Rekindled Fantasies

1Back at the keyboard to pen what must be umpteenth column, I’ve decided to do the math.

I’ve been publisher of a beverage magazine for 24 years, with my 25th about to begin. It comes out to around 285 columns, give or take a few. Those are a lot of thoughts – note I don’t say wisdom – that I’ve imparted, but I enjoy this aspect of my job, and the feedback has almost always been positive. So as we forge again into 2017, let us walk together.

By all accounts 2016 was a pretty strong year for the beverage marketplace. The industry grew at an impressive rate, across the spectrum of categories. Sales and volume numbers continue to climb. The big brands had their struggles and too often had to use discounting to keep their figures respectable. Small to mid-size entrepreneurs have had the greatest success, but they were mostly coming from bases that could only go up.

We saw an incredible group of exciting new brands enter the arena. The true innovators took formulations or concepts that were either unheard of, or that were once thought to be less than viable, and made them into realities. New variations of old ideas, with healthier focuses and better taste profiles, have become another major trend. So many new players joined in the fray. Attending the Natural Products Expos, the Fancy Foods Shows, the NACS shows, seeing what was submitted from the crowd, made for a truly frenzied effort to keep up with all the new entries. Our BevNET Live conference in December brought all of these into focus.

What I liked about most of the new brands we’ve encountered over the past few years was that they were pretty much cognizant that they are niche brands and didn’t shoot for the moon. In the old days, everyone aspired to go national, and most got burned. Now we have a generation of fiscally responsible marketers. I like their slow but steady growth. They look to go market by market, region by region. In my many conversations and meetings with these entrepreneurs, I was impressed with their maturity. They knew the strengths of their brands and would act accordingly.

Then came the Bai and Kevita sales, which were among the most prominent transactions over the past many months. And all hell broke loose. Many of these responsible marketers I’ve been praising went off the rails. Suddenly, they’re all talking about being the “next great one.” I started hearing the conversations of marketers looking for that cash-out, of the variables to hit to make the sale. I hadn’t heard that talk in a long while, and I tried to temper this chatter. We’ve seen the realities of this industry, and the Bais and Kevitas of the world are the exception to the rule. Go about your business with the intention to make it a success for the sheer joy of it. Yes, you want to make money, but the satisfaction I’ve seen from so many of you is the reason you’re here. Make your companies your reality, not a fantasy, and we can all enjoy my 25th year together.