Blog Entries

Finding a happy medium

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Category: General Blogs

Moderation is a commonly used term in the alcoholic beverage industry, but maybe it should be applied to the beverage industry as a whole.

I think so much of the news coverage of the beverage industry today is bursting with extreme language. “This or that is bad for you, cut it out of your diet completely!” “This is great for you, drink nothing but this; replace everything you drink with it!”

Come on now. What ever happened to what we used to call the ‘Happy Medium’? Have a little of this, a little of that. It won’t kill you.

I was recently interviewing Matt McLean, the CEO and founder of Uncle Matt’s Organic juice, and the conversation quickly turned to all the negative publicity the juice category had been receiving lately from the press. Those of you who have been following the category already know that in the eyes of some people, a glass of orange juice is no different than any drink high in sugar. “Sugar = bad,” these folks say, and therefore anything that contains it should be avoided like the plague.

I think it’s time we moved passed such all-or-nothing declarations. The science just doesn’t support it, for one thing. In fact, current science is beginning to observe that medicine is not the exact science we’d all love it to be. The latest research shows that different people, depending on their ancestry (basically their genealogies) are much better at tolerating and digesting certain types of foods and beverages than others. And what’s more, they have even developed immunities that those from other gene pools have not. In other words, certain ingredients, yes, including sugar, may be perfectly harmless for whole swaths of the population.

In our conversation, McLean pointed out that his brand’s core product, orange juice, yes, has natural sugar, but it is also a “nutrient dense” beverage. “It is not a sugary soda so it breaks down in the body differently,” he told me. “And when eaten with a meal it helps the uptake of those nutrients even better.” 

It got me thinking that, like we recently got it wrong with fats (remember “all fats=bad”?), are we now doing the same thing with sugar? Is the media painting sugar with such a broad brush that we are depriving ourselves of all the nutrition, and pleasure, that comes from downing a cold, refreshing glass of orange juice?

I recently read a story in The NY Times about how sales of digital books have suddenly stalled, while print book sales have started rising again. What does this have to do with beverages, you might ask? Well, print had been written off—pardon the pun—a while ago. But not so fast!  It appears some people like to sometimes read a digital book, but they also sometimes like to read on paper. The same may go for any beverage category that may be challenged today—orange juice, macro beers, macro sodas, you name it. Don’t believe the negative hype. There’s probably a happy medium in there somewhere.  

Packaging Award Winners TBA

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Category: General Blogs

We are a little behind in announcing the winners of this year's Global Packaging Design Awards. Stay tuned! They will be announced in the coming weeks...


Thanks to everyone who entered this year....

The window into a product

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: packaging, labels

As we were putting this issue to bed late last month, news broke that a California judge had dismissed a suit claiming that Jim Beam falsely claimed on its label that the product was “handcrafted.”

The judge wrote: “A reasonable consumer wouldn’t interpret the word ‘handcrafted’ on a bourbon bottle to mean the product is literally ‘created by a hand process rather than by a machine.’”

We had been following this story and other related stories for months. In fact, two similar lawsuits against Maker’s Mark bourbon, another Beam Suntory brand, were dismissed this year. Those suits also focused on the bottle labeling, which also touted the bourbon as handmade.

Hearing of all of the stories—legal cases, really—surrounding beverage labeling prompted us to look into the issue. The result is this month’s cover story written by Heather Landi [page 55].

The issues are much greater and more complex than it just being about marketers making claims on their labels, as the story points out. They incorporate widely debated issues over ingredients and what and how ingredients are listed on a label that include federal legislation that is under consideration.

As Heather writes: “The legislation comes at a time when the issue of transparency in the food and beverage business is a hot topic as consumers are increasingly demanding that food and beverage brands come clean about what is and isn’t in the products, where the products were produced and how they were manufactured.”

Millennials are much more label-savvy than their predecessors. Fueled by the immediacy and omnipresence of social media, their perceived issues about a product’s authenticity or ingredients are shared and amplified way beyond what product marketers have experienced before.

This demand for more information about products has an emerging technology component, and one related to the product label as well.

“Next generation” product codes, similar to ubiquitous product barcodes, are in development that will allow products to carry information that consumers are seeking, such as ingredients, allergen information, where the product was made, and the like. 

GS1, the non-profit organization that assigns the unique numbers in barcodes, has developed a double-layered barcode it calls the “data bar,” NBC News has reported. The data bar can be scanned by the consumer using a smartphone app to access the information and provide links to additional information about the product.

The technology has been deployed by German retailer Metro, which has launched the PRO Trace smartphone app. With the technology in hand a consumer can see, as NBC News reported, that a filet of salmon on sale in Berlin on August 25 was caught at the Bremnes Seashore fish farm off the coast of Norway on August 17 and processed in Germany on August 21. “It’s about trust. Our customers challenge us to offer sustainable and safe products,” Lena vom Stein, a responsibility project manager at Metro, told NBC News.

As beverage marketers are increasingly challenged by balancing the demand for transparency and accuracy with successfully marketing their products’ points of differentiation, could technology solutions be far behind?  

