Whereas added functionality — often in the form of energy or health and wellness benefits — has been a key driver of innovation over the past decade, 2013 represented a turning point for the beverage industry in which the most dynamic new brands highlighted natural functionality and flavors. And for the 16 winners of BevNET’s Best of 2013 awards, it wasn’t so much about what was added, it was about presenting beverages in their most natural form, particularly as consumers pay greater attention to total calories, and grow more wary of artificial ingredients, sweeteners.
From BevNET’s perspective, the majority of significant and disruptive innovation came from natural beverage categories, with cold-pressed juices, coconut water and kombucha drinks representing many of the most visible new product introductions that we saw in 2013. And while the beverage industry saw a boom in the number of Sparkling ICE-style product launches, there was little true or sustainable innovation in the market for zero-calorie, artificially sweetened, carbonated waters.
With a spate of innovative, polished and well-executed products launching in 2013, judging this year’s BevNET’s Best of was perhaps the toughest task we’ve had in the 11 years of awards. Nevertheless, we are pleased to present what we believe are the top new brands in the beverage industry, and on a path to lead their respective categories for years to come.
Person of the Year
Kevin Klock, CEO, Talking Rain
There’s a time to innovate and a time to execute, and there’s also a time when you can combine the two. In the midst of Sparkling ICE’s third year of enormous year-over-year growth, Talking Rain CEO Kevin Klock, BevNET’s Person of the Year for 2013, has managed to do both. On the execution side, his sales team pushed the brand to realize its full potential in the supermarket channel, creating a set of focused goals that allowed the company to grow without creating extra distraction. In the meantime, the focused sales effort at the front allowed the brand to strategize on the back end, not just shipping product to its energized distributors, but bringing those into the discussion of how Sparkling ICE can be positioned to maintain its growth in new channels. The temptation with a fast-growing brand can be to get cocky, but Klock has been humble about the company’s past mistakes and has let the brand realize its potential without overthrowing its coverage. Rather than focus on the philosophical and psychographic reasons consumers want the brand, he’s been working hard at making sure it’s easily within reach, with a new set of flavors to try when they grab for it.
Product of the Year
2013 was a big year for Suja. Establishing itself as the independent “flavor” of the HPP juice set, Suja forged a middle path between the cleanse focus of some brands and the more traditional juice orientation of others. More than any other product, Suja has redefined the RTD juice concept as beyond fruit or vegetable agnosticism, creating a next generation mix that incorporates on trend spices and extracts. With flavors that pop rather than meld, Suja has paved the runway to bring consumers into the next generation of natural functionality. As a company, Suja has run like crazy to support the brand in its core channel while building the sales, marketing and production infrastructure that can allow it to follow through. Congratulations to Suja, BevNET’s Product of the Year
Best Functional Beverage
Health-Ade is the winner of BevNET’s award for the Best Functional Beverage of 2013. Launched in 2012, the small-batch kombucha drinks, which are marketed as “bubbly probiotic teas,” are, in our opinion, some of the best-executed kombucha products on the market. Packaged in amber-colored, apothecary-style bottles, the beverages are made from green and black tea, cold-pressed, naturally fermented fruit, and organic cane sugar. With game-changing potential in flavor and packaging, Health-Ade could open the door for a seismic shift in what consumers expect from the kombucha category.
Best Enhanced Water
In the ever-evolving and often muddled category of enhanced waters, Balance Water has emerged as a brand that offers clarity, focus and easily understood functional benefits. As BevNET’s winner of the Best Enhanced Water of 2013, Balance, a line of water products infused with tasteless Australian flower essences, seamlessly melds refreshment, purity and functionality. Packaged in cleanly designed PET bottles, the brand has positioned itself for wide consumer appeal and one that could easily fit into a range of retail channels.
Best Energy Drink of Shot
Monster Zero Ultra
In a year that saw a dramatic increase in demand for zero-calorie energy drinks, Monster Zero Ultra leaned on a well-conceived formulation and striking branding to distinguish itself from a range of competing products, catapulting it to the award of BevNET’s Best Energy Drink or Shot of 2013. Formulated with Monster’s bevy of energy ingredients and sweetened with erythritol and sucralose, the product is packaged in a sleek-looking white can with textured graphics, each of which helped Zero Ultra stand out on store shelves, and, ultimately, launch a new line of standout beverages for the company.
Best Tea or Tea Based
Harmless Harvest 100% Raw Tea
There were a number of impressive entries in the ready-to-drink tea category this year; however, nothing shined quite as bright as Harmless Harvest’s 100% Raw Tea, the winner of BevNET’s Best of 2013 award for Best Tea or Tea-Based beverage. First put on display at the Natural Products Expo West show in March, the three-SKU line of drinks defines true innovation: organic tea leaves from Japan are flash-frozen upon harvest and then pulverized and cold-brewed. The beverage is filled into 10 oz. plastic bottle and, like Harmless Harvest’s coconut water products, high pressure processed in order to keep the liquid in a “raw” state without the use of added heat. The result is a product that is bold, dynamic and exceptional, a description just as apt for the company itself.
