Strands of Summer


Some stray, slightly less serious – thoughts collected during a three-issue odyssey through diversity and the natural foods business (thanks for reading and for all of the feedback and suggestions, both public and private).

So, let’s start with this standout item: Asparagus Water. Yes, it’s easy to make fun of Whole Foods for the whole $6-for-a-couple-of-submerged-stalks debacle, but it’s also a pretty telling comment on how much influence a key retailer can hold over an engaged audience. I wonder how much, say, Erewhon could’ve sold it for, or Formaggio Kitchen?

Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous that the company put this on the shelf, but the idea of “free-from” really does allow for markups ad nauseum. There’s a lot of the functional food and natural food industry that makes sense, but there’s a lot of “Dr. Disingenuity’s Magic Elixir” on the shelves, too, and as Jimmy Kimmel has proven, consumers will happily drink it down and tell you it works. So the more preciously priced the “free from” food system becomes, the more it is incumbent on brands to point out real, tangible differences. Otherwise, the big food companies have the chance to devalue the efforts of real entrepreneurs by evolving less worthy brands just enough to meet shoppers at a wallet-friendly price point.

How much more ridiculous is Asparagus Water than bottled water, anyway?

For something stronger than water, look to the music scene: Phish is putting out a craft cocktail and craft beer program at its summer festival; the String Cheese Incident actually has a brewer in its lineup, and Sierra Nevada put together a brew just for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. And let’s not forget Sam Calagione’s granola-scented ode to the Grateful Dead. Let’s face it: love ‘em or hate ‘em, If it wasn’t for jambands and summer festivals, I’d warrant that the craft beer movement would be at least two years delayed from where it is today. Heck, Pete Slosberg himself was a huge Deadhead.

Now, let’s talk cash. In the past few months, it has been great to see Dr Pepper/Snapple Group step into the investing game, but I think there’s really no comparison between putting in some short money to show faith in a brand, create alignment, and spur growth and investing for the purpose of creating a path to acquisition. There’s a big difference between DPSG laying out $20 million to Body Armor or $15 million to Bai instead of $90 million-plus for a deposit-to-buy in Coke’s Suja deal. Long-term, wouldn’t you want to have more control over the fate of the company you’re backing?

Meanwhile, I can’t think of too many companies that have become acquisition targets as quickly as Suja. Except for Evolution Fresh and Blueprint. People are really, really hung up on the juicing movement. While I’m much more of a salad kind of guy, it’s still refreshing to see how many directions the category is spreading, from Tio’s cold soup lines to Daily Greens’ green-juice leadership to Forager’s push toward nut milks. I’m also interested in products like Sam Lives!, which will bring fiber back into the equation.

I still really like the tea story we did last month; is there anyone doing an exceptional, super-premium RTD tea?

It’s also great that craft soda is getting some attention, along with mixers and sparkling waters. Maybe it’s time for Coke and Pepsi to work on their own mixology programs. Certainly, their brands could benefit from an on-premise makeover. Couldn’t hurt.

Speed on Speed: If I were marketing cold brewed coffee, I’d want to get out ahead and establish my brand even faster now that there are so many new companies realizing that they can get into the game too. There are great products out there and so-so ones, but for so many consumers there’s not enough understanding why one cold-brew is better than another – and that could mean we’re headed for a situation similar to the first craft beer boom and bust cycle from the mid 1990s. That’s not just from a CPG point of view, either – there’s plenty of less-than-decent cold brew being served up at brick-and-mortar joints as well.

On the more serious side, it is truly uplifting to see that a company like Dave’s Killer Bread, with a transparent, conscious mission to provide second chances for people who have done time in prison, could be acquired for such a high acquisition number. Here’s hoping that Flowers Foods doesn’t water down the social mission of the brand. On an unfortunate note, there’s no lack of folks who need second chances out there – if there’s been a growth industry that rivaled natural foods, it’s the prison system. Let’s make more opportunity to help lives improve.