Day 2 of BevNET Live Winter 2015 began with the return of two conference regulars: IRI’s Brian Reed and Kathryn Peters of SPINS, who opened up the day’s events with a data-driven state of the union address, exploring trending beverage categories across different retail channels. The gist: what was once niche is now mainstream.
Reed reported volume growth of three percent for the total beverage refreshment category, with a steady decline in traditional types of beverages like carbonated soft drinks, refrigerated orange juices and shelf stable juices offset by 19 percent growth in natural beverages. Peters would attribute the findings to consumers’ increasing demand for variety and innovation, as well as those in attendance.
“It’s really those of you in this room that are driving a lot of the innovation and the new dollars that are coming into refreshment beverages,” she stated.
Peters would also note that despite the declines in traditional beverage categories like CSDs, companies have still be able to post dollar sales in spite of losses in volume by way of things like innovative packaging choices, pointing to the success of items like Coca-Cola’s 8 oz. mini cans as an example.
Suja Juice co-founder and CEO Jeff Church graced the stage next, pulling back the curtain on all that went into Suja’s massive year that culminated in the August announcement that the Coca-Cola Company had acquired a minority stake worth $90 million in the cold-pressed juice category frontrunner. Church also outlined what a Coke-backed Suja means for the brand as it heads into the new year with new muscle behind it.
“What I’ve loved about the relationship so far is that Coke recognizes that they do certain things really well as a big company, like distribution, like cost, but that there are certain things they don’t do as well, like innovate quickly or speed to market,” Church said. “So we’ve been able to get those advantages of a larger company like Coke while retaining the entrepreneurship of a smaller company.”
Following a networking and sample bar intermission, BevNET Live’s New Beverage Showdown resumed with finalists MALK Organics, BRU, Three Trees, 18.21 Bitters and Chuga Chaga extending their two minute “elevator pitches” from Monday’s semi-final round to a proper five minute presentation. While most of the brands had passed the taste test by this point, judges still expressed a handful of concerns they had about the contestants pertaining to their packaging, brand identity, and their ability to compete with larger players in their respective categories.
In introducing Campbell Fresh, the new, store perimeter focused division in which his company now resides, Bolthouse Farms president and general manager Scott LaPorta declared that the company was looking to expand either by innovation or by acquisition — noting that C-Fresh, as it is called, wanted to go into 30 different categories from its current 10. Bolthouse’s 3-year foray into the convenience store channel had taught LaPorta that in-store promotion, sharp price points, and “providing an unduplicated choice” are keys to success in that channel. Kent Pilakowski, president and founder of sales management and consulting firm IGNITE, then discussed “push points” in his presentation on growth strategy for evolving companies, explaining that scale comes through professionalizing at key moments and when CEOs determine their core abilities and fill out the rest through hiring or contracting.
Next to the stage, Evolution Fresh President Jeff Hansberry and founder Jimmy Rosenberg discussed the roles that each play in nurturing the vision that led to the brand’s acquisition by Starbucks in 2011. Hansberry and Rosenberg reflected on how the two companies first saw alignment in DNA and values and why a focus on quality first and foremost drives Evolution’s growth strategy amid a rapidly changing cold-pressed juice category.
Fashion industry executive turned juice bar entrepreneur Alex Matthews detailed the development of his company Juice Served Here, which has expanded from a single Los Angeles location to 12 locations as part of a “store per month” plan launched at the top of this year. Matthews revealed he expects to continue opening Juice Served Here locations at the same rate heading into 2016, saying the climate of the city’s juicing culture warrants such accelerated expansion.
Following Blake Mitchell and Becky Nelson’s (of design and branding agencies Interact on Shelf and Bex Brands, respectively) look at packaging trends being seen across the industry, Campbell Soup Company’s vice president of beverages Kelli McCusker explored the process of reframing longtime legacy brands in order to adapt to an ever-evolving market. Since joining the company in 2014, McCusker’s been working towards doing just that with Campbell’s V8 brand, pushing product innovation and promotion to breathe new life into V8’s core offering: vegetables.
“Job number one is doing the right new things, but what’s more important is having the courage to step away from the old things that have worked in the past, because sometimes those old things might keep you steeped in the past instead of propelling you to where you need to go,” she said. “Forward.”
As the afternoon came to a close the New Beverage Showdown’s judges returned to the stage one last time to announce a winner. While the audience vote belonged to Missy and Kristen Koefod of 18.21 Bitters, it was Houston-based nut milk brand MALK Organics that won over the judges, taking home the $5,000 cash prize.