BevNET Live Summer 2017: Day One Recap

Matt Jimenez, Whole Foods Market

The delivery of the message was softer, with a few jokes thrown in, but the connective lesson from presentations at Day One of BevNET Live Summer 2017 was quite clear and quite serious: In a rapidly changing world, your business needs to keep up the pace or get stuck in the past.

Experts and veterans from all levels of the beverage industry delivered their advice on stage in New York City on Tuesday, discussing the latest drinkable trends, predicting the future, and delivering strategies for leveraging the ever-important e-Commerce market.

Kicking off the show was Scott Uzzell, president and general manager of The Coca-Cola Company’s Venturing & Emerging Brands division (VEB), who reflected on the department’s 10-year anniversary. Since its inception, VEB has turned out alumni brands such as Honest Tea, ZICO, Suja, and Fairlife, constantly in search of billion dollar brands. Like the beverage landscape itself, VEB has grown and changed drastically since 2007, moving from a relatively simple system of incubation and investment to a multi-pronged approach also involving acquisitions and partnerships with other investment groups, including L.A. Libations and First Beverage.

The “Futurists,” Uzzell said, are one key to VEB’s success. His predictors think ahead to what the beverage landscape will be like in 2025 and 2026, and while they may not be completely accurate by the time that day arrives (there’s always curveballs, after all), it’s this kind of forward planning that leads VEB toward the brands and categories that are most likely to succeed into that billion dollar range. From there, they invest, incubate, and finally integrate into the market. With more than 450 new brands appearing each year and more than 7,000 active trademarks it’s become more valuable than ever to be able to determine the successes early on.

Matt Jimenez, senior category leader for Whole Foods Market, likewise shared his lessons for changing with the times. As a grocer, Whole Foods has frequently given small brands their first big breaks in the nationwide market, but choosing which brands will be long-term winners can be a search with a degree of difficulty similar to that described by VEB.

“I think with the rate of change and the amount and sheer volume of product attributes, and brands, and SKUs, you have to tackle it in a different way,” Jimenez said. “When we talk about change and success, part of making something successful is sticking to it and making sure it has staying power. But in this category, what happens is a lot of times there’s so much change you lose sight, you lose focus, because you’re constantly bombarded with new things. So, making sure that you can choose those winners and stick to them and that they can become a category leader and build that space specifically around them, that’s our approach.”

Jamie Danek, Humm Kombucha

For brands, keeping up with the times means embracing the internet beyond the realm of social media. Attendees heard from e-commerce retailers, including FreshDirect and Peapod, who shared the way apps, algorithms, and digital promotions can offer innovative ways to connect directly with consumers and cultivate brand loyalty. Samantha Brody, senior sales manager for Peapod, shared how the popular grocery website has helped consumers become brand loyalists through its grocery list function, which saves users’ shopping lists for bulk purchase. Being on that list should be a priority for every brand, she said.

Arnulfo Ventura, vice president of business development for Califia Farms, sat down with Profitero’s Keith Anderson to discuss how brands can focus their efforts on e-Commerce. His company, Ventura said, doesn’t even think of e-Commerce as a channel like natural or specialty, but as a whole different marketplace.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Ventura said. “What works for one brand won’t necessarily work for another.”

Of course, there’s ways to still trailblaze the old-fashioned way. Humm Kombucha co-founder Jamie Danek shared her experience foregoing specialty stores in order to bring a niche beverage category into mass market retailers, landing in Walmart before Whole Foods and securing an NFL sponsorship deal as a tiny company operating out of Oregon. For Humm, the success came from avoiding the common path to success and taking risks on an obscure beverage that consumers had never even heard of.

But when it comes to predicting the future, it takes hours of experience. And Bill Weiland, founder and CEO of Presence Marketing, estimated he had about 30,000.

Bill Weiland, Presence Marketing

Weiland led the audience through the list of emerging categories and why they were succeeding. His vision for the future of the beverage landscape saw less room for sugar and more room for fat, alongside increased success for bone broth, cold brew coffee, fermented and probiotic drinks, cold pressed juice, and one his favorites — bitters.

“Bitters are surrounding us as we speak,” Weiland said. “They’re everywhere.”

The future for beverage entrepreneurs will rely on their ability to follow, but also to guide consumers. And the future for BevNET Live will take place tomorrow, as another day’s lineup of speakers share their insights on the state of beverage, beginning at 9 a.m. with KeVita founder Bill Moses, in his first interview since selling the company to PepsiCo in November.