Best of 2016

1Brands evolve, so do industries, and when they do, so must the awards that govern those industries. In that vein, as 2016 wound down, we revamped our annual awards a bit in order to recognize innovation, evolution, execution and great taste while de-emphasizing particular beverage categories.

We kept some of its major, business-oriented awards in place, but also created two new classes: Rising Stars, those brands and companies whose performance over the past year has put them into position to create long-term change within the industry, and Best New Products, an award that does what we’ve always done with the awards, which is recognize the new, innovative, flavorful, fun products that are at the heart of beverage entrepreneurship.

The awards were unveiled during BevNET Live Santa Monica in December, followed by an interview with the Bai’s founder and executive team in which the role of innovation – something that underlay all of the companies who received awards – was discussed.

“Innovation was in our DNA,” said Bai founder Ben Weiss. “It’s been in our DNA since 2010, when we got started, and it will continue to be in our DNA. We didn’t empty the clip.”

Here’s the full arsenal of this year’s awards:


As news of an auction for the company swirled around the industry throughout the fall, it was already apparent to BevNET that, regardless of result, Bai was the brand of the year.

Starting with a Super Bowl advertisement and large media investment that made the already fast-growing product more recognizable to new consumers, the high-level sales execution that accompanied Bai’s early years has finally been matched on the brand marketing side. The late addition of a star like Justin Timberlake as investor and brand ambassador put the cap on the company’s year-long personality explosion.

On the innovation side, Bai also demonstrated ambition and originality that superseded any deal talk, taking what had been a dedicated non-carb program and filling out varieties in several new categories – a sparkling water, a revamped bottled water, teas, and finally Bai Black, a promising new line of traditional carbonated drinks with flavors that throw consumers back to the products that built the industry that Bai has worked so furiously to overhaul. These extensions show not just a line of Vitaminwater-like enhanced waters, but a confident master brand platform that should prove to be a potent challenger across the entire store.

Bai’s sales team had long since proven its ability to position the brand successfully in key channels as the company maneuvered its name, its flavors, its SKU mix, calories, and formulation into the best possible combination. This year, the brand took flight, and as we know, that flight terminated with a landing in a very well-feathered nest.

For opening up Dr Pepper Snapple Group as a path to success for entrepreneurs through its Allied Brands group, and for his increased focus on fostering the growth of those brands through alignment, investment, and acquisition, Larry Young, the President and CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple Group, was BevNET’s Person of the Year.

Even before Mr. Young pulled out the checkbook and won the right to acquire fast-growing Bai, he had spent the past year gradually making equity investments that cemented relationships with many of the Allied Brands that the company distributes, including Body Armor, Core, and High Brew. Beyond that, established brands like Vita Coco and Fiji continue to grow as anchors of their own categories. That means that the growth of the companies in the Allied Brands portfolio is both testament to DPSG’s core competency as an effective distribution and partnership organization, and also a tribute to company leadership’s understanding of market dynamics and its ability to pick such a strong group of partners.

It makes sense that an operation like Dr Pepper Snapple Group would be the one to help create new distribution opportunities for entrepreneurs – after all, the company itself is comprised of rebel brands like Snapple – the New Age inspiration for many of the entrepreneurs in the audience – as well as Dr Pepper, 7-Up, and Nantucket Nectars, among so many others.

The changing consumer tastes represented by progressive entrepreneurial success stories like Vita Coco, Bai, Core, High Brew, Body Armor, Fiji and more that fill out the ranks of Allied Brands portfolio are, in effect, an extension of that history. With Mr. Young consciously guiding the company he leads toward realizing that its history could also be its future, many of those brands have truly begun to bloom.

Within a fast-growing kombucha category, Health-Ade shined the brightest in 2016. The Southern California-based brand produces a line of organic kombucha drinks that are often lauded for a high-quality and approachable flavor profile. Health-Ade’s continued commitment to great-tasting formulations is a big reason that CAVU Venture Partners, a fund focused on investment and incubation in healthy food and beverage companies, invested $7 million in the company earlier this year. The CAVU funding primarily went to the construction of a new 50,000 sq. ft. production facility, putting Health-Ade in a position to press the gas on new retail and distribution initiatives for 2017. And in a category steadily gaining momentum among soda drinkers looking for better-for-you alternatives, it’s clear to us that Health-Ade will continue to be a leader in driving new consumers to the space.


