Bevi, the Boston-based startup producing a Internet-connected “smart” beverage dispensing system for offices, has partnered with Sound Sparkling Tea to begin offering its products in its machine.
Bevi now offers two SKUs — green tea and rose tea — from Sound as options within its system. Launched in late July, the partnership marks Bevi’s first affiliation with an independent beverage brand. The company’s line of touchscreen-controlled coolers are sold on a monthly subscription basis and dispense still and sparkling water, as well as drinks made with flavored concentrates.
Speaking with BevNET at the company’s headquarters outside Boston, Bevi co-founder and CEO Sean Grundy explained that, after initially exploring the idea of using strictly Bevi-branded drinks in its machines, the company recognized the need to work with existing beverage brands that could further extend their reach and diversify their offerings.
“Most of our effort to date has gone towards making sure the machines work well, as well as software to manage inventory in the field,” he said, calling the experience a good opportunity for Bevi to recognize and reaffirm its core competencies in design, engineering and development. “It makes a lot of sense for us to become a platform or a distribution mechanism to get into different kinds of locations and in front of different kinds of audiences and let the beverage entrepreneurs design the right drinks.”
Like Grundy, Sound co-founder Tommy Kelly was looking for ways to expand the brand’s presence to new audiences, including through bag-in-box fountain service. Upon hearing Grundy speak about Bevi on an episode of BevNET’s Taste Radio podcast in February, Kelly reached out to begin discussing a potential collaboration that could take advantage of Bevi’s unique beverage delivery system.
“One bag of concentrate makes the equivalent of almost 400 12 oz. bottles — that’s 400 glass bottles, caps, labels, boxes,” said Kelly. “In offices, they are looking for the liquid; they aren’t buying it as a decoration. It’s much less efficient for us to sell them a single 12 oz glass bottle and compete on price point when we can send them the equivalent of 400 drinks in one bag for a system that’s already set up exactly where they are.”
Grundy explained that, having previously tried to develop an iced tea for the machine in-house, Sound appeared to be a good fit in the machine, one that was both healthy and formulated as a sparkling product. However, Bevi’s system allows users to individually adjust both the carbonation level and flavor strength of the drink being dispensed, leading to some surprising data from customers.
“It took a lot of testing to make sure the drinks tasted good in those different scenarios,” said Grundy, noting that 49 percent of dispenses for rose tea have been sparkling and 51 percent have been still. In terms of flavor strength, 75 percent has been the default or “normal” flavor strength.
Kelly said that having access to real-time, data-based feedback will help guide the company’s strategic decisions in the future.
“If we are rolling out a new flavor and we want to know how strong should we make it, we essentially have a virtual focus group to say what are people drinking, is it higher or lower concentration, is it still or sparkling,” he said. “It gave us more data and the ability to automate some R&D where we can make a bag, put it somewhere and see how customers react to it over time.”
Kelly said that additional flavors, such as sparkling yerba mate, may be introduced into Bevi’s system in the future.
Grundy said that, in recognition of the growing importance of independent drink brands to its business model, the company plans to hire a manager to oversee its relationships with beverage producers this fall. As the company prepares for the launch of its new compact countertop model, he noted that future innovations in technology — including potentially a machine that could prepare alcoholic mixed drinks on-demand — would be closely linked to unique beverage opportunities.
“The more we can find partners to work together on the beverage front, the better off we will be,” said Grundy. “We can provide more diversified offerings, attract a much bigger customer pool, and really provide an alternative supply chain to companies. The idea is that long-term we can just become an alternative distributor.”