Ten Years After

In just ten years, BevNET has grown from a small hobbyist web site – one that helped me get a lot of free drinks – into a company that is a nationally-recognized source for published beverage reviews, news features, and a print magazine – the very one that you’re reading right now. It has been quite an evolution – and we’re not done yet. In just a few months, we’re launching BevNET IBQ, a new magazine that covers strategies for developing innovative beverage products.

In many ways, our decade-long evolution as a publishing company has paralleled a major change in the beverage industry. What started as a web site focused on drinkability has turned into a company that examines the entire industry. Similarly, what started as a class of consumer products focused primarily on taste and refreshment has morphed into one that is increasingly driven by the satisfaction of any number of need states.

When I first started BevNET, we were reviewing root beers, coffee cola, high-calorie ready-todrink iced teas, and a plethora of South American fruit-flavored soft drinks. Everything was about taste, and the primary “function” was the ability to quench thirst and please the senses. Functionality and energy were largely left to sports drinks and coffee. A notable exception was found in Jolt Cola, which was, for the most part, considered a novelty product.

Obviously, that has changed to a large extent – and today’s market is dramatically different. Now, people want more from their beverages than ever. They are demanding functionality, beautiful design, great taste, and fewer calories.

The future of this industry is exciting, but uncertain. There are many new areas for growth, including the mainstreaming of functions other than energy. But there is also cause for concern. Manufacturers for too long varied size rather than function when determining their new offerings, and at times, when they have introduced functional beverages, they have been so behind in catching the drift of consumer desire that they have made ham-handed claims in place of quality, innovative products. That might change very soon, as the Food and Drug Administration is showing signs that it will evaluate functional food and beverage products. How far they will go towards regulation, we don’t know, but we’ll be watching.

One thing that we do know for certain is that consumers will continue to demand innovation. And that’s the main reason that we are launching BevNET IBQ. We plan to take BevNET’s awareness of the marketplace and combine it with Beverage Spectrum’s ability to determine what consumers want, funneling that insight into the essential industry guide for the Beverage Marketer.

How will that help you sell more products? We aim to make sure that those who want to create new beverages are doing it in a way that lines up with what consumers are going to want. We will help Beverage Marketers understand important drinking and design trends, demand for certain functions and flavors, and bring them insight into changes in brand development and marketing across all manner of packaged goods. We plan to make sure that we all have a profitable, healthy future, from the ingredient makers and flavor houses to the marketers, distributors and consumers.

The beverage industry is an enjoyable one to cover. Every year brings a fresh litter of 300- plus products, many of which bring something unique to the industry, and speak reams about consumer desires and marketing dreams. Soon, we will put up the Best of BevNET 2006 – check out the web site for details – but know that, regardless of who gets chosen, things are getting better every year.

John Craven is the founder of beverage-industry watchdog The BevNET.com, based in Cambridge, Mass. The BevNET.com’s goal is to test nonalcoholic beverages — primarily soft drinks — and to provide a written critique of each one on its Web site. With more than 1,100 reviews posted since 1996, The BevNET.com has become an internationally recognized resource for beverage industry professionals.