BevNET Live Summer 2019 Review

As BevNET editor-in-chief Jeff Klineman put it in his opening remarks, the beverage industry is in a “time of contradictions” as category and retail dynamics are being disrupted and reinvented in real time. The speakers at BevNET Live Summer 2019, held June 12-13 at the Metropolitan West in New York City, reflected many of those contradictions; from traditional distribution and tech-enabled innovation to young entrepreneurs and experienced veterans.

Kicking off the first day of the event, Oatly general manager Mike Messersmith discussed how the Swedish oat milk company managed its rapid rise to popularity, only to be faced with a critical product shortage. Having emerged from that experience a stronger company, Messersmith said that other beverage makers should focus on setting realistic expectations, being transparent with promises made, and supporting their team.

Iris Nova founder and CEO Zak Normandin took the audience on a journey through the history of beverage technology. Starting with the creation of artificially carbonated water in 1772 he traced the path of innovation to the modern day. Iris Nova has picked up this legacy with its text message-based ordering platform and vending machines, as well as pop-up shops in major U.S. cities. The idea, he said, is to find ways to personalize the beverage experience and bring consumers closer to a one-on-one connection.

The next presentation brought BodyArmor co-founder Mike Repole and the brand’s president, Brent Hastie, to the stage to share lessons from their experience in tackling sports drink category leaders with an ambitious and outspoken approach.

Repole said embracing a spirit of “evolution” was critical to the brand’s success. While its main competitor, Gatorade, has stayed largely true to its original formulation, BodyArmor went through multiple iterations in-market before capturing a taste and ingredient profile that connected with the public. The experience confirmed his view that “being an entrepreneur is calling audibles,” and that brand leaders should embrace facing up to those unexpected challenges and big decisions when they inevitably arrive.

Two speakers focused their presentations on the rise of cannabis beverages. John Simmons of hemp-infused food and beverage brand Weller discussed the state of the CBD beverage category. For CBD beverage manufacturers, Simmons listed flavor, solubility and supply chain confusion as three major challenges in the current market landscape. However, even when they answer those questions, brands will still need to find an attitude or outlook that connects with consumers.

In another session, Jessica Lukas, VP of consumer insights at BDS Analytics, Inc. projected U.S.-based growth will drive the global cannabis marketplace to $22.1 billion by 2022. She explained that a new type of cannabis consumer is fueling demand for products that deliver a functional, controlled experience through smaller doses of THC.

On two separate panels, both Millennials and Gen Z brought different perspectives on the current state of the industry. On day one, young venture capitalists, including Patrick Finnegan, founding partner at TGZ Capital; Tracy Dubb, co-founder of M3 Ventures; and Bryan Bulte, managing partner at LiveWell Ventures, offered their advice and guidance to help young brands through the process of seeking investment.

On the second day of events, Koia co-founder Maya French, Kitu Life CEO Jim DeCicco and Tea Drops founder/CEO Sashee Chandran agreed that relying on dated marketing tactics or being less than fully transparent were surefire ways to lose millennial consumers at the shelf.

In two separate sessions, entrepreneurs including Vital Proteins founder and CEO Kurt Seidensticker and LifeAid founders Orion Melehan and Aaron Hinde shared their advice on building brands that resonate with modern consumers.

Other presenters included Bill Weiland, founder and CEO of Presence Marketing, who shared his insights with the audience on how he evaluates brands and business opportunities in the beverage world; Nick McCoy, co-founder and managing director of Whipstitch Capital, who explained the dynamic market forces that are shaping beverage investment; Tom Dowdy, chief revenue officer of New Jersey-based Hudson News Distributors who discussed how food and beverage distribution has allowed the company to thrive as magazine sales decline; OTG founder and CEO Rick Blastein, who shared thoughts and lessons from his experience building a company that reaches 313.5 million passengers annually; and Liz Tomic, global director for ZX Ventures, who discussed ZX’s process when evaluating investment opportunities.

“We don’t think by category — we try to create investment strategies based around need states,” she said.

BevNET Live Summer 2019 also included the seventeenth edition of the conference’s annual pitch competition, the New Beverage Showdown. Cannabis beverage brand Cann beat out eleven other competitors to win the competition, including finalists Cloud Water, LATTEA, Petal, Proposition Cocktail Co., and Sunwink, as well as semifinalists Bimble, Dr. Priestley’s Fizzy Water, Ma, Minna, VIVIC, and YAYAYA.

Cann joins a select group of previous New Beverage Showdown winners, including Health-Ade Kombucha, MALK Organics, Rise Brewing Co., HopTea, Tio Gazpacho and others. The company received a trophy and a $10,000 ad package.