Those who have attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) over the past several years will know that the Brewers Association-presented event has grown into much more than the four tasting sessions that accommodate 49,000 brew seekers over a three-day period. It’s become a news-making platform for craft brewers and even the big brewers that extends beyond the walls of the Colorado Convention Center to the rest of Denver and in many cases well beyond the city limits. As always, it was a whirlwind few days for me as, like always, I tried to be three or four places at once so as not to miss anything. While that’s against the laws of physics, I was able to pick up a few tidbits.
GABF took place barely a month after the devastating floods in the festival’s home region and the beer community banded together to help neighbors rebuild. The festival had a specially designated flood relief donation area, headed up by two of Colorado’s leading craft brewers, Oskar Blues and Left Hand. Both earlier this year set up their own charitable organizations designed to give back to the community and help in crises such as these natural disasters. Left Hand in May introduced the Left Hand Brewing Foundation and Oskar Blues in September launched Oskar Blues CAN’d Aid Foundation.
Congratulations are in order for Mechanicville, N.Y.-based DeCrescente Distributing Co., which the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and Brewers Association selected as Craft Beer Distributor of the Year. The two organizations presented the award jointly at GABF, noting that DeCrescente is well on its way to achieving its goal of 20 percent craft share in its local market by 2018.
Here Be Dragons
Preceded by the type of fanfare, mystery and intrigue reserved for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Cooperstown, N.Y.’s Brewery Ommegang finally revealed on night one (Thursday, Oct. 10) of GABF what the latest addition of its Game of Thrones line would be. Fire and Blood Red Ale will be the third offering in the line officially licensed by HBO to tie-in with its hit series based on George R.R. Martin’s epic “A Song of Ice & Fire” book series. It will debut through Ommegang’s nationwide distributor network in spring 2014, coinciding with season four of “Game of Thrones” on HBO. Ommegang offered GABF attendees a sneak peek at the Fire & Blood’s artwork, which incorporates the series’ three dragons: Drogon, Rhaegal and Visarion.
Life After Death
Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Shmaltz Brewing Co. founder Jeremy Cowan who was showcasing He’Brew Death of a Contract Brewer black IPA. The beer marks Shmaltz’s transition this summer from 100 percent contract-brewed to running its own brick-and-mortar brewery in Clifton Park, N.Y. It’s been quite an eventful year for Shmaltz. Shortly after opening the brewery, Shmaltz announced the sale of its Coney Island brand to Alchemy & Science, a subsidiary of Boston Beer.
Beverage marketers today are faced with the ongoing challenge of finding their way through the ever-growing thicket of media opportunities and getting their ads watched by consumers. Boy, how times have changed since the ’70s when Coke tried to teach the world to sing or offered Mean Joe Green some refreshment! Yes, things were relatively easy back then when there were just a handful of channels and no internet.
Actually, beverage brands, at least for now, have been relatively lucky. While many viewers already record their favorite shows and fast-forward through the commercials, they still tend to tune in to live television events, especially sports. And, as we all know, beer and soda go great with that Sunday game.
But advertising against live sporting events can only go so far. So increasingly, beverages have turned to YouTube, video games, smart phones and any number of other emerging media to reach consumers.
But now comes word that many of the major brands have a lot of work to do when it comes to at least one of these powerful new channels—YouTube. According to a study from digital media company Touchstorm, large beverage brands like Coke are trailing smaller brands when it comes to harnessing the powers of YouTube for marketing. In fact, only 74 brands rank among the top 5,000 YouTube publishers in the Touchstorm Video Index: Top Brands Edition. Says Alison Provost, CEO of Touchstorm: “With only 74 brands appearing in the YouTube top 5,000, it’s clear there’s a significant brand fail on one of the most important platforms today. YouTube has provided a content testing ground where celebrities, users, brands, content producers, retailers, and YouTube stars all have the same tools available to attract audiences. And while brands can afford to buy views and advertise their content, they’ve made very little progress in the organic viewership ecosystem.”
