Out to launch?

The Prince Of Beverages
By Greg W. Prince

@@img1 One of the questions the Prince of Beverages receives most often (besides “you really threw out your soda cans?”) is usually some variation on “how do I get a new beverage started?”
The Prince couldn’t tell you, exactly. The Prince has never actually started a new beverage brand or company, but he has watched many come, most go, a smart and lucky few stay. Those who can’t do sometimes preach, so allow The Prince, who seems to be on a third-person jag tonight, to share a few thoughts on new beverages, based on a continual period of observation and kibitzing.
If I could preach anything, brothers and sisters, I would preach The Three P’s: purpose, patience and perspective.
Purpose: Have a reason for doing what you’re doing.
Patience: Give what you’re doing some time.
Perspective: Understand how what you’re doing is doing.
If you’re doing all that, a friend of mine likes to say, you’re doin’ good.
Now let’s get our P’s in a pod.

The Pretenders have a song called “Sense of Purpose,” which is ironic in that it’s the pretenders in the business who have no sense of purpose. I don’t get why you’d want to be the 43rd energy drink or 843rd bottled water on the market. You can make it cheaper? You have a shinier can? You know a guy with a van?
Good for you. But I don’t think you’re going very far.
New products are the lifeblood of the beverage business, but there are already enough SKUs to make a retailer’s head spin like a dreidel at Chanukah. Unless you’ve got a magic bullet in your holster, something that’s going to get the attention of the consumer, why should the store buyer give you a second look? Your can’s got to be more than shiny. It has to be different. Cheaper stuff? Does that mean you’re sacrificing quality for savings? And what kind of margin does that present? I don’t know about your friend with the van, but successful beverage distributors don’t like to haul dead weight.
To the me-toos and wanna-bes out there, consider this an intervention. Don’t even think about parking here unless you’ve got a real vehicle for beverage innovation, which is the ignition for driving profitable beverage sales.
And what would that be? Shoot, if I knew that, I’d be lining up contract packers right now. I said I’m preaching, not practicing.

All right, let’s just assume you’ve got a legitimately good idea. You’ve looked at the market. You’ve talked to some people. You’ve spotted a void. You’ve whomped up a batch of something. You’ve attracted some interest. Now what?
Why, put out a press release telling the world that you’re rolling out and that you’ll be going national in six months.
Only kidding. Don’t do that. Please don’t do that.
Listen to the SOS Band instead. Baby we can do it, take the time, do it right.
Granted, you gotta strike while the iron is hot and all that, so you don’t want to be the one who said, “I had that idea for the energy drink thing, but mine was a hippopotamus and it was more mauve than red.” So get it going, but don’t expect the drink aisles to part right away.
You’re not going to be everywhere tomorrow. Or next week. Pick your spots. Target the town and the accounts where you think you have a chance to break through. Stir up a little success and take it from there to a few more places. They call it a soft launch.
Publicity is wonderful in proportion to what there is to publicize, but don’t trumpet what ya don’t got. One of my pet peeves when I would examine press releases from beverage hopefuls was seeing a boast about plans to “go national” by the end of the year. It was a silly conceit. Unless your last name is -Busch or -Cola, you’re not going anywhere that fast.
There’s no shame in that. Stand back and pan the beverage scape. Look at some of the success stories that have emerged in the past five to ten years: Honest Tea, Glaceau, Red Bull, Jones Soda. Now think about them. Did they burst onto shelves and into coolers all at once? Or did they just seem to show up one day when you weren’t otherwise paying attention? In each case, the tenders of those brands had original ideas, took incremental steps and exercised commendable patience. Generally speaking, they beat the crowd to their category and waited out the copycats. In some cases, where the Big Guns came blazing into their niches, the patient innovators had gathered enough equity to withstand what must have looked like impossible competition. For them, the talk that it’s good to have a Coke or Pepsi jump in because they expand interest in the category was true.

You know you’ve got it made when they’re putting the For Sale signs up in Atlanta and Purchase and other beverage capitals. You have conquered the Goliaths. You are the undisputed king of beverage. Your straw, Sire.
Wake up. That’s not gonna happen. I don’t have a set of lyrics for this one, but take my word for it. You’re not taking over the world.
Once more, that’s not a cause for banging or hanging your head. Perspective is about defining your terms of success. Interested in creating an organic orange soy latte fizz for natural food stores in the greater south Des Moines area? That’s something right there. Maybe you branch out and carry the rest of Iowa. Maybe you expand your line. Maybe Wal-Mart takes an interest. Maybe you’ve really got something there.
Or maybe you’ve just got that particular product in that particular channel in that particular market. If you’re making money at it and giving folks a beverage they didn’t have before and creating something that makes your accounts happy, you’re successful. You don’t have to feel limited by that, and the sky may await you. But if not, you’ve got something there anyway.
This is a little bit about another pet peeve of mine, the mindless reporting of beverages wherein somebody’s got a great new product that’s making strides but then it’s put in its place by noting “it only sells an nth of what the leading beverage manufacturer in the world sells.” That’s not a reasonable measuring stick for them or you. Don’t be discouraged because you’re not the sultan of swig all in one day.
In some instances, it’s been known to take an entire month.
Do your thing. Slake a thirst. Do it well. Make a buck. Do it again. Have fun.
Sermon’s over. Go in peace.

Greg W. Prince (prince@bevnet.com) has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.