BevNET Live Day 1 Recap: Taking the Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey, and the speakers on stage during the first day of BevNET Live Winter 2018 shared their personal stories of traversing the beverage industry. Speaking today in Santa Monica, Calif., industry leaders from emerging and established companies shared their insights into building a thriving beverage business in the current landscape.

Dyla Brands founder and CEO Neel Premkumar opened the day’s program. Best known today for coffee shot brand FORTO, Premkumar started the story of his entrepreneurial journey with the company’s origins as a maker of Stur, a line of water enhancers with natural ingredients.

“We talk about how we compete with big companies,” Premkumar said. “I can’t compete on money with Coke or Pepsi, or compete on distribution. But I can compete on speed, I can launch something, learn and get feedback and kill if it doesn’t work. Or if it does work, double down and invest harder.”

While Stur remains a significant part of Dyla’s business, FORTO has become the company’s major hit, but it wasn’t a simple transition. Premkumar spoke about needing to reassure investors who had no idea the company would put resources towards an energy shot, especially given the fate of so many energy shot brands before it. But by recognizing the use occasion for a coffee energy shot and entering strategic partnerships with conglomerates like JAB Holdings Company and Keurig Dr Pepper, FORTO has positioned itself as a rapid-growth brand bringing new consumers to the energy coffee space.

Following Premkumar, GT’s Living Foods founder GT Dave took the stage to talk about building a brand with passion and mission. Dave emphasized the importance of growing a company without losing sight of the initial vision and purpose entrepreneurs set out to achieve at launch. Dave also announced the launch of a new line of sparkling wellness waters infused with cannabidiol (CBD), Dream Catcher, marking an expansion for the company beyond kombucha.

“The way I run my company is very much like an overprotective parent and being an overprotective parent you see your products as your children and you see yourself in them,” Dave said. “So God forbid you go off track. We all need to treat it sacredly.”

Next, Walmart divisional merchandise manager of chilled packaged goods Sarah Alderson discussed how the nation’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer can serve as a launchpad for smaller brands. According to Alderson, about 800 of the company’s 4,500 stores function as “high emerging brand stores” that emphasize entrepreneurial companies and offer small brands shelf space to grow.

Jumping from small brands to large conglomerates, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Randy Ornstein took the stage to discuss the company’s increased focus on building its non-alcoholic portfolio. Ornstein, the VP of sales for the company’s Beyond Beer Portfolio — which includes brands like Teavana and HiBall — went deep into the details of AB InBev’s strategy for non-alcoholic, as well as rising alcoholic drinks outside of the beer category, such as spiked seltzers.

Following Ornstein with seltzers of the non-spiked variety, Spindrift founder and CEO Bill Creelman sat down for a fireside chat to discuss innovating within the sparkling water category and growing a company at a manageable rate. Creelman said managing his team and keeping them up to date is one of the major challenges of scaling, as the environment changes and workload increases so quickly it can be like asking employees to do a different job every single year.

“Inevitably you have to go from being in elementary school to playing football in high school overnight,” Creelman said.

Where the day began with emerging brands, the speaking session closed with a “mature” brand. Elizabeth Stephenson, president of the Fiji Water Group at The Wonderful Company, said she wasn’t sure if she would describe Fiji as quote unquote “mature,” but she acknowledged the brand’s massive mainstream reach and discussed the challenges, as well as the freedoms, that come with managing a major category leader.

“Winning for us is first and foremost extraordinary product delivered into the market with premium service and inspired branding,” Stephenson said. “When you get that part right, everything else comes.”

Prior to breaking for lunch, the winners of BevNET’s Best of 2018 awards were announced, as well as the six brands selected to vie for the New Beverage Showdown 16 title tomorrow.

Check back tomorrow, Dec. 4, for more coverage of day two of BevNET Live Winter 2018. The day’s mainstage presentations, including the New Beverage Showdown 16 finals, will begin streaming live on BevNET starting at 12:00 p.m. EST/9:00 a.m. PST.