20 Years of BevNET and a Product Review Overhaul

BevNET20_970BevNET’s beginnings were quite humble.

I started it back in 1996, when I was a student at Boston College. I’d grown up on Long Island and been a front-row witness of the cult-like followings garnered by rival drink companies Arizona Iced Tea and Snapple. At B.C., busy studying computer science and marketing, and loathing my job in dining services, putting something on the Internet about beverages seemed like a fun hobby, and perhaps a way to score some free drinks and make a little money.

While today there’s a plethora of blogging and social media options that are available, getting BevNET launched was no small technical feat in 1996. Along with Carolyn — then my girlfriend, now my wife of 15 years — I doggedly made phone calls and wrote letters to contact beverage companies — a foundational effort that, while quite different than how things work today, set the tone for just how determined we are to make sure we are on top of the events in the industry.

After an investment and some business advice from my father, my work on the technical end, and the industry contacts we’d made, I had the site up and running.. The response to BevNET was almost immediately positive. Because we were almost exclusively focused on new product releases, we had a nice advantage over competing print publications. While we had some small success selling ads and job listings, BevNET nevertheless remained largely a beloved hobby for the next seven years. But in 2003, after having had a “real job” and also participating in an internet startup, I felt ready to take BevNET to the next level, and John McKenna joined the team. The next year, we acquired Beverage Spectrum Magazine from CSP Information Group, later changing its name to BevNET Magazine, and we also added Barry Nathanson as part of the acquisition. Early in 2005, we hired an editor, Jeffrey Klineman, to professionalize our industry coverage and writing.

Over the next couple of years, our team continued to develop and, in 2009, we put on our first industry conference, BevNET Live, at the Jumeirah Essex House in New York City. Moving into conferences was something of a transformative moment for BevNET, both in terms of our stature in the industry as well as for the growth of the business. Six years later, our platform has expanded into craft beer (Brewbound), natural foods (Project NOSH), and education (Boot Camp) and our conference lineup totaled 17 events in 2015.

Through all this time, one thing that has been a constant is our BevNET product review system. In hindsight, I honestly have no idea where the concept of critiquing non-alcoholic beverages originated, but it is definitely a fixture of what we do and something that I believe provides value to both the entrepreneur behind the product and the industry as a whole. We’ve written a lot of these — 6,691 to be exact — and the only thing that has evolved is the rating system, which has been percentage based (0-100%), letter based (A-F), and, for the past 10 or so years, a five-star rating system.

Currently, products are reviewed individually rather than as a whole unit. The reasoning behind this was that it allowed each product to be considered on its own and to give detailed feedback on each individual SKU. The flaw of this system is that it’s hard — and sometimes repetitive — when trying to offer feedback on all of the products that make up the brand. To make an analogy, it’s like doing a restaurant review that only offers critiques of individual dishes rather than of the entire restaurant.

So, seeing as how 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of BevNET’s existence as a platform and community for the beverage industry, it seems like an appropriate time to change up the format of our flagship content: product reviews.

Our new format will take a look at both the brand as a whole, as well as the individual products. Star ratings of each product will remain, but the critique will be written as one unit. We’ll also be more specific in how the brand stacks up against the competition, where it fits in the marketplace, and our suggestions for the brand as a whole. You’ll find the first of these new format reviews published today. While reviews under the old format will still remain, this new format is how all reviews will be published in the future.

As always, feedback is welcomed and appreciated. On behalf of the entire BevNET team, we look forward to continuing to providing a daily resource and community for the beverage industry and we appreciate your continued support.