Shifting Priorities for the Beverage Industry at the NASFT 2009 Summer Fancy Food Show

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This year’s beverage presence at the NASFT Summer Fancy Foods Show was a good indicator of how things are changing in the industry.   There were noticeably fewer beverage exhibitors, with approximately sixty companies taking out booth space.  And many of those that did have booths went smaller and sent regional staff rather than executives from HQ.  

Sign of bad economic times and an industry that’s struggling?  Not exactly.  Signs of a shift in priorities for the industry? Definitely.

Specifically, there’s a reduced priority of aligning with the specialty food biz, whose retailers are generally more focused on cheese, meats, chocolates, and olive oil.  While the end of the beverage business that deals with convenience stores still has a strong home with the NACS show, the “specialty” end of the business is in the middle of a transformation towards health, wellness, and function.  Simply put, many of the health & wellness oriented companies would rather be positioned with something that’s “Natural” rather than “Fancy,” resulting in an explosion of beverage companies exhibiting at New Hope Media’s Natural Product Expos and the diminished importance of the Fancy Food Shows.    And if there’s any economic impact, it’s accelerating this shift – and making those that exhibit think twice about the return larger booths and staff presence.

For the companies that were there, it didn’t seem to be a wasted investment, with the show’s foot traffic seeming just as strong as in recent years.  Most exhibitors gave the show very positive reviews, especially with beverage sampling generally going well on what turned out to be warm June afternoons.   There were also several key beverage distributors, retail buyers, suppliers, and mainstream media walking the show.

Below are the key updates and new products that we found at the show:
(also available are our “tweets” from the show on Twitter – @bevnetcom)

  • Hint – Industry chatter and the announced but not launched “Hint Kids” has had many wondering if this company is struggling.  Not so, says co-founder and president Theo Goldin.  The company has recently added new funding from Verlinvest and the brand is continuing to grow, especially in key retailer Whole Foods.   What about Hint Kids?  The lack of production isn’t a sign of struggle, but smart entrepreneurship according to Goldin.  The company displays mockups with the intention of turning on production if and when the right opportunity presents itself.  Production can be turned on quickly and product can be produced within six weeks – but Goldin is in no rush, again citing the focus that his sales team currently has.
  • Snow – Having the same name as the world’s biggest beer brand (that’s Chinese beer “Snow”, of course) has proven profitable for Snow.  Company recently reached a deal with SABMiller worth “six figures”, according to CEO Stu Strumwasser.  Deal allows Snow Beer to use the name in the EU.   On the Snow CSD front, tweaks to the packaging are coming – and a stevia sweetened version is being considered.
  • Hi Ball – Originally a mixer then an energy drink, the brand has switched to 10 ounce bottles and created a new line of “sparkling energy juices” that are available in four flavors.  The products will appear in Whole Foods, starting in two weeks in several regions. The rest of the country will see it this Fall.
  • Sweet Leaf – As previously reported, the brand is expanding into 8 ounce cans for schools (with a lower calorie profile per 8 ounces).  The company was also showing their proprietary 16 ounce glass bottle, which will be rolling out in July.  According to co-founder Clayton Christopher, Sweet Leaf Tea is also seeking to mimic this design in PET, with a one of a kind bottle in the works.  Last, but not least, the company was one of many that cited a “diminishing return” on exhibiting at two Fancy Food Shows, two Natural Products Expos, NACS, and others.  Sweet Leaf will skip Expo East and exhibit at NACS this year.
  • Vita Coco – After over a year in the works, new 17 ounce resealable Tetra Paks have been launched.  Mike Kirban noted that the initial response has been very good, with the resealable container having big appeal with male consumers especially.   Also on hand was Ira Liran, who had been living in Brazil fulltime to oversee the new production lines and machinery that were needed to produce this new package.  Finally, the company is going to become the latest entrepreneurial beverage company to add a Sambazon logo to one of its flavors.  Their new coconut water “with acai and pomegranate” uses Sambazon acai and will denote this on future production runs.
  • ZICO –  Nothing new on the product front, but company is enjoying lots of growth now that the coconut water category has matured a bit.  Company is also in the middle of relocating operations from the East to West Coast, with CEO Mark Rampolla’s having his family’s personal real estate struggles featured in the most recent issue of Business Week’s cover story.  The house is still for sale, FYI.
  • Ooba – Company showed a new and improved booth, with Janet Digiovanna noting that things are being improved in an incremental fashion as the company grows.  Growth is good so far, with new accounts being added very quickly and strong pull through in existing accounts.  Digiovanna noted that the company has had a good bounce from being named the “Healthiest Sparkling Beverage” of 2009 by Health Magazine.  The product is also now for sale on

Also new and notable:

  • Pure Cool: Launching new 4-packs for their carbonated line.
  • Brands of Britain: New Fever Tree Tonics Ginger Beer
  • Honest Tea: Honest Kids – Appley Ever launching in August
  • Project 7: Water is now bottled from natural springs versus purified water.
  • Venga: Launched Immunity Defense SKU
  • Fentimans North America: Launching a 750 mL Rose Lemonade
  • Epicurean Beverages: Launching non-alcoholic cider line in Sept.
  • Ganic – Company is seeking distribution in the US and will likely add resources in the US and move US production here once new distributors are added.
  • Herbal Water: Lemon Verbena Geranium SKU

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