Among the study’s key findings:
•Big brands need to study small brands. Blendtec is in the top 10 yet Coke and Pepsi are not; the Mormon Church ranks yet top global brands Apple and Microsoft do not; Ford Models ranks higher than Ford Motors and Little Tykes overwhelms Toys ‘R’ Us.
Brands need to define the competition broadly. The other 4,926 publishers, which include musicians, teenagers with webcams, and professional content producers, have vastly out-performed brands in finding an audience for their content.
Brands can’t spend their way to the top. About one-third of the brands made the list by buying a significant amount of YouTube advertising, but the other two-thirds got there through organic growth.
International brands build audiences. Brand channels from Brazil, Latin America and Japan make the list, beating out tens of thousands of English-language brand channels.
And finally, there are two routes to the top. Some brands made the list on the backs of a viral video or two; others made it by publishing less spectacular content more regularly.
The list of 74 brands that place inside the top 5000 channels on YouTube is available at Touchstorm.com.
I was walking the floor at the Holiday Buying Show in New York, jotting down notes and sampling a few brands when I was approached by a woman with a clipboard and a handful of Japanese beverage brochures. She must have had a keen eye for media as the word “press” on my attendee badge would have been barely visible from more than a handful of feet. “Would you like to taste Japanese spirits?” she asked me. Of course I would.
I was intrigued and impressed by her assertiveness—I’ve been to literally hundreds of trade shows and beyond a few stray hired hands unenthusiastically handing out postcard-size flyers promoting particular exhibitors, marketers rarely venture out beyond the confines of their booths to proactively increase traffic at their stands. As I learned when I reached the array of saké producers at the Japanese beverage alcohol pavilion, shochu marketers are really determined to broaden awareness of their venerable spirit to U.S. consumers and beyond.
I definitely have had my share of exposure to the drink. A few years ago I spent an evening at a shochu bar in Tokyo, where a local gentleman, who was eager to practice his English explained that younger Japanese (legal drinking age) consumers are moving away from saké—something they view as their parents’ drink—and toward shochu. That’s part of the reason why there’s such an opportunity in the U.S. for sake because it still has relatively low awareness and market penetration here and virtually nowhere left to go on its home islands.
One of the challenges stateside saké marketers have been facing is a lack of distinguishable branding—there’s a great deal of visual homogeneity among many of the brands on my local store’s shelves (not to mention, difficult-to-pronounce names for Westerners), despite the fact that there are amazing variations in flavor. As I mentioned in a previous column, that’s starting to change as marketers bring dynamic design elements and simple, memorable names to their products. There are similar hurdles for shochu marketers. But I do think that will change for shochu too, as importers ramp up their marketing efforts and continue to figure out how to market in the U.S., beyond the specialty shop and Japanese restaurant or izakaya.
Of course, bottles need to contain accessible products and I’m convinced that once more legal-drinking-age consumers sample shochu they’ll be converted. On the rocks most are remarkably drinkable with tremendous flavor complexity. Those made from barley provide a good bridge for whiskey drinkers. Those made from rice are good for those who’ve already discovered sake, as many of the aromatic elements are reminiscent of their rice-based cousin. And then for something truly unique and delightfully complex, there’s shochu distilled from sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, rum drinkers might find brown sugar-based shochu appealing.
I hope to see shochu—and the hotbed for shochu production, the Japanese island of Kyushu—represented at a larger number of industry trade shows with even more foot traffic from curious distributors and retailers. Kanpai!
During a time when there’s been a lot of bad news for our leading soft drink company, there’s been one overwhelming positive, and that is the man at the very top: Muhtar Kent.
It appears to me that Kent came along at just the right time for Coke. His style of leadership is what this company, embattled in so many ways these days, really needs. In fact, Kent, a true man of the world, has become the face of Coke today during a time when Coca-Cola really needed a benevolent presence to counter all the criticism it is taking almost on a daily basis.
