North American Beverage Co.: Making a Better Beverage
By JAMIE POPP
When North American Beverage Co., Ocean City, N.J., set out in 1993 to capture the chocolate milk category with Chocolate Moose, the goal was to create the best-tasting, better-for-you product available. Since the launch of its first product in the early ‘90s, North American Beverage has introduced drinks to not only tickle the taste buds but also satisfy consumers’ moods.
“People are drinking beverages more now to fit their moods,” says John Imbesi, founder and president of North American Beverage. “I think today it’s either share of mood or share of mind [that determines what a person will drink.] That’s what I see more people doing. People like convenient items as well.”
Banking on the penchant consumers have for indulging in flavors such as chocolate, and gourmet coffee and cappuccino drinks, the company relishes the opportunity to offer beverages to the market beyond its flagship Chocolate Moose drink. It introduced the Havana Cappuccino line in 1998, ready-to-drink Royal Mandalay Chai tea in 2001 and Café Cubanos, a malt-based ready-to-drink gourmet coffee and rum beverage, in 2003, based on trends in the market.
Working closely with its distribution network and retailers, North American Beverage takes a team approach to stay on top of consumer expectations. Whether it is new products or new flavors, the company depends on the eyes and ears of its distributors and retailers to discern trends.
“It’s a combination of listening to our distributors and retailers [for innovative ideas],” Imbesi says. “We pay attention to what the retailer and distributor is sharing with us. They currently believe in both the ready-to-drink coffee and flavored milk categories. Both retailers and distributors are also very sensitive to all the health issues that are being raised today.”
In response to the trend in better-for-you products, North American Beverage’s Chocolate Moose line carries the American Heart Association’s “Healthy Heart” check mark logo and the “Real Seal” of the American Dairy Association. The desire to satisfy consumer preferences also resulted in recent flavor introductions such as Chocolate Moose Diet White Chocolate, Chocolate Moose Cookies & Cream, Havana Cappuccino Dulce de Leche, Havana Cappuccino Diet Low Carb Mocha and Diet Low Carb Vanilla.
Once a product is developed, North American Beverage relies on blind taste test results, working with tasters of all ages to tweak beverages to meet consumers’ needs and wants. To that end, it plans to introduce new flavors in the Havana and Chocolate Moose lines in the spring.
Distributor and retailer feedback is not only instrumental in developing new flavors. It also plays a role in packaging.
“Our mission is to have the highest quality products in very innovative and memorable packaging — packaging that people like to use and like to be associated with,” Imbesi says. “My philosophy is that the most important advertising a product can have is the package it comes in.”
Using both independent companies and the Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola systems for bottling and distribution, North American Beverage’s products are available throughout the United States, and internationally in countries such as Canada, Mexico, Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom. The advantages of working within two of the largest soft drink systems as well as within the independent soft drink channel include production expertise and direct-store-delivery opportunities. The company also uses wholesalers in its distribution model, according to Imbesi.
“The direct-store-delivery [channel] is most successful,” Imbesi says. “We do more than 70 to 75 percent of our business in on-premise [immediate-consumption] accounts.
“We have a basic business,” he adds. “[Our goals for the future growth are] always gaining and maintaining.”
Many products on the market promise a serving chock full of health benefits. However, validating the claims that marketers make can sometimes be a challenge in the eyes of a doubting public. North American Beverage decided it was not only going to make “better-for-you” claims on its Chocolate Moose line but it also was going to back them up.
“Good-for-you is a broad category, and with that broad brush good-for-you has to have the credibility behind it,” says John Imbesi, founder and president of North American Beverage. “Who says it’s good for you? Who recognizes what’s good for you? And the consumer says, ‘Why should I believe it’s good-for-you?’”
Taking its claim to the American Heart Association and the American Dairy Association, North American Beverage wanted to certify that its fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-sodium milk beverage, which also met the United States recommended daily allowance for calcium, was the real deal.
North American Beverage succeeded at validating its assertion. A few years after introducing the Moose line, the company added the American Heart Association’s “Healthy Heart” check mark logo and the “Real Seal” of the American Dairy Association to the package.