As much as the spirit of BevNET Live is one that’s rooted in education, collaboration and mobilization, the bi-annual conference for beverage entrepreneurs, suppliers, distributors, retailers and investors never shies away from embracing the fiercely competitive nature of the industry.
Day one of BevNET Live’s 2015 Winter session began with 15 upstarts vying for the title of champion in the tenth installment of the New Beverage Showdown. The contestants, whose products varied from those challenging the status quo of existing beverage categories (sports drinks, coconut water, matcha, plant-based milks) to those looking to establish themselves as pioneers in entirely new ones (sun protective drinks, ready-to-drink bone broth) pitched their products to the five-headed panel of expert judges, who evaluated the brands based on their concept, taste, packaging design, function and overall likelihood to find success in today’s ever-evolving beverage landscape.
Following the semifinal round of two-minute elevator pitches, BevNET’s editor-in-chief Jeff Klineman took to the stage to recap some of the biggest stories of the beverage industry in 2015. The year in review would also serve as a fitting introduction for the morning’s first featured speaker, Stumptown Coffee Roasters president Joth Ricci, whose presentation on “Keeping the Soul of the Premium Brand” arrived on the heels of Stumptown’s acquisition by Peet’s Coffee in October, arguably the biggest validation of the “third wave coffee” category to date.
Ricci also used his stage time as a platform to announce an upcoming product launch for Stumptown: a dairy-free, coconut milk-based cold brew coffee, which he said came in response to consumer demand for a dairy-free cold brew coffee offering. Made without carrageenan or stabilizers, the new product will officially launch at the top of 2016.
Self-identifying “biohacker” Dave Asprey was up next, sharing his journey from Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur to the man behind the Bulletproof Coffee craze to his most recent venture with FATwater. In doing so, Asprey offered the audience a look into how he’s been able to build a cult-like following for products that boldly defy conventional notions of what’s considered a good-for-you beverage.
“The brand that you’re building is in partnership with the community that you’re serving,” he said. “So if you’re building a brand, you figure out who your target market is and you spend as much time with them as you possibly can. You understand them psychologically. Ideally you are one of them, and you show them that you’re one of them.”
Talking Rain CEO Kevin Klock joined Klineman on stage shortly thereafter to speak to some of the “More Money, More Problems” types of challenges that can present themselves after a company achieves the level of success that a brand Sparkling Ice has. Examples of which included building a brand that can appeal across wide demographic groups, meeting adjusted retailer expectations, new performance standards for innovation and personnel.
“For us, I think the biggest challenge has been being able to step back and rather than just focus on growth to focus on steady, smart growth,” Klock shared. “To take the right steps to settle in and get this whole new system working.”
Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of 7-Eleven would sit down with Klineman next, revealing how the convenience store giant has begun looking to open its doors to support smaller, innovative entrepreneurial brands, and assisting them in catching on in such retail settings.
“In the last 24 months I’d say we’ve become very open to doing regional and local products,” Delgado-Jenkins shared. “You don’t have to be in every single store. You don’t even have to be in every single store within a region. If we’ve got 900 stores in Los Angeles but your product only makes sense in 400 of those stores, we’re very open to driving that type of presence.”
Leading up to the announcement of the New Beverage Showdown finalists, BevNET Managing Editor Ray Latif sat down with three recent winners of the competition to discuss how each has fared since. Daina Trout, the CEO and co-founder of Health-Ade, Daren Myers, the co-founder of Rau Chocolate, and Austin Allan, the founder of Tio Gazpacho, discussed the opportunities that their Showdown wins provided in terms of exposure, as well as their ongoing business strategies. The panel discussion also provided beverage entrepreneurs with a deep dive into the challenges faced by growing brands and how Health-Ade, Tio and Rau have approached them.
Before the lunch break and heading into the afternoon’s breakout sessions, the New Beverage Showdown’s judges were able to whittle the fifteen brands who entered the competition semifinals down to six, with with Bru Broth, MALK, Tea Riot, 1821 Bitters, Three Tree and Chuca Chaga advancing to the final round of six. Stay tuned to BevNET.com on Tuesday to find out who will be crowned winner.