BevNET Live: Growing and Thriving

So you’re beverage company working in a red-hot category; so far, so good. Now how do you rise above a saturated market?

In highlighting voices and insights from the red-hot coffee category, the program from day one of BevNET Live Winter 2017, held in the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, sought to answer that question.

In his opening remark for the day’s presentations, BevNET editor-in-chief Jeffrey Klineman framed the category as an ideal laboratory for experimenting with different growth strategies.

“It’s changing fast, it’s drawing investment, accelerating through a variety of channel plays, while attracting consumer attention,” he said.

In the show’s opening presentation, Peet’s Coffee president and CEO Dave Burwick sat down with Klineman for a one-on-one discussion illuminating how the company – one of several gourmet brands in the portfolio of coffee giant JAB Holdings, alongside Stumptown and Intelligentsia – has stayed on top.

“We feel like allies to a lot of players who are out there.” Burwick said. “We learn from them, they learn from us, there’s so much to be had and I think the competition’s really good.”

Offering further insights into coffee and competition, Greg Steltenpohl, founder and CEO of Califia Farms, chronicled how the company’s rapid-fire innovation pipeline has helped it become a leader in both the coffee and dairy alternative categories.

“If you go too far in the wild then you get too far ahead of where the commercialization can keep up with you,” he said. “So at the same time you need something that has a situational consciousness that isn’t driven just by segmentation data but that is more about being in tune with where the market is and what it’s ready for.”

Later on, Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, EVP and chief merchandising officer for 7-Eleven, discussed how the convenience store chain is embracing premium brands, including companies coming out of e-commerce and seeking to break into traditional retail. Betsy McGinn, founder of McGinn eCommConsulting, spoke to the impact of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, particularly in ecommerce, in her presentation. In contrast, Matt Thomas, founder and CEO of Brew Dr. Kombucha, shared his story of maxing out credit cards and failing-before-succeeding as he bootstrapped his tea and kombucha company from the ground up.

The first day of BevNET Live Winter 2017 also featured the annual “Best Of” Awards. Brew Dr. Kombucha, La Colombe, and Humm Kombucha were among the brands selected as “Rising Stars,” while sparkling water brand La Croix took “Brand of the Year” honors. Hiball and Alta Palla founder and president Todd Berardi was named “Person of the Year.”

On day two, Andrew Henkel, SVP of brand growth solutions at SPINS, talked about how new niches are forming in the industry with e-commerce opening the doors for unique personalized products to thrive. Kara Goldin, the founder of HINT, discussed the ways the brand has grown online and how it has managed to maintain momentum while staying independent.

Kara Rubin, vice president of brand and product strategy for Just Goods Inc., offered the audience her advice on getting into brick-and-mortar by dishing up wisdom from her past life as the Northeast senior regional director of Whole Foods, emphasizing the need for brands to be transparent and realistic about their performance.

La Colombe CEO and co-founder Todd Carmichael discussed the company’s multi-channel strategy, seizing on e-commerce, retail, and hospitality opportunities to rapidly grow the brand’s draft latte line and go from a small cafe to a powerful category player in under two years. While La Colombe is still independent, Chameleon Cold Brew co-founder, president, and CEO Chris Campbell opened up about why he decided to sell the company to Nestle this fall.

Other presenters included Kevin Rutherford, CEO of nuun, who spoke to the need to monitor company culture and maintaining positive outlook, and Brent Willis, CEO of New Age Beverage Corporation. Willis shared his adventure building a multi-brand business focused on functional beverages and based on acquisitions and risky financial moves that required precise execution.

And as always, this year’s BevNET Live Winter conference featured another hotly contested edition of the New Beverage Showdown. Legacy Juice Works, Bear Squeeze, Zen Basil, KRā, Kabaki and Mixwell emerged as the top brands from the first round of the competition, which also included PHIT Alkaline Mixer, rivvibe, Koffee Reinvented, Sports Juice, AMAZ, and Manzanita & Madrone THC Fizz. The judging panel in the final round featured BevNET CEO John Craven; Matt Hughes, VP of Incubation at VEB; Ken Sadowsky, senior beverage advisor at Verlinvest; Andrea Tyson, a grocery merchandising coordinator at Kroger; and Zico founder Mark Rampolla, now a co-founder and managing partner at Powerplant Ventures.

Ketogenic meal shake maker Bear Squeeze emerged as the eventual winner. Brand co-founder Max Baumann said the company planned to use the $10,000 prize to help contribute to the advertising of a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising over $400,000 within a 35-day period.