High pressure processing didn’t need to dominate the discussion to make a statement Tuesday, during day one of BevNET Live in New York City. The emerging form of cold pasteurization did come up repeatedly during the day’s presentations though, permeating Stacey Galvez and Shauna Martin’s exploration of WhiteWaves’ investment in Daily Greens. It was also addressed throughout Cyrus Schwartz and Chris Psuik’s dialogue on Dora’s Naturals’ foray into the technology. But the processing method really made its presence in the beverage industry felt during the afternoon’s New Beverage Showdown, in which four of the sixteen brands featured utilize it. Perhaps most telling about the interest in the method among industry gatekeepers, like those who were judging: all four advanced to the final round of six.
Cold-pressed cacao beverage Rau took the decision out of the judges’ hands by earning the majority of the audience vote, but even without that honor, Rau’s chances were looking pretty good.
“I think this product is executed beautifully,” said Bill Weiland, founder of Presence Marketing Group, when offering his assessment of the San Diego-based brand. “I think with good marketing, the benefits of the polyphenolic compounds in this product are going to help this product become more mainstream fairly soon. I think it’s a winner.”
Joining Rau in Wednesday’s final round are Subtle Tea, Meta Matcha, Caribe, H2Melon, and Sweet‘tauk, the latter three of which also use high pressure processing.
But of course the day wasn’t all about pasteurization processes. Matt McLean, founder and CEO of Uncle Matt’s organic juice kicked off the festivities with a look at the opportunities as well as the obstacles of being a supply-based brand (we’re looking at you regarding the latter, citrus greening disease).
Following the discussion of the investment process in Daily Greens, there was a note of discord on the whole topic of HPP: investment banker Nicole Fry warned of having too much faith in the process alone and the market getting overcrowded.
“There will be a shakeout,” she said. “You’re going to see a lot of small brands struggle.”
Fry, an investment banker with First Beverage Group, did couch her discussion in the idea that there are many new brands coming of age, and that entrepreneurs should remain focused on promoting brand functionality.
That led into a three-pronged attack from Greg Fleishman (CEO of Purely Righteous Brands), Justin Prochnow (Partner at Greenberg Traurig, LLP) and Mike Bush (Executive Vice President of Ganedan) who tackled the delicate, multi-faceted balancing act brands must perform when going about making and marketing functional claims for their beverages.
“You really have to make sure you know what you’re saying,” Prochnow warned the audience of entrepreneurs of using terms like “Raw” “Natural” and “Rich in ____” when describing their products. “It’s not even the FDA as much as it’s plaintiff lawyers who are out there looking for the misuse of these words.”
Nick Giannuzzi, a seasoned deal lawyer who works with growing food and beverage brands, walked the audience through some of the levers of control that can keep founders independent. The worst outcome for some, he said, has been founders who lose control of their boards and wind up in unfavorable situations even as their companies sell.
Later, in a presentation on the perks of premium pricing, Q Drinks CEO Jordan Silbert shared the story of his brand of high end cocktail mixers and how the company’s “running lean for survival” model has allowed for significant growth without significant spending. On the other side of that approach, Isopure CEO Chris Hickey discussed the value of putting ad dollars towards brand building within the sports nutrition category.
The afternoon came to a close with a presentation from Tripp Keber, CEO and co-founder of Colorado-based Dixie Brands, makers of THC-infused sodas Dixie Elixirs. A leader in a young but already extremely lucrative category, Keber’s remarks offered a sobering reality for anyone doubting the legitimacy and opportunity in the commercialization of recreational cannabis, which brought in $700 million in sales in 2014 in Colorado alone. Keber’s presentation also made a play at people’s morality.
“If you’re willing, and you have the interest, become a brand advocate for the plant,” Keber asked of the audience. “It’s immaterial if it’s Dixie or a competitor, because marijuana exists on every street corner in the United States and around the planet, and it’s going to continue. But why invest in a product that fuels narco terrorists when you could invest in a product that will build schools?”
The munchies had started to set in pretty hard by this point, so with that, attendees headed downstairs for some h’ordeuvres and happy hour cocktails. BevNET Live day one was in the books.