It’s an annual tradition at BevNET to look back at the past year by reminiscing on the exciting innovations, landmark deals, and major developments that changed the beverage industry. And there’s no more (or less?) objective way to do that than to mine our data and compile a list of our Most Read articles of 2018.
This is truly the reader’s choice, so without further ado here are our most shared and clicked-on stories of the year.
Natural Products Expo West is always one of the food and beverage industry’s largest and most impactful trade shows, and 2018 boasted record attendance for the event. The first part of our coverage focused on some of the fastest growing categories in the natural beverage space, and with it drew the most attention of all our show reporting.
The show saw the debuts of ready-to-drink innovations across product categories, including new cold brew coffees from Peet’s, Chameleon, and High Brew to kombucha, where Brew Dr. Kombucha unveiled a canned line (one of our year-end award recipients for Best New Product). Meanwhile, dairy alternatives welcomed new entries from players like Lifeway, Suja, and Canadian import Happy Planet.
For a look at tea, drinking vinegar, soda, and other categories at Expo West 2018, see part two of our recap. The show also produced BevNET’s all-time most viewed YouTube video interview with JUST Water co-founders Will and Jaden Smith.
2018 started out with a bang in January when Keurig Green Mountain and Dr Pepper Snapple Group announced a blockbuster $18.7 billion merger to form Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP), a move that dominated beverage industry news throughout the year. While the deal was a big step forward for a number of players, it also had its casualties.
In October, local media outlets in Vermont reported that the company will eliminate 500 jobs nationwide by Jan. 4, 2019 as a result of operations consolidation stemming from the merger. Approximately 118 of those layoffs affect four Vermont facilities, with others coming from the company’s two main offices in Plano, Texas and Burlington, Mass. The company told BevNET most of the layoffs occurred prior to the announcement.
In the July/August issue of BevNET Magazine we compiled a list of the most powerful women in the business today. Our cover pick, PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, would later step down from her post in October, but the list also featured rising entrepreneurs like Hint CEO Kara Goldin, financiers like VMG founding partner Kara Cissell-Roell, and influential forces such as the former Monster Energy employees who brought the #MeToo movement into the beverage space after going public and filing sexual harassment lawsuits against the company.
After completing its merger in July, KDP began making moves with its allied brands portfolio. The company said farewell to Fiji and BodyArmor, but opting to keep premium water brand CORE Nutrition, acquiring the brand in September for $525 million.
The acquisition was especially notable as the brand was only 3 ½ years old at the time of purchase. Founder Lance Collins later told BevNET that the key was to “just keep innovating and making things better.”
Citing strong performance in Brazil, PepsiCo launched customizable beverage line Drinkfinity in February. Sold exclusively online, the system features a reusable plastic water bottle with a specialty cap that works with its proprietary, single-use recyclable drink pods, which are available in 12 flavors and formulated to provide functional nutrition.
“We realized consumers have an interest in preparing their own beverages,” Rich Rodriguez, the U.S. director of Drinkfinity, told BevNET. “So this is a convenient way for them to be able to do this.”
Speaking at BevNET Live Summer 2018 in June, Vita Coco co-founder and CEO Michael Kirban hinted that his company had big plans for the near future. Just a few weeks later, one piece of that plan came to fruition when the coconut water’s parent company, All Market Inc., announced the acquisition of organic energy drink brand Runa for an undisclosed sum.
Kirban is an investor in the brand and has been a member of its advisory board since 2014. He told BevNET he believes Runa has a strong opportunity to disrupt the energy category as demand for better-for-you products increases, citing strong distribution within the natural and specialty channels.
When KDP finalized its merger in July the effects were immediate. Once the completion was announced, premium water brand Fiji said it would discontinue its distribution partnership with the conglomerate. Effective October 1, Fiji parent The Wonderful Company took full control of the brand’s distribution, telling BevNET it plans to leverage a 300 member sales and merchandising team to build out a DSD network.
In an October interview with BevNET at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) trade show, Fiji president Elizabeth Stephenson said the brand is “going to have a close relationship with [its] retailers” and its consumers, “who are really who matter.” Speaking at BevNET Live Winter 2018 in December, she further discussed how the decision has helped a mature brand like Fiji stay strong and vital.
In September, Monster Energy filed a federal lawsuit in California against Vital Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the fast-growing Bang Energy Drink, accusing the company of marketing “modern-day snake oil.”
Vital Pharmaceuticals and its founder Jack Owoc responded with an emotionally charged press release defending Bang’s efficacy and scientific grounding.
“We would never make the gross scientific mistake of combining 54 grams of sugar with caffeine,” Owoc said. “Everything we do is highly researched and science-driven. We are the most prolific innovator of university research-backed products in the history of sports nutrition. In fact, I believe we have conducted more university studies than most of the sports nutrition industry combined!”
Red Bull is known for regularly adding new flavors to its energy drinks, but this year the brand made a foray into the premium organic soda space. Announced in March, Organics by Red Bull received a limited launch in April in two regions — San Diego County and one area of North Carolina — as well as on Amazon.
The line includes four flavors: Simply Cola, Bitter Lemon, Ginger Ale, and Tonic Water, all available in 8.4 oz. slim cans.
For the third year in a row, a story about Monster tops our most read list. The initial announcement of Monster’s lawsuit against Bang at the beginning of September certainly made an impact with readers. The case is still ongoing, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it in 2019!
While these stories were the most viewed of the year, there were many major industry developments that just missed the cut. At #11 was the June announcement that Molson Coors acquired Clearly Kombucha, the first non-alcoholic beverage purchase by the corporation. Much of the current talk of the beverage industry over the past six months, especially with the passage of the new U.S. Farm Bill, has centered around cannabis and, in particular, cannabidiol (CBD). Three stories on the topic narrowly missed the top 10, including the announcement that GT’s Living Foods is launching a CBD sparkling water line, a regulatory update on the California Department of Public Health’s revised FAQ prohibiting CBD in food and beverage, and a two-part deep dive on the beverage industry’s interest in CBD that we published in the spring. Finally, PepsiCo’s entry into the sparkling water space with Bubly in February was another widely viewed story about a significant emerging category.
We’ll see you all in 2019. And remember, if you party too hard on New Year’s Eve, there’s plenty of new innovation in the hangover recovery category!