Blog Entries by Andrew Kaplan

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. 
 

A new high for beverages

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: cannabis-based drink

There’s been a lot of coverage as of late about the legalization of marijuana in different states. Most of the news has been about the traditional smoking variety, and also about edibles. But one area that hasn’t gotten too much coverage is marijuana-infused beverages. But that might be about to change.

The second half of 2015 into 2016 could see several brands introduce cannabis-based drinks, and, over time, these could carve out a substantial new beverage category. 

As of now, of course, with legal adult use of marijuana limited to just four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) and the District of Columbia, the cannabis beverage industry is also quite limited in its distribution. “The way that the market is right now every state has a different regulatory framework which means every state has a different set of licensees and there’s no interstate commerce allowed,” says Leslie Bocskor, managing partner at the marijuana industry consulting firm Electrum Partners. “So each state is like its own market and has its own leader.”

But most experts believe legal usage will spread to many more states in the very near future, providing the potential for strong growth of this category. And meanwhile, in the states where it is already legal, the demand is there, and potentially great, for this new category of drinks. “We’re seeing more cannabis-infused beverages on the market than there used to be,” says Kris Krane, managing partner at 4Front Ventures, which is working to professionalize the marijuana industry. He says they range from everything from coffees and teas to fruit punch. One of the most popular is Dixie Elixirs, which markets a THC-infused bottled drink that comes in lemonade and iced tea.

For this column I did a lot of research (not of the kind you’re probably thinking). Nevertheless, I did learn from Michael Christopher, founder of Loft Tea, a marketer of cannabis-infused drinks, that cannabis has over 108 active compounds that have been found to be beneficial to the human body.  THC is the most popular, more common compound that gives many users that “high,” euphoric sensation upon consumption. That’s the one only legal in select states through dispensary operations and retail sales. 

But there are other equally as important compounds, like CBD, or cannabidiol, found in cannabis that has no psychoactive qualities, Christopher explained to me, and has been used to potentially treat a varying list of ailments from anxiety reduction to epilepsy in children. “While we cannot speak directly to medical implications, we find that this compound is perfect for a health focused, non-euphoric tea beverage,” says Christopher, who is launching this fall a line of CBD hemp infusion drinks to be sold in all 50 states, and then plans to follow them by the winter with THC/cannabis formulation versions to be sold in select legal dispensaries in Colorado, California and Nevada.

As you would imagine, Christopher is very optimistic about the category’s potential. “As far as user adoption, I think within the next decade, cannabis beverages will be the catalyst to mass appeal for cannabis products and the industry as a whole,” he says. “The delivery method of cannabis infused beverages and edibles is odor-free, portable and discreet; and its dosing is easier to standardize, which increases product efficacy and improves the user experience.”  

A source of happiness

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: mood-lifting drinks

By now many consumers the world over have been energized by their beverages, or been vitamin-fortified by them, or maybe even lost some weight. But what about drinks that make you feel, well, happier? As it turns out, happiness beverages just might be the next big thing for the beverage industry. And I’m not referring to a jingle telling us to “Have a Coke and a smile,” either.

When a new beverage called HappyWater recently contacted me, I admit I was rather skeptical at first. “Frankly right now if I was to tell you with no back up what this product would do, you wouldn’t believe me,” said Ralph McRae, chairman and CEO of the brand’s owner, Leading Brands. And he was quite right. But then he started delving into the story behind the brand, and I soon learned that mood-lifting drinks actually have a rich history in the beverage industry that stretches back a hundred years or longer. And, what’s more, some medical experts today have gone on record saying that everyone can benefit from them. 

HappyWater, launched in 2013, is sourced from two ancient Canadian mountain springs. Its blend of spring and mineral water contains naturally occurring lithia—that’s right, the same mineral the antidepressant lithium is made from—along with calcium, magnesium, potassium and fluoride. But it is by no means the first drink to ever contain lithia. In fact, one we’re all quite familiar with, 7 Up, was actually originally a drink named Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. It touted the benefits of its lithia ingredient to consumers (some think that’s what the ‘Up’ in the name is all about). In fact, back in those years, even beer with lithia was available.

