best Packaging Design

Guayaki’s Lemon Elation was not only the company’s first product to be packaged in aluminum, but it was also the first ready-to-drink yerba mate to go into this format. And it’s a knockout hit.

While moving to a can isn’t by itself reason for an award, it’s a heck of a can. The design is complex, but not visually overwhelming and far from cluttered.

Inside the package, Guayaki’s Lemon Elation is truly a special product. From a taste point of view, it’s extremely enjoyable and hits the low calorie (54 calories per serving) but great taste edge mainstream potential. Plus, there’s some potential for crossover into the energy category, thanks to the formulation’s 150 mg of natural caffeine per can.

In both cases, Guayaki’s Lemon Elation sets the bar extremely high, with visuals and flavor – as well as functionality – creating something that we can see helping yerba mate enter the mainstream in a big way.

Best Marketing Campaign

No corny jingles. No clips of people sipping the product and being happy. No A-list celebrity endorsements. And hardly any words. With that, Red Bull’s campaign has done it in a big way, showing the brand’s muscle using eye catching, culturally relevant, and awe-inspiring clips of the rule-defying lifestyle that seeks to emblemize.

Best New Energy Shot

As the energy shot category unfolded over the past couple of years, Red Bull stayed on the sidelines. Many wondered if the company had missed its shot to crack the shot category. It turns out that Red Bull was actually using the time to its advantage, allowing the category to find its way a bit – and for manufacturing to evolve to the point where Red Bull would be able to create a product that meets the company’s own rigorous internal standards.

The result hasn’t been an overnight success, but it has quickly established the company as a player in the energy shot category, one that should have plenty of staying power. While the striking proprietary package and mellow noncarbonated formula are the clear descendants of their carbonated parent, the end product is something that will help reach new energy shot consumers and, in the end, expand the size of the market for everyone. It’s a decidedly mainstream product, which, like the core Red Bull brand, doesn’t make countless functional claims or offer some infinite number of hours of energy. Sometimes, less is more, and Red Bull is letting their brand, along with great flavor and packaging, speak for itself.

Best Kids’ Drink

With Purple Carrot, First Juice adds a potent new flavor to a brand that tries to be on the “right side” of so many parental concerns. By infusing vegetables into a less-sweet, lower-calorie, lower-sugar, high-vitamin organic fruit juice/water mixture, and then putting it into a reusable (who doesn’t like that word better than recyclable) sippy cup, First Juice has raised the stakes on sustainability and nutrition for the rest of the category.

Best New Powder/Tablet

Celsius has already done a great job of spreading its calorie-burning ready-to-drink products to a wider audience, but here is a bit of functionality on the go that we think could really have legs. Taking the caffeine/EGCG mixture that powers its calorie-burning formula into a powder “stick pack” means that consumers can derive extra benefit beyond just flavor or vitamin C, two of the standard offerings for this format. As awareness of the Celsius name grows, the formula will likely be as important as the beverage – and this is a great way to take that formula with you, no matter where you are. •