One Day, Many Questions

WE LIKE TO THINK OF OUR just-concluded BevNET Live and Beverage School events as a chance for the industry to meet and exchange knowledge and support, but I’ve found that it also serves a bonus purpose: for me, it’s also become an important reference point for industry concerns and areas of inquiry.

Certainly, from Day One we plan many of the issues that we want to explore on panels and through presentations: case studies on the search for the ultimate sales and marketing formula, the recent environment and future outlook for building an entrepreneurial beverage enterprise, the answers to questions about what retailers, investors, and distributors are looking for. We think about ways to expose attendees to basic technical knowledge and deeper strategic decisions. We try to take into account their need for networking – and social lubrication.

But while it’s a fun event to plan and it is great when it all goes smoothly, it’s what we don’t anticipate that I find equally exciting: exchanges take place between panelists and the audience, someone “commits news” during a presentation, as we saw when Vita Coco announced its distribution deal with the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group, and new lines of thought and questioning begin to take on a presence of their own. Some of them can be effectively touched on as the event progresses, but others merit ongoing exploration. I find that we need to revisit them not just within the confines of the live event, but also as part of our commitment to providing the best possible information about trends in the beverage industry and how they affect the people who help make, market, and distribute them.

Here are some of the issues that seemed to bubble up, both as a result of questions directed to and among panelists, and those mentioned to me casually over the course of the event:

• The tension between beverage marketers and distribution organizations – particularly DSD – needs to be addressed in clear terms that take into account both of their costs and ultimate goals. The fallout from deals like the buyouts of Glaceau and Fuze, as well as the loss of fast-growing independents like Rockstar, Muscle Milk and Monster to Coke, Pepsi and Anheuser Busch is one that has led to mutual distrust at a point in time when, as many attendees pointed out, they need each other more than ever.

• The difference in expectations between investors and marketers as to what comprises a successful beverage brand, both in terms of benchmarks and growth rates, as well as the ongoing role of the founder in that success.

• The long-term consequences that could result from, and the role of the beverage industry in, a rising tide of legislation aimed at taxing sugared beverages, regulating caffeine content, and redefining the concept of the nutritional supplement.

• Whether new “superfruits” or other high-end ingredients will be enough to drive consumers to purchase beverages after they’ve been disappointed by the promise of various products in the past – and whether the larger beverage realm is tipping back toward taste and value rather than efficacy and prestige.

• The change in the way that distributors look at innovative non-alcoholic beverages in a world where they also carry hard alcohol, craft beer, chips and candy bars.

• The role of traditional and new media in getting consumers to try products, to keep coming back to products, and how much brands should spend in each area when it comes to activating those consumers – as well as how much they should spend activating channels via extras like slotting fees and sales incentives.

• Whether the industry will remain a vibrant place for investment after the loss of a major tax break for venture capitalists.

As the year goes on, we will try to get at the answers to these questions as possible, from as many directions as we can – be it this magazine, our ever-expanding roster of online offerings, or, yes, this winter’s BevNET Live event in California. Each question that gets answered raises a host of new ones, after all, and we think we should get our best minds together to work on them. So we appreciate your feedback, your ongoing questions and answers, and we hope you’ll let us hear from you – and not just during these great get-togethers. Although we think you should keep coming to them, as well.

Thanks again for reading.