2Core executed on all cylinders in 2016, powering forward with its ambitious platform strategy. With its “perfect pH” water driving brand growth, Core earlier this year landed a spot in Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s Allied Brand portfolio, a placement that gave the company the ability to reach a much wider swath of consumers across the country and target a variety of retail channels at a time when demand for premium water continues to surge. Additionally, Core Organic, a line of five-calorie, stevia-sweetened, fruit-infused beverages, continues to gain momentum among retailers targeting consumers increasingly up and away from high-sugar and high-calorie beverages. Meanwhile, Core’s forthcoming energy drink line has been one of the most highly anticipated launches for 2017; if founder Lance Collins and his team execute in energy as well as they have in premium water, watch out.


3It’s been a year of continued momentum and growth for Spindrift. The soda and sparkling water company kicked off the year with the completion of a $7.2 million raise, funding that enabled the brand to expand Spindrift’s reach and distribution across the U.S. Additionally, this summer the brand deftly executed a label revamp, which came with a transition for its seltzer line, now described as a “sparkling water,” a change that will better position the beverages as part of the surging carbonated water category.

Spindrift also scored a huge foodservice win this summer, landing national distribution for two of its sparkling water products at Panera Bread. Led by a solid one-two punch team of founder Bill Creelman and CMO Strick Walker, the brand is in great hands and we expect 2017 to be another stellar year for Spindrift.


4Launched by energy drink maker Hiball, Alta Palla is a line of organic and fair trade-certified sparkling juices that are packaged in beautifully designed 12 oz. cans. The look is vibrant and clean, with logo, imagery and copy arranged in such a way that it both catches the eye and effectively communicates what the product is all about. It’s a well put together product from start-to-finish and something that we play well on- and off-premise. And, we love the name: Alta Palla means “high ball” in Italian.


La Colombe’s vision of packaging the popular draft-poured lattes served in its cafes became a reality with the development of the “InnoValve” can. Created in partnership with can manufacturer Crown Holdings, the unique package holds a blend of espresso and milk that is infused with liquid nitrous oxide injected into the can through a valve at the bottom. The nitrous oxide becomes a gas when the can is opened, creating tiny bubbles and giving the coffee a frothy texture. A plastic lip guard at the top of the can is dual-purpose: it is designed to guide the latte’s foam to a consumer’s tongue and neutralizes the taste of can’s metal lip. The result is a phenomenal and unique drinking experience for packaged beverages.


6It’s a fair guess that most people would turn down an offer to purchase a half-dozen bottles of a beverage whose primary ingredients are water, activated charcoal and schizandra berry. But the diehard fans of cold-pressed juice brand Suja aren’t like most customers – and the company knows it. Suja’s blink-and-you-miss-it release of Midnight Tonic was an impressive display of its social media prowess and pull with the brand’s well-heeled celebrity consumers. An extension of Suja’s 2016 “Surprise + Delight” initiative, Midnight Tonic was a limited-edition release with only 1,000 16 oz. bottles made available for purchase via Suja’s website. The company teased the launch on social media and sent packages of the product to a handful of influential celebrities and bloggers who shared images and video of the product on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Pre-release buzz gave way to a buying frenzy: Suja sold out of the product soon after it hit the site.


5La Colombe’s Draft Latte is one of the most unique and innovative packaged coffee drinks that we’ve ever come across. Made with high quality, cold pressed espresso and milk and infused with nitrous oxide, the drink has a fluffy and foamy consistency and, in our opinion, the texture is even better than a freshly made latte. Moreover, the package, a unique 9 oz. can specially designed to create the latte’s texturized drinking experience, is clean and minimalist in its design. And while it may not immediately obvious what a “draft latte” is, La Colombe has done well to describe the beverage in a succinct way.


