Tales From The Friend Front

By Jeffrey Klineman

Between the kids, the apparent dearth of babysitters in the Northeast, and the overwhelming cattle drive that is the BevNET empire, it’s rare that I have anything resembling a social life. Nevertheless, I’ve recently had a few social encounters with people known as “friends and family” and they have been informative. First, I’ve come to realize that, yes, I am as interpersonally awkward as I think I am. Second, speaking with them about drinks has led me to once again understand that I spend a lot of time with my head exploring the edge of an industry that can take a lot of time to spread into the mainstream.

Taken alone, these visits are basically anecdotes (well, they are more than that as they are encounters with other human beings that occur somewhere that is not a trade show floor). But looked at together as a series of events over a roughly month-long period, they appear to offer clues to where things may be going with regard to, yes, the entrepreneurial beverage business.

Example one: a dude from San Francisco arrives with wife and child in tow for a barbecue. When he asks me what the hottest drink is on the market right now (I get this question a lot), I give my standard response: cheap vodka.

When pressed, I say that coconut water is growing quickly as a category.

“You’re the third person who has mentioned coconut water to me since I got to the East Coast,” he says.

Example two: for another barbecue, a friend arrives with two 4-packs of Izze. It’s new to her, and she loves it. We have nine other sparkling juices in the downstairs fridge, but the Izze does seem to hold its ground.

Example three: at a California wedding studded with Hollywood folks (I would name-drop, but your lack of jealousy would be disheartening) there’s a toast in which a bridesmaid to the super-macrobiotic bride talks about her friends heading out for “cold frosty beverages.” By that, they mean ‘Kombucha.’ Most of the groom’s family, which is from Chicago, believes that Kombucha is a fashionable Los Angeles bar.  Still, they are enjoying the Fat Tires a great deal.

Example four: out for pizza with a friend, we both wait for a fresh keg of microbrew to go on tap before we order another round. I’d blame him for the beer snobbery, but I was the one who suggested we wait.

Example five: over brunch, I search the house – in vain – for orange juice, only to come across a daily nutritional shot made with mango and caja fruit. It goes great with champagne, creating the world’s most antioxidant-rich mimosa.

Example six: my sister still pronounces it with the hard “c” – “akai.”

Example seven: traipsing around Disneyland, I am thrilled to discover that I could buy a Monster energy drink in the Magic Kingdom. I would do so, except I’m already holding three 5-Hour Energy bottles that I got – for free – on the flight over. Also, I notice that entire families are wearing Monster-themed outfits.

What all of these little anecdotes mean, I think, is that there are plenty of niches being dug across the country for evolving categories, but they are still shallow, they aren’t trenches. There’s plenty of room to make your mark, and there is an audience waiting for your drink, even if they can’t pronounce it. Also, most of my encounters with other people seem to center around the home, and eating. To which I add, stop over anytime. Like I said, not much of a social life.