Look at Coke today and it’s almost as if there are two companies constantly being featured in the news: the one we see bashed every day for problems like the obesity epidemic, and then the one that is increasingly found on the world stage as a responsible, even admirable global citizen. Credit for much of the latter goes to Kent.
If you don’t know that much about Kent, a little background. Mark Pendergrast, in his definitive history, “For God, Country & Coca-Cola,” calls Kent: “The ultimate international Coca-Cola man,” and goes on to detail how he has worked for Coke since the age of 25. He was born in New York City, the son of a Turkish general consul, Pendergrast details, was educated in private schools in Turkey, and also lived in Thailand, India and Iran while his father was an ambassador in those countries. He speaks fluent English, Turkish, Italian and French, writes Pendergrast, who goes on to add that “at 6’1”, Kent has a commanding, tough nonthreatening presence with a friendly, gregarious demeanor.” Pendergrast also says that Kent’s father apparently served as a strong role model for the young Kent, describing him as having a “strong humanitarian bent.” In fact, during World War II he helped save Turkish Jews from the gas chambers while serving as consul general in Marseilles.
Such a humanitarian bent is quite evident when looking at Kent’s piloting of the huge multinational conglomerate that is Coke: when he is advocating for women’s empowerment around the world, or appearing at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting—as he did just as I was writing this in late September—to make a global partnership announcement with other multi-national organizations to bring safe water access, basic necessities and employment opportunities to communities around the world.
If there’s any criticism to level against Kent, it might be that the U.S. business seems neglected with all of his international focus. After all, the cola business Coke was built on is struggling to reverse consistent declines. It could be argued Kent needs to confront head-on what is ailing the U.S. soda business with the energy and verve he has confronted these other global issues.
Nevertheless, I recently asked Pendergrast what he though about Coke’s recent leaders and he responded: “I think a huge amount of credit goes to those two men. Neville Isdell turned the ship in the right direction, and Muhtar Kent is powering it full steam ahead.”
I’ve been working for Beverage World for six years. When I first joined the magazine as an associate editor, I didn’t know much about the industry other than the knowledge a general consumer would have: I like to drink [enter drink here], these are the places I can purchase it, this is how much it costs and the ingredients generally include x, y and z. Though I only knew the basics, I was ready to dive in and learn more.
Just like food, drink is a necessity, and luckily there are plenty of options on the shelf formulated to meet the many different preferences of the many different consumers across the globe. But as I began to learn about the ins and outs of the beverage world, I fell in love with the industry and became fascinated with the processes that make that world go round.
I first began writing about trends that put me in touch with why and how certain drinks got their start and what consumers were looking for, which drove the trends occurring at that time. I also was assigned the production section of the magazine and soon became a robot geek, looking forward to seeing these machines in action at Pack Expo.
Later, I became the senior editor and began writing this column, which allowed me to share my insights and thoughts with BW’s readership (I hope you’ve enjoyed my two cents!) I added packaging to my list of assignments and the magazine’s Final Tally, which recounts industry trends by the numbers. This also involved more travel and that meant getting out into the industry and seeing first-hand how the industry operates.
Then, last year, I was off to London and began working freelance for BW as a contributing editor international tapping into the European market and reporting back new products and trends giving my articles a greater global spin.
Along the way, I continued learning, discovering, sharing and growing as a writer.
Now, six years later, I’m moving on to a new adventure within the beverage world. I will no longer be on the editorial side of the business. Instead I’ll be helping brands get the word out working for a PR agency based in London, representing some of the largest alcohol brands in the world.
It’s an exciting time in the industry (it’s always an exciting time though—never a dull moment!) and I’m excited to use my writing skills and beverage expertise to continue my career in a world that I believe is one of the best to be in. I think many of you would agree—in fact, many of you have told me time and again that there is no other industry you’d rather be working in and that you too are in love with the beverage business. Hope to hear from you all soon.