Digital Means Major Buying Power

Digitally connected consumers hold more of the food and beverage industry’s buying power than ever before – literally.

According to a report compiled by food and beverage packaging leader Tetra Pak, more than half of all in-store purchases today are influenced by digital channels, many of which are being accessed via smartphones. Digital accounts for 65 percent of media time for the average global consumer, and 72 percent for the most active users.

Among smartphone users, nine out of 10 said they’ve used their phone in stores, including grocery, with eight out of 10 saying this use has influenced an eventual purchase. While some of these users are looking to search engines or directly on brands’ websites, many are looking to social media and key influencers for reviews and insights into what food and beverages to buy. For food and beverage companies specifically, this means by targeting one subset of hyper-focused consumers, they can potentially reach an exponentially greater audience in a more authentic way.

For a CPG brand looking to connect via social media, a one-way conversation of promotional posts is not enough for today’s consumers who want a relationship that goes both ways. About 95 percent of plugged-in consumers write reviews about brands and really want a way to share their opinions about products. And the most active “super leaders” (roughly seven percent of the online population) regularly create content that can influence both in-store and online purchases, the report finds.

Just under 80 percent of global super leaders think interacting with food and beverage brands on social media not only “significantly improves” their opinions of brands, but also greatly improves their likelihood of making a purchase from them. These users then share their findings to thousands of social media followers who, thanks to smart phones, tablets, watches and other devices in the like, are always plugged in and online.

A majority of interactions between U.S.-based food and beverage brands and these “super leaders,” or about 78 percent, are happening through Facebook. Across all platforms, of the time they spend online, super leaders are reading reviews and ratings to seek out new food and beverage products (62 percent), juice and beverage reviews (59 percent), and dairy alternatives (50 percent).

Tetra Pak suggests that food companies can use these findings to create strategies to effectively connect with brand influencers, whether by creating a story about the brand or by practicing consistent and authentic communication. Brands like protein ice cream maker Proyo and nut butter maker Wild Friends have previously announced efforts to ramp up digital marketing strategies by utilizing influencers to gain brand recognition among consumers. The feedback not only helps with distribution strategies, but also future product innovations because the brand is able to see how consumers are eating their food.

Bhakti Secures $5 million-plus

Chai tea brand Bhakti has secured a $5.1 million Series B round of funding led by strategic investment firm Cleveland Avenue.

“We are truly thrilled to welcome Cleveland Avenue and our other new investor to the Bhakti tribe,” said Bhakti CEO Sarah Bird in a press release. “They bring incredible expertise and will be tremendous strategic partners as we continue to build this brand.”

Bhakti, based in Boulder, Colo., markets a variety of ready-to-drink chai teas and tea concentrates that are sold nationwide at natural and conventional retailers such as Whole Foods, Sprouts and Target. The company had previously raised $4 million in Series A funding led by the Colorado Impact Fund in 2015.

Cleveland Avenue, founded by former McDonald’s Corporation president and CEO Don Thompson, targets strategic investments in innovative food and beverage brands, including maple water producer DrinkMAPLE.

Bird said that the funding would be used to focus on innovation, stemming from a revamp of Bhakti’s current offerings.

“We are going to taking some of our current products and optimizing them to be more on-trend,” she said.

The funding will also support new staffing and distribution into new retail channels, specifically conventional grocery.

Google Reports on Beverage Trends: Touts Cold Brew, Earthy Flavors

Google released its first ever beverage trends report recently, drawing on its vast data collection and analysis resources to present a deep dive into the factors fueling non-alcoholic drinks in the U.S., United Kingdom, Mexico and Spain.

The 62-page report was compiled by analyzing Google Search data, pulling top volume queries related to beverage and examining their monthly volume from April 2015 to March 2017. Google also looked at activity on YouTube, focusing on how beverages are talked about within top trend-related videos, as well as speaking with over 1,000 consumers about how some of the prevalent trends are affecting them.

The report identifies three key beverage trends, the first being the rising value of craft production processes, as exemplified by cold brew coffee, which was the top trending process-led beverage in the U.S. and UK when ranked by volume of searches. Google’s data revealed that consumers “see cold brewing as a process that enhances and elevates their beverage experience”. Of the top 100 cold brew videos across all markets, YouTube influencers most frequently used language like “smooth,” “bitterness,” “chocolatey” and “sweetness” to describe the beverage.

Consumers also showed strong interest in the DIY nature of making cold brew at home. In terms of RTD cold brew, data showed that searches for cold brew retail brands spike at around 2 p.m., but consumers are more likely to make their own cold brew at home around 8 p.m., showcasing consumers’ shifting preferences based on use occasion.

Earthy flavors were another notable trend based on the report. In the U.S. and UK, kombucha ranked at the top of trending earthy flavors based on volume of searches, while matcha tea and ginger tea were the most popular in Spain and Mexico, respectively. Matcha in particular enjoyed a breakout year in 2016: the volume of search queries for matcha drinks continue to grow at a rate of 64 percent year over year, while foods that utilize the tea as an ingredient are growing 62 percent year over year. Matcha’s combination of rich, distinct flavor and strong health benefits made it particularly appealing, according to the report.