A few weeks back, some colleagues and I were having a friendly debate over the merits of the SodaStream. You know, that home soda maker you can get from Sky Mall or Williams Sonoma for about $100. (Full disclosure: I own one—or at least I bought one for my wife a few years back for her birthday, but I use it frequently enough.) The curmudgeonly argument against such devices is, “Who wants to bother to make their own soda?”
And the extreme sky-is-falling concern is, “Oh no, how much is this is going to hurt the soft drink business?!” The latter argument wasn’t actually part of my recent conversation, but a devil’s advocate kind of thing that a reporter from an outside media outlet once asked me in an effort to stir up some nonexistent controversy. Trust me, anyone who’s tasted my homemade cola knows that I won’t be putting Coke out of business any time soon.
One thing that the existence and popularity of a machine like the SodaStream does is speak to what I think is one of the big underlying consumer trends of the past decade: customization. The rise of social media is a by-product of this movement. One could say it’s a cause, but keep in mind that Mark Zuckerberg was but a pimply-faced middle schooler when Jones Soda came on the scene with its customizable label concept.
And, with the rise of digital printing technology incorporated in the packaging concepts of suppliers like Ball and HP Indigo, customization is easier and faster than ever before.
This D-I-Y concept has found its way to the commercial soft drink dispenser as well. Consumers have been creating their own crude hybrids of various CSDs—often on the sly—at any QSR, c-store or cinema offering self-serve fountains for many years. But The Coca-Cola Company officially has endorsed the practice and added an element of fun with the rollout of Freestyle (of course it’s not so fun being the person in line behind the person mixing a plethora of sodas like some kind of mad scientist).
Even when it comes to securing financing for a startup beverage business, a large number of entrepreneurs are insisting on changing the rules and doing things their own way. As The Brewers Association’s Julia Herz points out in this month’s Forecast section, tools like kickstarter.com—which in a lot of ways enables new business owners to control their own destiny as far as fundraising is concerned—are becoming more prominent tools for small brewers, as well as other enterprising grassroots beverage companies.
This is an era where video on demand has replaced DVD rentals; where idiosyncratic iPod playlists, as well as Pandora and Spotify, have replaced CDs (and every prior format) and conventional radio. It’s a time when products and processes have become democratized like never before. Companies must choose whether they’ll be a part of that revolution or fade