The ability to meet consumer needs is one thing, but a beverage company will only grow if consumers perceive it as authentic, said FRS CEO Carl Sweat during BevNET Live’s first presentation. Both Sweat’s speech — and a panel immediately following –served to offer advice, perspective and ideas for entrepreneurs at every stage of the game. Significantly, Sweat discussed some of the ways in which consumer needs are continually changing, and how a company can find that “holy grail” – or sweet spot of growth – and take their product to the next level.
Sweat named passion and love for the brand as essential for entrepreneurial success. He said entrepreneurs should focus their actions in a way that will genuinely benefit the brand and communicate these sentiments. For example, Sweat explained that he focused on building authenticity at FRS, taking the product beyond its athletic associations by really listening to consumers and what they had to say about their experiences with the item itself. From pre-workout use to easing the side effects of chemotherapy, allowing the consumers to reveal their personal connections to the beverage gave it a fuller identity, he said, and many of those personal testimonies about FRS experiences are now on the company’s web site.
Millions of new products hit the marketplace each year, Sweat explained, and businesses that want to succeed have to punch through the middle ground in order to stand out. He said entrepreneurs have to realize that change is inevitable – and joked that it is as certain as death and taxes. In fact, those who do end up taking their product through the “critical middle” point and go on to success actually capitalize on this change. They are, in fact, “looking to see what comes next – looking for the next opportunity,” Sweat said.
Nevertheless, consumers aren’t the only ones looking for the next opportunity. A panel of “gatekeepers” – beverage industry employees who consult for, greenlight for retail distribution, invest in or otherwise assist brands as they try to grow –discussed how beverages need to be innovative in order to attract attention.
Entrepreneurs can benefit from examining beverage categories and the specialized segments within them in order to find new opportunities for growth, said Debbie Wildrick, president of the beverage industry consultancy Growing Innovative Brands, Inc. . Wildrick, like Sweat, emphasized the importance of listening to the consumer. With the emergence of functional beverages that have increasingly complex ingredients, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility to hear about consumer needs and communicate about arcane ingredients.
According to Sweat, those ingredients can play a larger role as consumers focus on healthier lifestyles: they are looking for what he called “true functionality” from products, he said.
Sweat also discussed the importance of having a solid support network and firm team. “People are going to be lethal, visceral and tell you what’s on their mind,” he said, “there’s no reason for people not to be honest.” Even though it might sound intimidating, such a relationship can benefit entrepreneurs and help their teams to succeed.
Featuring Perry Abbenate, former Whole Foods Senior Global Director of Grocery, Wildrick, Udaiyan Jatar, CEO of the Blue Earth Network,and Dino Sarti, a partner at LA Libations, the panel on recognizing a brand’s growth potential featured an impassioned discussion by Jatar regarding “iconic brands.” Citing Coca-Cola, Apple and Harley Davidson as examples, Jatar noted in particular that each was launched by a small entrepreneur from outside of the industry and all had the same thing in common: each “had the belief and desire to solve a high-level human need,” further indicating the importance of understanding the consumer and market.
Believing in the power of an idea, Jatar said, was part of the key to success, as well as building the brand in a steady way. Interestingly, Sweat had also communicated his belief in FRS and how it helped him to create and market the brand. Combined with strong team support and giving associates reasons to believe in the brand, Sweat’s recipe for success may not be on a so-called iconic scale, but it did offer workable options for entrepreneurs at a range of levels.