Spicy flavors have emerged across the broad spectrum of packaged food and beverages, and DRY Sparkling’s Serrano Pepper soda is an outstanding example of the trend. Infused with the flavor of serrano, which has a flavor similar to a bell pepper but with a spicy finish, DRY has crafted something that’s light, balanced, and very enjoyable. The added sugar (14g per bottle) helps round things out, and the result is a truly unique and special beverage.


Califia Farms this year extended its dairy alternative beverage portfolio with two impressive flavored almond milks. Califia’s Matcha Almondmilk and Ginger Almondmilk are formulated with on-trend, nutrient-dense ingredients, including matcha, turmeric, ginger and maple syrup. From our perspective, the company nailed the delicate balance of blending function and flavor. The matcha variety has a wonderful almond flavor complemented by slightly grassy matcha. Meanwhile, the ginger almond milk is spicy and complex, with an incredibly fresh ginger flavor hitting the palate almost immediately.


We knew early on that Tio Gazpacho’s Rosado variety, a watermelon-based gazpacho, would be in the running for BevNET’s Best of 2016 awards; it’s an outstanding product inside and out. Made with watermelon, red pepper, cucumber, tomato, lemon, sea salt, cilantro, olive oil, white wine vinegar, black pepper, and cayenne – is your mouth watering yet? – the gazpacho is a beautiful blend of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. It’s a standout product for the nascent drinkable soup category and showcases the creative and culinary prowess of its pioneering brand, Tio Gazpacho.


7LIVE has done an excellent job of creating one of the more market-ready vinegar-based offerings to date. Each of the line’s four flavor varieties is made with apple cider and coconut vinegars, USDA Organic certified and low-calorie and contain no added sugar. LIVE has done a really nice job working with stevia as a way to keep the sugar count down, and the often divisive ingredient is nearly undetectable to taste. While it’s hard to predict the potential of drinking vinegars, LIVE’s offering will play along nicely tag along with its kombucha products and can definitely hold their own satisfying the consumer’s palate.

Amid a staggering number of new cold brew coffee products coming to market, Califia Farms’ Nitro Cold Brew stood out in 2016. A line of three dairy-free offerings, the coffees are formulated with almond milk and macadamia milk, an innovative turn for nitro coffees. The nitro enhancement really seems to work well with nut milk, perhaps even better than dairy-based nitro products. Product packaging is also impressive: the white 10.5 oz. aluminum bottles present a truly disruptive look on shelf.


Ripple provided a shot in arm for the dairy-alternative category with the introduction of an innovative line of plant-based, low-sugar milks that emulate the creaminess and viscosity of real dairy milk. From our perspective, the beverages represent the kind of disruptive innovation that will have a strong and lasting impact in how mainstream consumers think about dairy alternatives. We’re not alone: Target stocks Ripple nationally, and the brand has pulled in more than $40 million in investment in the past 12 months.


8REBBL this year continued to take its brand to higher levels of flavor and polish with the addition couple of protein-infused varieties to its Elixirs line. Formulated with base of coconut milk and 16g of vegan protein derived from pea, sunflower, and pumpkin sources, the products can definitely hold their own with many soy or whey protein beverages. It’s a well-executed play for REBBL as it evolves beyond the natural channel and showcases the brand’s ability to create timely and flavorful offerings.


From a taste and quality perspective, Revive is one of the few brands that we consider to be at the top of the kombucha category. And with the launch of an 11 oz. bottle size, Revive created an offering that will allow the brand to scale on a national level. It’s a nice portion size, particularly for consumers who are new to kombucha. Moreover, Revive has done a superb job of designing labels that are colorful and attractive, rounding out a package that feels very inviting.


9Koia was one of the most impressive brand launches of 2016. Koia’s line of plant-based protein drinks, formulated with almond milk, a proprietary protein blend – brown rice protein, pea protein, and hemp protein – and sweetened with sugar and monk fruit extract, are rich, flavorful, low-calorie and very much on-trend. Koia backs up the formulation with a label design that’s just as impressive. A very strong start with its initial offering, we expect big things from Koia in the years to come.