BevNET Live: Stretching the Brand to the Consumer

So there’s a ready-to-drink bone broth heading for the market.

While the idea that a cup-of-fortified-consommé – currently growing in popularity through an in-the-know cross section of foodies, followers of the “Paleo Diet,” and GOOP readers – might someday be an RTD beverage category could seem far-fetched, a look at the second day of BevNET Live might cause some reconsideration. There can be a time for every product out there, as Bru Broth’s founders — and many others — found out.

After all, the day started and ended with a colder set of soup-like products, with a kickoff talk from Pressed Juicery CEO Hayden Slater and a final, ceremonial hoisting of the New Beverage Showdown’s giant award check by Tio Gazpacho founder Austin Allan. That a pair of cold juices could bookend a day that covered ways for all types of beverage entrepreneurs to break in new products, new brands, and ultimately, new categories indicates the infinite importance of thinking of the consumer as much as the innovation.

Pressed Juicery founder Hayden Slater with BevNET's Jeff Klineman

Pressed Juicery founder Hayden Slater with BevNET’s Jeff Klineman

A pair of discussions from the day pointed to that larger truth – that no matter how brilliant an idea might be, no matter if it’s coming from a new entrepreneur or an established multinational brand, it needs to provide the consumer with a strong experience that will draw them back to a product or brand.

So when Slater said he had sought, even with his compact but high-end set of stores, to make great tasting, nutritious, affordable products, he said, he made sure to weigh heavily the consumer experience side of the business.

“We didn’t invent juice, I don’t think anyone in this room invented juice,” Slater noted. “What we did is create exactly what we as customers wanted.”

The brand sold out by 11 a.m. during the first three weeks, after opening in a former broom closet – something that Slater recognized indicated that the product was good, the price point was right, and there was a pent-up demand for that kind of product. “But for me, it was clear that the products and the experience were keeping people coming back.”

Slater said that the brand was buoyed by a larger health and wellness movement, but that part of the experience was the lack of pressure and intimidation in the stores. Noting that health and wellness as a movement can be strident, he said, the company wanted to provide a way for consumers to engage as much or as little as they wanted.

“If you like it, come back,” he said. “Do whatever you can do to be better. Those baby steps are what really stick and last.”

While those ideas were being carried out by Pressed Juicery in a brick-and-mortar footprint, the emphasis on taking steps that are measured, meaningful, and consumer-focused was underscored by Coca-Cola executive Mary-Ann Somers, who is in charge of the company’s water, tea, and coffee brands.

Somers used the example of a rubber band – and line extensions for the Dasani brands as a case study – to illustrate ways that entrepreneurs could think about whether their ideas for growing their brands fit with what the market can bear.

“The one thing I know for sure is you all are not at a loss for opportunities,” she said to the audience. “The question is trying to figure out which ones make sense for you.”

That surplus of opportunity is something that small companies typically struggle with more than larger institutions, she said, noting that for bigger companies, the problem is too much focus on executing strategy, resulting in a more one-track view.  Entrepreneurs need to properly evaluate opportunities, she added, with the danger being to not over-commit.

The solution comes from measuring opportunities against three areas: brand equity, company resources, and timing, rather than being reactive.

“The worst thing you can do is be passive about the kinds of choices you’re making,” she said. “Many of us are doers, we want to make things happen, and we see an opportunity and we say, let’s go run it down, let’s go get it. Just be thoughtful about what you’re doing and when, because that’s a resource that’s not going somewhere else.”

Somers pointed to two examples, the electric cigarette and ready-to-drink brewed coffee in a carton as ideas that had once been regarded as innovation failures but are now, two decades later, part of growing brand categories, and the idea became clearer. Within the context of consumer demand, sometimes ideas just need time to simmer.

So when the bone broth comes to market, the question will be equal on both sides of the equation: is the product ready for the world, and is the world ready for the product?