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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Marketers are bringing new ingredients-from cactus to hibiscus-to the ready-to-drink arena.
Ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages have historically pioneered some of the most exciting trends in the functional foods space. Bolstered by a healthy dose of fearlessness and grit, the next round of innovators is seeking success in ingredients not commonly seen in the RTD format.
First, company thought-leaders share their insights on competing in this very crowded market. “From a small-brand perspective,” says Sean Shafik, cofounder of TK Hibiscus, the challenge is “getting noticed. In a world dominated by big players, it’s really tough to get the consumer to find you among all the noise out there.”
Presenting something unique is obviously crucial. “The key is to have a high-quality, differentiated product,” says Kate Weiler, MS, cofounder of DrinkMaple. “If you have a good product, you need to work hard to do lots of samplings where consumers can try the product,” she adds.
“Create a genuinely unique product that addresses a proven ‘white space’ but is not too far ahead of the curve,” Cort Bucher, cofounder and CEO of Jade Monk, further advises. “Lots of products out there enter the market as a subtle tweak on an old idea, which can be a recipe for disaster, as the RTD beverages market is absolutely flooded with options. The silver lining there, however, is that a majority of those options are ‘me too’ items-simple reiterations of the same old thing. There is ample room for new brands and new entrepreneurs within this space, but you absolutely must have a game-changer to make waves out of the gate, be it a drastic improvement of a current option, or a new offering altogether. Beyond that, it is critical to genuinely partner with and support the retailers who choose to stock your line.”
Finding a clear way to communicate what makes your brand different will also determine whether customers “see” you, adds Edward Cannan, CEO of Botan. “Have a simple message to convey. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and confused with all of the health claims out there.”
And, not surprisingly, all of these companies say that determination makes all the difference. “Don’t give up,” says Shafik. “There will be many points where the climb seems impossible. You just have to keep pushing.”
“Do lots of research, and never be afraid to ask questions,” says Eddie Baez, owner of Mo-Tea. “Lastly, don’t be afraid of change. Be ready to roll with the punches.”
And find the right partners. “With all of the big, global corporations pouring large amounts of money into marketing, you have to be nimble as well as have an original message to compete in this arena,” says Mike Fulkerson, Jade Monk’s chief commercial officer. “This, of course, also necessitates adequate funding and growth capital to successfully go to market and strategically stake your claim.”
Luckily, there’s a broad customer base waiting for the latest and greatest RTDs-enough to satisfy anyone’s financial interest. “People want healthier, functional beverages, and this shift away from soda/artificial beverages continues to accelerate year after year,” Shafik says.
“Of all of the product options out there, the ones showing true, sustainable growth are offering items with ‘pure’ ingredients: coconut water, turmeric, maple water, matcha, etc.,” says Derek Pippin, cofounder and chief operating officer, Jade Monk. “Consumers are quickly dropping beverages that are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. We feel that the strong consumer focus on natural and organic is here to stay and that if you want to compete in this quickly evolving space, ‘keeping it clean’ is essential.”
Photo from TK Hibiscus