Publisher’s Toast: The Sunlight Cowboy

Today was the first day of spring.

With the sun shining and my back not leaving me horizontal, I decided it’s time, once again, to take it to the streets.

Over the years, I’ve spent more than a few hours hanging out in Times Square, the crossroads of the world, to check the pulse of the populace on their beverage selections. I also like to stand in front of the costumed characters and imagine what it would be like to be them. I think it’s been at least three years since I took this sojourn. While I walk through Times Square almost every day, it’s a great job when standing around can be your work product.

I brought a few copies of BevNET magazine and some business cards with me so if and when people, including the police, questioned my actions, I could explain why I was polling a group of complete strangers. In fact, a pair of officers, with their semi-automatics slung on their shoulders, did ask why I was stopping people. As if I was the freak! We’re talking about Times Square, one of the few places in the world where you can match wits with Tweety Bird, get a massage, and then invite Spider Man for a couple of beers.

Anyway, I guess my explanation was acceptable.

So here are some of my observations. People are mostly drinking bottled water. There was one group of six from Ohio that all were holding water. The amazing thing about it, though, was that they had four different brands: Fiji, Poland Spring, Essentia and Core. They all expressed strong preferences, and the price point didn’t really make a difference. Looking at the crowd, I observed a lot of sparking waters. Most were flavored and colored. La Croix had the most drinkers but it was sprinkled with Bubly, Sparking Ice and, surprisingly, Waterloo. Between the still, sparkling, enhanced and flavored, water ruled. I must have spoken to 80 people imbibing water, and health and calories were the main motivations for their selections.

I thought about the first time I did this years ago, when the dominant brands were Coke and Pepsi, and I was a blessedly young man without a care in the world, as well as a healthy back. Not the case anymore. While soda came in second, it was a distant second. I also saw the new variations of Coke, in the slim cans, making a strong dent in the count. Their efforts to innovate seem to have been successful. Cold Brews and Kombucha were strongly in the mix. New Yorkers made up the majority of their audience. The ever-present Arizona 99-cent can was the tea of choice. I was surprised at how few Snapples were there.

I cannot forget the sports drink arena. While Gatorade was still the largest choice, I was impressed with the inroads that Body Armor has made. Powerade was barely seen.

After I went back to the office, I looked over our New Product Guide from a previous issue. There had to be well over 100 brands listed, but I saw very few of them in Times Square. It might be a place that gathers the bizarre, but it offers conventional drink choices, and the new players have a long way to go to garner acceptance and volume. Hopefully, they’ll have the time and resources to make it happen.

While this is just my slice of Americana on a lazy afternoon, you couldn’t beat it as a reporting trip on the face of beverages today.