The power of disruption

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: Califia, Coca-Cola, PET

With summer having just ended, so too ends one of the busier movie-going periods of the year for me personally.  You see, I’m a huge move fan and will go to see pretty much anything on the big screen—yes, for better or worse, even all those wild and crazy summer blockbusters. 
And while as a beverage industry journalist, I’m always touting to my friends and family that they should try this brand new drink or that one, when I enter that dark, air conditioned movie theater, a ritual involving an old classic soda takes over. It’s a pretty simple ritual, actually, one common to millions of movie-goers, and involves a bucket of salty popcorn, interrupted every few minutes by the reliably thirst-quenching joy of a sip of an ice cold Coke (Ok, I prefer Cherry Coke these days, so that’s an update on a classic, I suppose), positioned right by my hand in the arm rest older. 
It’s funny because for one reason or another, recently I found myself at the movies and decided to get just the popcorn, no Coke. And then I had the bizarre experience of my hand every so often reaching for that nonexistent Coke in that cup holder—where it usually would have been awaiting.  I must have searched for that nonexistent soda three or four times during the movie, only to have my hand grasp at thin air.  Talk about the power of ritual, and then about the power of disrupting that ritual!  I have been telling people for weeks now about how my hand kept drifting to that empty arm holder space in search of my Coke!
That experience left me appreciating the importance of ritual when it comes to beverages—and the power of disrupting ritual. My morning coffee is pretty much the same thing. Getting that coffee brewing—I scoop out my coffee as I’ve done for years, no K-cups please—is another beverage ritual pretty much only interrupted by when I am away from home. 
Packaging is another part of the beverage business often associated with ritual. After all, consumers spend a lot of their time interacting with a package. It’s not until it changes that many even notice how they take it for granted. But this same reliance on expectation, can also be skillfully used by a brand to get it noticed. A good recent example is Califia Farms’ almond milk in a PET carafe.  The company was recently named a “Top 10 Challenger Brand” by consultancy firm Seurat Group for disrupting the dairy case with its unique bottle.
This relatively new brand has brilliantly used a disruptive package to cut through the sameness of the almond milk category.  Its shape is so different, I thought it might not fit in my fridge or would even be too heavy to carry. I was surprised to find I was wrong in both regards. The container is more appealing than the typical gable top carton, it’s lighter than I expected and makes ordinary almond milk feel more like a premium experience. It’s one disruption that makes you want to keep coming back for more. 

Will Amazon do it?

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: distribution

What Amazon does sometimes sends ripples throughout the business world, even the beverage world.

Gary Thompson thinks Amazon is having more than a ripple effect on beverage distributors. Thompson, the COO of Michigan-based beer distributor Powers Distributing (and Beverage World’s 2014 Beer Wholesaler of the Year), spoke at Beverage World’s BevOps supply chain conference in April on the challenge of managing the growing number of SKU’s coming into a beverage distributor’s operation. 

He opened his talk with a short video clip of the recent 60 Minutes interview of Amazon’s Jeff  Bezos, the one during which Bezos broke the news that the online retailer was testing drones for delivery. It was also the interview in which Bezos proclaimed that it was Amazon’s strategy to figure out how to “sell everything to everyone.”

For Thompson, Amazon’s impact is undeniable. “The changing consumer expectations about how they search out and purchase products are having a profound impact on beverage distribution,” he told his fellow beverage distributors in attendance. “Amazon sets expectations among consumers that beverage distributors have to realize and compete against.”

Last month reports broke out of California that fed directly into Thompson’s point.  The reports said Amazon is on the verge of testing a new concept: a drive-thru grocer that will allow consumers to order grocery items online, then schedule a pickup at a dedicated facility, the first of which seems to be under construction in Silicon Valley. Amazon didn’t confirm the reports, but it didn’t deny them either. To many observers, the idea seems more plausible and immediate than delivery drones do. “We are seeing the emergence of the next generation of the food distribution system,” Bill Bishop, a retail and e-commerce consultant told CNBC.

Few experts doubt that Amazon can pull off the drive-thru concept. Amazon already is distributing groceries, including beverages, and even perishables through its limited AmazonFresh service in major cities, and the drive-thru concept would seem to ramp up its ambitions.

Amazon of course is an expert in logistics and order selection, using robots in distribution centers to fill orders in minutes. Experts also say that Amazon has been experimenting with physical pickup spots, such as the Amazon Locker program where goods can be delivered to unmanned drop boxes at retail partners like 7-Eleven.

The drive-thru grocer concept also plays directly into Amazon’s strategy of getting goods into consumer’s hands through any means possible—including aerial drones, which leads us back to Thompson’s comments on Amazon’s disruptive effect on beverage distributors.

Even the potential of the Amazon drive-thru concept should put traditional brick-and-mortar grocers and the companies that supply them on notice because the potential disruption would be formidable. Disrupting traditional business models also is what Amazon does best.  And, as Jeff Bezos said to 60 Minutes, “Complaining about it isn’t a strategy.”