Blog Entries by Andrew Kaplan

There’s an App for That

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Category: General Blogs

I was having breakfast with some friends and the conversation drifted to how the emerging so-called “sharing economy” is changing our lives. We started discussing apps like Uber, which can locate a driver when you need a ride, which I had heard about.  My friends also filled me in on some I never even heard of, like TaskRabbit, which apparently enables you to get help with any kind of chore you have around the house. 
 
Being in my 40’s, I guess I am right on the cusp between those who are open to all these new sharing-economy options and those who would reject them outright. Let’s face it, I’ve lived most of my life hailing yellow cabs, staying at Holiday Inns or Hiltons, and yes, doing my own laundry. To suddenly have a wave of internet-enabled service providers come along offering entirely new ways of doing these things is a little disorienting. 
 
Anyway, back to my breakfast conversation and how it ties into beverages. One of my friends began insisting that home brewing was tied into the sharing economy as well. The idea seemed to fall on deaf ears in the crowd, including my own. On first thinking, I just couldn’t see how people brewing their own beer could possibly become a sharing economy service. 
 
But the idea has stuck with me ever since. Not so much about its particular viability, but about what the sharing economy might mean to the beverage industry in the future. After all, the Internet has been around for a while now and yet it appears that just in the past few years the sharing economy is really getting off the ground. Who’s to say what other industries—including, yes, beverage—might soon be impacted by it?
 
So far, the closest the beverage business seems to have come to this new economy is when it comes to crowdsourcing. Companies like MobCraft use input from users to decide the next beer they’ll brew. It’s still quite different from having thousands of home brewers making their own beer and then using an app to sell or even trade with each other. But is it too far-fetched to think that in the not-too-distant future that actually might happen? Sure, there would probably be some major quality issues, but it would be a lot of fun, no?
 
And then what would come next? Could household kitchens the world over suddenly be selling and/or trading fresh-squeezed juices? What about home-brewed coffee? 
 
If you want evidence of how technology can revolutionize a beverage category, then just consider how SodaStream managed to upend the soda business—for a time, anyway. And that was kind of old-school technology, if you think about it. Plug it into the internet and who knows what the future holds?  
 

Now Open: The 2014 Global Packaging Design Awards

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Category: General Blogs

We are now accepting entries for the 2014 Global Packaging Design Awards. The awards recognize the best in beverage packaging design from around the world. They are open to any packages introduced since Sept. 1, 2013. Deadline for entries is August 15th. Winners will be notified by Oct. 1st and will also be featured in the November 2014 edition of Beverage World. Contact packagingawards@beverageworld.com for details on how to enter.

New Products Tap Into America’s Spirits Market

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: spirits, liquor, cocktails, pisco, Wine & Spirits Whole

I found it interesting while walking the aisles of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) show last month in Las Vegas just how many different types of beverages—even after all these years-—the average American consumer still has little or no knowledge of. There were numerous importers and distillers from other countries at this year’s show, here to publicize their national drinks to the American market. I covered this to some extent in my write-up about the show, which you can find beginning on page 10 of the May issue of Beverage World. But the space there didn’t really allow me to do justice to the passion these companies have behind their products. Two cases in point are Portón, which sells half of all Peruvian pisco exports to the U.S., and CNS Enterprises, the oldest and largest importer of China’s baijiu to the United States.
 
During the show I had the pleasure of spending time with one of the world’s foremost experts on pisco, Johnny Schuler. Having Schuler guide you through a personal tasting and exploration of the delights of this unique spirt is a special experience to say the least. It’s rare to meet someone more enamored of a particular beverage. He detailed for me how Portón is made at the 330-year-old distillery in Hacienda La Caravedo in Ica, Peru. That’s right, 330 years old, making it the oldest working distillery in the Americas, according to Schuler. “We consider Pisco to be the fifth white spirit,” he explained to me. “Gin, vodka, rum and tequila are the four big sisters. And we have the new one on the market called pisco. People have to understand that pisco is a category of its own. It’s not like tequila which is made from cactus. It’s not like vodka, made from grain. Pisco’s made from fruit, the grape. So it’s the only white spirit made from a fruit. And Peru has about 380 distilleries that make hundreds or even thousands of different varieties of piscos. So it’s a wonderful, huge, beautiful world, much like the world of cognac in France.”
 
And yet, ask many Americans about pisco today and they might give you a blank stare. This is especially curious because pisco at one point was enormously popular in some parts of the United States. In fact, if you were to jump in your time machine and travel back to mid-1800s San Francisco, you’d find Pisco Punches being served all over the city. Furthermore, it just so happens that the most popular cocktail in Peru today, the Pisco Sour, was actually created by an American in Peru in 1918—a Mormon, in fact—named Victor Morris. 
 
As for baijiu, the folks with CNS  enthusiastically explained to me how much this spirit is an integral part of Chinese culture (and also that of many other Asian countries). The custom is for guests in China to be greeted with a tiny measure—about half an ounce (it is over 100 proof)—of the spirit when they arrive and everyone begins drinking it before they sit down. (I believe I actually witnessed this custom amongst a group of Chinese at a Chinese restaurant in New York City right after WSWA, purely by coincidence. The baijiu kept the diners quite energized, and on their feet very often during the meal!) 
 
Baijiu is actually the top-selling spirit in the world; almost twice as much of it is consumed around the world as vodka. Now it’s heading here, too.

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.