Say What?

BY JEFFREY KLINEMAN

IT’S INTERESTING HOW EASILY we can slip from common-sense com-munication into the lingo of the beverage industry.

I was reminded of this recently when speaking with the CEO of one of the new breed of “beverage incubators” – you know, the ones that seem to be cropping up pretty regularly with one or two small brands under their wings.

While we were talking about how they “incubate” a brand, the CEO himself raised the question: what the heck does it mean to be a beverage “incubator”? And, especially when so many beverages are best served cold, why would a retailer add a line fresh from the incubation process?

I kid, but just a little bit.

The point is that we tend to throw terms like that around without much thought about what they really indicate. In reality, incubators try to straddle the roles of consultant, investor and broker while connecting brands with creative help and distribution advice. But there’s plenty of terminology out there that we tend to use in an undefined way.

One that came up recently was “barrels.” As in, a certain brewery sold 6,000 barrels of beer last year. Now, this is a term of comparison – Boston Beer, for example, sold 2.3 million barrels in 2010. That’s a lot, certainly, especially compared to 6,000, but as we were discussing in the office, knowing how many barrels someone sold is a long way from knowing how many overall beers they sold – because very few folks typically know, off-hand, how many beers are actually in a barrel (email me if you do).

We also hear a lot about “Turnkey Solutions” – read by some as the notion that throwing money at your supply chain is an excuse for getting rid of common sense about marketing or merchandising, read by others as a very handy way to take a product idea and outsource the production. Other terms used to introduce products within the trade include “flavor profiles” – frequently something that involves a too-sweet raspberry/lime mixture; “price point” – instead of, well, “price”; and “form factor” – as if “package”
is too complicated.

And that’s where another major term, “brand building”, comes into play. Not because it’s confusing, but because a lack of basic communication can kill a brand before it has a chance to get built.

Like legal-ese, computer-ese, or coachspeak, beverage industry-speak didn’t come from nowhere. It grew out of a need for language that dealt specifically with the groups involved in that industry – flavor houses, distributors, retailers, marketers. The problem is that it can be frustrating and confusing when the retailer or distributor has expectations that a less refined supplier does not understand – particularly if they’re overly eager to please.

Last year, one distributor, Nat Noone, attempted to help potential clients by providing a handy list of acronyms (Noone wrote that “Over the years I have come to accept that it is the industry standard to use such terms but still feel like a bit of a jackass every time I utter one.”) While I’d suggest that newbies should find and print Nat’s list, they’ll also quickly find that it is by no means comprehensive. The lingo evolves every day, and in order to keep things flowing freely, we need to be able to incubate communicators. Maybe over a few barrels of beer.

Speaking of evolution, we’ve hit a time in the industry where its evolution is going to be on full display. It’s the fall show season, with NACS, PackExpo, and Expo East all on the calendar – and all previewed in this issue. Along with our handy prep guides, we’ve got stories on some of the fastest moving beverage categories at those shows, including the ever-growing energy shot business, as well as lemonades and juices. Gerry Khermouch finishes his two-part series on the evolution of the DSD system. And our contingent of experts weighs in on the importance of scientific standards for beverage companies, and financial standards, as well. So there’s plenty to keep up with. Consider us a knowledge…incubator.