Blog Entries

A Tale of Two Pepsis

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: soft drink

So we are supposed to believe that suddenly the entire world is shunning a refreshing Pepsi or Coke because they have a lot of calories, but can’t wait to get their hands on a Subway sandwich filled with Fritos, or an indulgent new nachos you can gobble up on the go from Taco Bell?

Which is it, because, at least in my mind, the two trends seem to be telling me two things at once—and this is driving me slowly crazy!

Are we really seeing consumers the world over suddenly turn against carbonated soft drinks, or is there something else going on here?

Activist investor Nelson Peltz believes it’s the latter. He would like to see PepsiCo split into two parts: one for its food business, the other for its beverages. And he wants this not because he thinks the beverage part of the business would then slither away into a corner and die like some zombie from “The Walking Dead,” but because he believes it would then be able to thrive under a more “focused leadership.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. And this is despite the synergies “The Power of One” — where PepsiCo’s food and beverages have been used together in some powerful promotions—have brought to PepsiCo. The reason is that in this day and age—“The Age of Creative Disruption”—it’s not hard to see why more intense focus can only benefit a beverage business.

I’m writing this, after all, in the days following the announcement that Comcast plans to buy out Time Warner. And the news just broke that Netlfix is paying Comcast to ensure its pipeline into homes remains free of disruption by the increasingly powerful Comcast. And NBC just noticed how a vast number of its audience turned to their iPads, mobile phone and computers, instead of their TV’s, to watch the Olympics live. And I can go on and on...

Talk about creative disruption!  

Our industry’s “creative disruption” can be seen in the interest in the handcrafted and the local over the distant and impersonal. It’s in the craft beer renaissance, where small brewers are giving entrenched global brands a run for their money. Case in point: I recently dined out at a newly opened gastropub in my Queens, N.Y. neighborhood and was able to savor the pub’s new house beer, brewed by the nearby, and newly opened, Queens Brewery. You can’t get much more local than that.

And that’s just beer. We haven’t even touched on the increasing number of new functional beverages—everything from beautifying drinks, to drinks that help you think better, sleep better, or stay alert longer. Or how about the premiumization of just about everything? Think Starbucks’ experimentation with handcrafted sodas.

So it may be that the pickle CSD finds itself in today isn’t so much about consumers running away from high-calorie sodas (as the mainstream media loves to so dramatically describe it) as it is about them just enjoying all the new choices they have.

Beverage companies that can focus 100 percent on navigating their way through all the new opportunities created by this creative disruption probably have a big advantage going forward.

Fernet-aissance

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: brewing

Ever get the feeling you’re being followed? That’s exactly the sense I’ve been getting recently from a certain herbal digestif that’s been popping up in my many travels for the past year. I’m talking about Fernet, the classic spirit whose flavor has been described as a cross between black licorice and minty-fresh mouthwash. It’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts, clues of which it seems to have planted, “Doctor Who”-style—at various points in space and time for me to see.

It started last year in Buenos Aires. Before I departed for South America, the spirit barely had been on my radar, little more than a curiosity that I’d see behind the bar at some taverns and Italian restaurants. But as I was researching local tipples in Argentina I discovered that it’s enormously popular there. Italian immigrants and their descendants comprise a significant portion of the Argentine population. They pretty much brought the spirit with them.

Several months later I was in San Francisco and there it was, just about everywhere I turned—not just in bars but in ads for Fernet Branca, the leading brand, strategically posted throughout the city (I never noticed the ads all the other times I’d been to San Francisco, so it supports my theory that some nefarious time-jumping force had retconned it into my personal chronology). It’s had quite the cult following there since pre-Prohibition (and during). I asked my cousin, Tom, a previous resident of the Fog City (now residing in Los Angeles), what the deal is with Fernet. “It’s a restaurant industry thing,” said Tom, an accomplished pastry chef. “Everyone in or around the restaurants in SF drinks it...Hang with any cook and you’ll wind up drinking some.”

And, last fall, when I was in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, a friend told me I just had to try Odell Brewing Co.’s porter aged in, you guessed it, Fernet barrels. The best way I can describe that combination is to ask you to imagine eating a handful of Andes Candies and Good ‘N’ Plenties at the same time. Not quite, but that’s about as close as I can get. But good on the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery for being at the forefront of a spirit-ual renaissance.

And a true renaissance it is, as noted by the folks at Sensient in last month’s issue detailing the flavor company’s 2014 Taste to Trend report: “Long seen in a small number of cocktails, Sensient researchers report that Fernet has taken the bar scene by storm. Bar patrons appreciate the vintage feel of classic cocktails, but with a contemporary spin.”

In light of that, I suspect that a great many consumers will be experiencing that “am I being followed?” sensation this year—all the way to the bar.

The Future of Beverage Distribution

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Category: General Blogs

I can’t say I agree with a lot of what Newt Gingrich says, but when he raised the possibility of building a base on the moon during the past election, he got my serious attention.
Allow me to explain.

I’m a huge fan of science-fiction and that goes hand-in-hand with keeping an open mind. So while Newt’s lunar proposal generally was greeted with guffaws and accusations that he had totally lost it, personally, I found it to be one of the only lucid things he said during the election. I think the U.S. benefits in a whole host of ways by its ambitious space program, in ways so far-reaching most of us take it for granted. If you were growing up in India 30 years ago, for instance, and were interested in space exploration, you yearned to go to the U.S. where the opportunity was. The best and the brightest from all over the world wanted to come here because of our space program.

Along these same lines, when Jeff Bezos recently announced during his now infamous “60 Minutes” interview that he wanted to deliver Amazon products using flying drones, he was also generally met with guffaws and accusations that he had totally lost it. Again, my personal view is that such tech advances that seem crazy today often create the future, and maintaining an open mind is the best course of action. Imagine if you had told someone in colonial America that they’d be able to fly in 6 hours from New York to the Pacific?

So when an email recently appeared in my inbox from a company called Emulate3D with a link to a youtube video demonstrating the use of drones for material handling in a warehouse, I did anything but hit ‘delete.’ Qimarox of the Netherlands, a supplier of material handling system components, commissioned Emulate3D to make the video, the link to which is on my blog at beverageworld.com. It demonstrates how drones may soon offer a cost-effective and scalable alternative to traditional palletizing methods. With little superstructure or extensive hardware to install, a drone-based palletizing solution could be deployed rapidly, and should be capable of a relatively high-sustained load throughput, according to Qimarox. Imagine entering a warehouse with drones flying around, carrying bottles or cases of soda or beer or wine from one end of the building to the other? If there are supply chain efficiencies to be gained, this may not be science-fiction for very long. Live Long and Prosper.

Customizing the Future

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Category: General Blogs

I got a call from CNBC to offer a few thoughts on the news that Coke was taking a 10 percent stake in Green Mountain for a cool $1.25 billion. It'll certainly give SodaStream a run for its money and it'll be interesting to see how Pepsi responds in the coming days/weeks. (Another deal in the near future, perhaps? Pepsi is mum).

"Gamechanger" is CNBC's word, not mine. I think it's a bit strong. The deal doesn't necessarily change the game. It does, however, make it a bit more fun to watch.

Here's a link to the segment:

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000243774