InterBev 2008 Stresses Innovation

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Over 300 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees gathered at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas from October 20-23 for InterBev 2008. The event was put on by the American Beverage Association (ABA) and the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent gave the keynote address at the show, and used the opportunity to address the challenges facing the beverage industry. Referring to those challenges as “headwinds”, Kent admitted that “today those headwinds feel more like a category 4 hurricane or a tsunami.” He specifically cited changing consumer preferences, commodity costs and the present financial crisis as the chief challenges facing the industry.

Kent nevertheless tried to put the current economic crisis in perspective, noting that the business climate 30 years ago, when he began at Coca Cola, was also tough. He pointed to innovation as one of the key forces that enabled the beverage industry and the United States as a whole to endure those challenging times and subsequently usher in several decades of prosperity and job creation. A decade ago, he noted, major beverage categories such as bottled water, energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and coffees, as well as functional beverages were scarcely recognizable or did not yet exist.

Kent also hastened to point out that new, as yet unimagined categories won’t be the only areas that will drive beverage  growth. He offered the example of Coke Zero as proof that sparkling (read: carbonated) beverages are far from dead. Quite the contrary, he said Zero has “single-handedly revitalized” Coca-Cola, selling over 450 million cases worldwide last year.

Kent predicted that the growth of the non-alcoholic beverage industry would continue to outpace most consumer packaged goods categories. Such growth, he said, would be spurred on by two major macroeconomic trends: the rise of the middle class in developing nations such as India and China and the urbanization of the world’s population. In Kent’s vision, the increasing global appetite for ready-to-drink beverages would not only serve as a source of future business growth, but the increasing globalization of the beverage marketplace would also enable innovation to flow more freely between markets. Finally, Kent listed three areas where innovation is needed within the beverage industry. These three “S’s” he referred to were: service innovations, supply chain innovations and sustainability innovations.

The diversity of products and services exhibited on the InterBev show floor indicated that innovation is ongoing in the beverage business. Many of the booths at InterBev showcased products and services for bottling and co-packing plants. In general, the show serves as a reminder that beverages manufacturing is still, at a certain level, a nuts and bolts business driven by technological innovation. Yet bottling equipment and services represented only a fraction of the total products and services exhibited at the show, which also included products and services for beverage distributors and wholesalers, flavor and ingredients companies, packaging inventions, and financial service providers.

A special New Beverage Aisle also highlighted beverage innovation. This section contained over 20 booths in which new or recently introduced beverage brands were on display, including bottled waters, energy shots, energy drinks, juices, sports drinks and teas. A centrally located beverage bar area also allowed employees of the American Beverage Association to serve up samples of over 200 beverage brands donated by ABA member companies.

Check out the photo gallery to see a selection of the exhibitors from InterBev 2008.

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