Research has shown that lithia, given in very small doses, has a number of properties that could be enormously beneficial for the general population. A New York Times article in 2014 by Anna Fels, a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College, details this and other facts about lithia. She explains how it has been shown to reduce suicide rates in the general population, also writing that in tiny amounts, it “might actually be neuroprotective or even enhance the growth of neurons” in the brain. In other words, it has been shown to stimulate the production of brain cells to counteract the affects of Alzheimer’s, alcoholism and aging. “Lithium has been known for its curative powers for centuries, if not millenniua,” Fels writes. “Lithia Springs, Ga., for example, with its natural lithium-enriched water, appears to have been an ancient Native American sacred site. By the late 19th century Lithia Springs was a famous health destination visited by Mark Twain and Presidents Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.”

For those reading this who are still turned off by the idea of consuming lithia in any form, McRae explains that the amount in HappyWater is minute compared to what a dose of medical Lithium would contain. The actual amount of lithia in HappyWater is 0.1 part per million, McRae says. “And you might think that’s infinitesimal, and you’re right. But apparently all the studies have shown that as being an effective amount if consumed regularly. And that’s what was so amazing about it. It’s really one of the wonderful things that people have kind of forgotten about,” he says. “It improves mood, increases the sense of well-being and those sorts of things.”

And, he adds, “you don’t have to binge on the water,” to experience HappyWater’s effects. “Just go and drink it the same way you’d consume any other water.”  

Drinkable meals catch on

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: drinkable meals

I can relate. I’ve been sitting for a long time, trying to finish the June issue of  Beverage World you are holding in your hands. But, apparently, I haven’t been sitting as long as some of those “poor” coders out in Silicon Valley who don’t even have the time to get up from their workstations to grab a sandwich.
 
No, thousands of them are instead reaching for powdered drink concoctions that they whip up in minutes and that claim to provide them all the sustenance they need. The software designer subculture out there in California is making successes out of hybrid food/drinks with names like Soylent, Schmoylent, Schmilk and People Chow, according to a recent report in The New York Times. 
 
The Times actually first took notice of the trend about a year ago, and even memorably posted a video of a variety of professionals—a personal trainer, a sommelier, a Times dining reporter, and even a gastroenterologist—trying the Soylent brand. Their reviews were exceedingly amusing, comparing its smell to cardboard, and wondering why any “normal person” would replace food with it.
 
It all got me curious so I attempted to find out myself just how big a deal these food replacement drinks have become out there in Silicon Valley. So I sent a quick Facebook message to my techie relative, David Jackson, co-founder of Green Mars Software Consultants, and he told me several of his friends have indeed tried the drinks, one of them for a couple of months who is “finding it to be effective.”  He added,  “For the futurists and transhumanists it’s an opportunity to minimize/simplify body maintenance and (theoretically) maximize nutrition, providing more time for other activities (like creating super-intelligent robots, or achieving biological or cybernetic immortality).” With that, ahem, cleared up, I asked him why he himself hadn’t tried it yet. “I like food. I’ve been too busy to put in the effort. I haven’t researched it enough to feel comfortable with the safety and efficacy,” he replied.
 
Actually, according to Soylent’s website, it requires just a bit of preparation each day. Users have to blend up the drinks daily with water, something that takes about 3 minutes. And if you’re looking to save money, you can’t argue with the cost: less than $3 per meal.
 
This is certainly not the first time in beverage history that various subcultures have taken ownership of particular drinks—or in this case food/beverage hybrids. Bawls Guarana famously built an entire brand off the popularity it had with video gamers, for example. But it is interesting that as we have been watching the popularity of protein drinks take off, this subculture out in Silicon Valley has been going one further, in a sense reinventing the meal replacement category. (The Soylent powders, by the way, are even available by subscription.)
 
Soylent’s founder, Rob Rhinehart, says on the brands’ website that he has a background as an engineer. Like many other beverage entrepreneurs today, he saw a need—in this case, that some computer programmers view eating real food as just a waste of time—and fed that need with a new drink. Or,  I guess, food.