Blended, cold pressed, mixology, hybrids, fusion – these days beverages take as many cues from fashion as food does. And blended drinks are among some of the fastest growing beverage segments in North America.
Far from being a fad, juice and smoothie trends seem to be a natural outcome of an increasingly educated and health conscious consumer base. And big business is taking notice. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have both invested in juice, but with care not to dilute the ‘natural’ brand, says Peta Conn, NZTE trade commissioner and consul general in New York.
“The idea of a big corporation buying a smaller one doesn’t sound that out of the norm – but until this point, neither Coke nor Pepsi were involved in the juice category, making a move into this industry a big deal.”
Popular US smoothie chain Jamba juice is offering a range of juices made with high pressure pasteurization (HPP) juices – a method popular for causing minimal changes to the freshness of food, unlike pasteurizing with heat.
And now with the emergence of smoothie bowls – smoothies packed with nutrients, thick enough to eat with a spoon, and usually topped with fruit or cereal – the healthy/blended trend is poised to kick off in a whole new direction.
Considering the world beverage market is predicted by Companiesandmarkets to reach $1.3 trillion in sales by 2017, and in the US alone the cold pressed juice market grew 479% in the year to May 2015, as reported by industry research firm IRI – it’s not hard to see why businesses – big and small – want to cash in on it.
Conn warns, however, that the market’s attractiveness presents its own challenges. “It’s a hugely difficult and crowded market,” she says. “New Zealand needs to find a unique play here that can make them stand out, [because they’re] not going to compete on a price angle.”
And therein lies the rub. Kiwi fruit and veggies don’t occupy a price-conscious space (in the US market, at least), which makes competition difficult. So too, does the short shelf life of a perishable product (around 45-70 days at the outside), which accumulates food miles in shipment to a market that is increasingly aware of sustainability and loyal to locally grown and produced food.
So, Conn says, New Zealand beverage makers might do best focussing on opportunities where New Zealand has something unique to offer.
For example, Kura Nutrition is one Kiwi company taking this tack, exploiting the sweet spot between health and blended beverage, with its protein and probiotic-packed nutrient-rich smoothie powder.
In Japan, Charlies has found success with its Quenchers juice range. The homegrown juice brand, which was snapped up by beverage giant Asahi in 2011, launched Quenchers using its New Zealand provenance and QR code technology to forge its own niche in that country.
When it comes to mixology, another type of blended beverage altogether, high-end mixers and small batch or seasonally flavoured alcohol infusions are also finding a growing market.
A recent story in the beverage trade magazine Bevnet noted health and wellness trends converging with a “sustained demand” for premium alcohol. That’s seen US companies creating new twists on old classics, like the small batch Sriracha Bloody Mary, or tea-based cocktail mixes.
Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of ‑are Stolen Rum – the Auckland-based company which raised $4 million in investment capital in 2013 to fund its international expansion – and The New Zealand Whisky Company, both of which have won accolades from a number of international quarters for their Kiwi take on spirits. Even kiwifruit marketer Zespri dipped its toes in the pool, pitching kiwifruit to American drinks bloggers as a cocktail ingredient. And keep your eye on Rooty Moot – a premium pink ginger beer brand soon to launch and honing in on the mixologist market in China.
Given the difficulty of this end of the market, NZTE’s Peta Conn has some advice for budding Kiwi drink makers: “Visit the market – frequently,” she says. “Have someone here on the ground who understands not only this market and how it works, but who also understands your product.”
Start with small retailers to make room to work out the kinks and gain traction before hitting larger ones, she says. And budget for regular promotions.
Equally important is testing the brand, product, pricing and packaging with consumers before going to market. “We can’t emphasise this enough: practice, practice, practice. Refine, refine, refine.” ⋅