BevNET Live: Searching for Winners and Keeping Up With Change

Experts and veterans from all levels of the beverage industry delivered their advice on stage from June 13-14 in New York City at BevNET Live Summer 2017, discussing the latest drinkable trends, predicting the future, and delivering strategies for leveraging the ever-important e-commerce market.

Kicking off the show on Day One was Scott Uzzell, president and general manager of The Coca-Cola Company’s Venturing & Emerging Brands division (VEB), who reflected on the department’s 10-year anniversary. Like the beverage landscape itself, VEB has grown and changed drastically since 2007, moving from a relatively simple system of incubation and investment to a multi-pronged approach also involving acquisitions and partnerships with other investment groups, including L.A. Libations and First Beverage.

The “Futurists,” Uzzell said, are one key to VEB’s success. His predictors think ahead to what the beverage landscape will look like in 2025 and 2026, and while they may not be completely accurate by the time that day arrives (there’s always curveballs, after all), it’s this kind of forward planning that leads VEB toward the brands and categories that are most likely to succeed into the billion dollar range.

Matt Jimenez, at the time the senior category leader for Whole Foods Market, likewise shared his lessons for keeping up with the times. As a grocer, Whole Foods has frequently given small brands their first big breaks in the nationwide market, but choosing which brands will be long-term winners can be a search with a degree of difficulty similar to that described by VEB.

For brands, this means embracing the internet beyond the realm of social media. Attendees heard from e-commerce retailers, including FreshDirect and Peapod, who shared the way apps, algorithms, and digital promotions can offer innovative ways to connect directly with consumers and cultivate brand loyalty. Samantha Brody, senior sales manager for Peapod, said the popular grocery website has helped consumers become brand loyalists through its grocery list function, which saves users’ shopping lists for bulk purchase. Being on that list should be a priority for every brand, she said.

Arnulfo Ventura, vice president of business development for Califia Farms, sat down with Profitero’s Keith Anderson to discuss how brands can focus their efforts on e-commerce. His company, Ventura said, doesn’t even think of e-commerce as a channel like natural or specialty, but as a whole different marketplace.

Of course, you can still trailblaze the old-fashioned way. Humm Kombucha co-founder Jamie Danek shared her experience foregoing specialty stores in order to bring a niche beverage category into mass market retailers, landing in Walmart before Whole Foods and securing an NFL sponsorship deal as a tiny company operating out of Oregon. For Humm, the success came from avoiding the common path to success and taking risks on an obscure beverage that consumers had never even heard of.

But when it comes to predicting the future, it takes hours of experience. And Bill Weiland, founder and CEO of Presence Marketing, estimated he had about 30,000.

Weiland led the audience through the list of emerging categories and why they were succeeding. His vision for the future of the beverage landscape saw less room for sugar and more room for fat, alongside increased success for bone broth, cold brew coffee, fermented and probiotic drinks, cold pressed juice, and one of his favorites — bitters.

Day Two began with a conversation with Bill Moses, the co-founder and former CEO of KeVita, a maker of probiotic beverages and kombucha. Moses gave his account of the brand’s evolution from conception to its high-profile sale to PepsiCo, which was announced in November 2016. Early on, Moses saw an opportunity to gain market share and reach a broader audience by reducing the suggested retail prices of KeVita drinks to a mainstream-friendly option of $2.99.

Having a plan and a road map took KeVita to a sale, reported to be worth $230 million. Moses explained that KeVita focused on developing strong partnerships with co-packers and suppliers to achieve its pricing strategy. Although it often involved tough negotiation, the company’s efforts to reduce production costs were to everyone’s advantage, he said.

Investment was another big area of discussion on Wednesday. A panel of investors laid out the current state of beverage investment. Nick Giannuzzi of The Giannuzzi Group, Tom Spier of Boulder Food Group, and Mike Burgmaier of Whipstitch Capital (which facilitated the KeVita/PepsiCo deal) shared their insights from the money side of things about where the industry was heading in terms of financial growth.

Deals, Burgmaier said, are happening at earlier stages of a beverage’s lifecycle than any other time in recent memory. Giannuzzi described the market for investment as “absolutely on fire.”

Later in the afternoon, Zoe Feldman, managing partner with venture capital firm Cleveland Avenue, shared her experiences learning the ropes of the food and beverage industry under the guidance of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and now former McDonald’s CEO and Cleveland Avenue head Don Thompson. Feldman discussed implementing those lessons in her work as an investor and incubation partner.

Speakers on Day Two also described an immense opportunity to connect one-on-one with consumers. Bonin Bough, host of The Cleveland Hustles, talked about leveraging the addictive nature of mobile devices. Mobile, Bough said, is key to entrepreneurial success in the modern day — as evidenced by young companies like Facebook and Uber, which have grown to triple or quadruple the market capitalization of ones that have been around for more than 100 years. Through algorithms and aggregation, brands will need to adopt “The Hacker Way” if they seek peak success, he said.

But even in the era of hacking, artificial intelligence, and medically diagnosable cell phone addiction, BevNET Live was a showcase for the notion that a great mind will most often be the deciding factor in the world of business.