Best Non-Carbonated Beverage
Califia Farms Almond Milk
In a year in which almond milk has enjoyed dynamic and sustained growth among competing dairy-alternative beverages, Califia Farms Almond Milk is the stand-out brand within the emerging category, and the winner of BevNET’s Best Non-Carbonated Beverage of 2013. Formulated with non-GMO ingredients, the dairy- and soy-free line of almond drinks comes with branding that feels fresh and unique. Packaged in a proprietary and beautifully-designed 48 oz. carafe-style bottle that is both extremely polished and appealing, Califia’s well-executed approach brought new — and much needed — life into both the dairy and dairy alternative categories.
Best Smoothie or Meal Replacement
Suja Elements is the winner of BevNET’s award for the Best Smoothie or Meal Replacement beverage of 2013. Suja’s secondary line of cold-pressed juices provided a look at what retailers and suppliers can do when they focus on what an innovation is and where they want to build a market behind it. With national distribution coming quickly in Whole Foods, there was a limited amount of time for the brand to extend its platform to incorporate a lower-priced product line into its DNA. With Elements, Suja has declared that the momentum and consumer interest in its most expensive product lines will be enough to energize two groups of consumers: those standing at the threshold of its high-end line, looking for an introduction in a simpler format, and those who are looking to step up from the older, more established brands that once defined the high end of the juice category. By inserting another point of separation that pushes its original product line two tiers above that old high end, Suja has extended both its reach and its ability to get consumer feedback from an extra product line – at a time when other juice companies are still trying to get to the starting blocks.
Best Coffee or Coffee-Based
For the second year in a row, Coco Cafe is the winner of BevNET’s award for the Best Coffee or Coffee-based beverage. Already revered for its exceptional blend of coconut water, espresso and milk, the Vita Coco-owned brand added Vanilla and Mocha varieties earlier this year. The new flavors are even tastier than the original product, with formulations that stand out as memorable and unique against any competing coffee drinks. And with Coco Cafe’s 11.1 oz. Tetra Pak getting a Dreamcap top (and some spiffy new graphics), you’ve got some of the best RTD coffee beverages that we’ve ever come across.
Best Packaging Design
The Australian brand of juices and sparkling waters made its U.S. debut this year and gained immediate attention for its sleek, proprietary glass bottle. Attractive and chic, the 11.2 oz. package is polished to the point where it’s the most compelling part of the product — and one that easily stands out on a shelf set. Additionally, the “FOUND” brand feels modern and hip, a critical point of differentiation within a cluttered market for juice and water.
Best Carbonated Beverage
BevNET’s Best of 2013 award for the best carbonated beverage goes to Motto. A first-of-its-kind sparkling matcha drink, Motto earned considerable praise and recognition this year as the winner of BevNET’s New Beverage Showdown 5. Formulated with matcha (powdered green tea), agave, honey, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, the company’s approach to a green tea beverage is both innovative and refreshing. Packaged in a 12 oz. green glass bottle with sleek, striking branding, Motto’s first year has already established a long runway for growth.
Best Mix, Concentrate or Powder
Chameleon Cold Brew
In a Best of category with a wide range of potential winners, Chameleon Cold Brew’s line of cold-brewed coffee concentrates emerged as the top brand, buoyed by an extremely high level of quality and brand execution among competing mix-to drink products. This year, the company launched two new flavors that, like its flagship product, use organic and Fair Trade certified beans. Along with the primary product, the new varieties, each made with Indonesian-sourced coffee beans, have developed a following — particularly among coffee aficionados — like few bottled coffee products we have seen. Moreover, Chameleon introduced a level of quality and flavor previously unseen by past and current generations of coffee consumers.
Best Product Revamp
Live Kombucha Soda
Formerly known as Live Soda, the line of fizzy kombucha drinks underwent a significant rebranding this year. The new look, which includes a updated logo, label and crown, gives the line a brighter and more polished look than the previous iteration, resulting in a overall design with much broader appeal. Moreover, adding the word “kombucha” to the brand name gives it greater visibility and awareness among natural consumers, and will undoubtedly benefit growth of the products within health and wellness retailers.
Best Packaging Innovation
Vita Coco Kids
The first product in North America to use Tetra Pak’s Tetra Wedge Aseptic carton, Vita Coco Kids is the winner of BevNET’s award for the Best Packaging Innovation of 2013. The 6 oz. wedge-shaped package is attractive, functional and, in our opinion, represents a significant upgrade over juice boxes and pouches. And with more room for visual design than a traditional drink box, Vita Coco has been able to create a package that is clean, uncluttered and appealing to both children and parents.
Best Juice or Juice-Based
In a breakout year for cold-pressed (and, more recently, high pressure processed) RTD juices, Project Fresh stood out among dozens of new entrants into the emerging segment. The New Haven, Conn.-based brand “micro-mills” and cold-presses whole, raw, organic fruits and vegetables into a well-executed blend of juice and pulp that offers significant and welcome differentiation from competing brands. Moreover, the 15.2 oz. proprietary bottle is unique-looking and is certainly a new and refreshing look from the often-used standard and stock PET containers. And despite being marketed as “craft cleanses,” for us, Project Fresh has miles of runway as a juice brand with anytime, nutritious and thirst-quenching appeal.
Best Marketing Campaign
It’s always exciting when government and industry are able to pull together for a good cause and this one is hard to argue with: a charismatic First Lady, a product category that continues to grow, and a simple, non-critical message made for an exceptionally crisp campaign. While it’s not going to win much favor from some corners of the industry, the fact that there’s a message geared toward consumption rather than reduction, and one that elevated the profile of so many entrepreneurial companies, should be considered a big win all the way around.
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