Youthful consumers, emerging categories, the proliferation of new products, an altered retail landscape, increasing importance on social media and shifting demographics were among the key topics highlighted at this year’s The Beverage Forum.

Taking place April 27-28 at the Westin Chicago River North in Chicago, the two-day conference was presented by Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) and Beverage Industry.

Beverage Industry Publisher Steve Pintarelli welcomed those who traveled near and far to attend the annual conference. Following Pintarelli’s remarks, BMC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Bellas delivered the opening address for the State of the Industry. In his address, Bellas noted that the liquid refreshment beverage market grew for the third consecutive year. Contributing to this growth was the bottled water category, which Bellas highlighted had surpassed carbonated soft drinks as the largest beverage category by volume. For the beverage alcohol market, Bellas noted that wine and spirits led growth in 2016.

At the conclusion of Bellas’ address, he welcomed to the stage the day’s opening Keynote address: Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc. During Nooyi’s sit down question and answer session with Bellas, she noted that “innovation is oxygen” and is a vital component for beverage-makers to embrace. Nooyi also challenged innovators about why more hasn’t been done throughout the “hot drinks” market.

Nooyi also addressed the challenges that the soft drinks market has faced. She was quick to note that “bubbles” or “sparkling” drinks actually have not lost favor with consumers as sparkling bottled water and seltzers have seen a resurgence the past few years.

Day 1 also featured the annual Beverage Awards Presentations. Bai Brands LLC was the recipient of Small Company of the Year, which once again posted strong retail performance for 2016. In early 2017, Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. completed its acquisition of Bai Brands, which had previously been announced in the fourth quarter of 2016.

For the first time at The Beverage Forum, the Large Company of the Year recipient was the previous year’s winner. Constellation Brands won the award for the second consecutive year following another year of strong performance from its beer division.

Additional Keynote addresses for the opening day were Rodney Sacks, chairman and CEO of Monster Beverage Corp.; Jim Koch, brewer and founder of The Boston Beer Co.; and a dual address from Kim Jeffrey, past president and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA), and Tim Brown, past president and CEO of NWNA. Brown currently is the president and chief operating officer of Chobani. All three of these Keynote addresses were part of the Broadcast Live Sessions, which can be viewed on-demand at

Two panel discussions also took place on Day 1. Disruption, Demographics and Brand Evolution addressed how successful brands are confronting the challenge of emerging new categories as well as the transformation of new ones with insights from James Trebilcock of Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Azania Andrews of Michelob Ultra at Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The day’s other panel was Today’s View, Tomorrow’s Perspective. A Wall Street Roundtable, which welcomed Bonnie Herzog with Wells Fargo Securities; Carlos Laboy with HSBS; and Robert Ottenstein and Mark Swartzberg with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. The panel was moderated by Caroline Levy, founder of Caroline Levy Advisors.

Day 2 of the conference kicked off with the Rising Stars of the Beverage Market panel. Discussing the impact that emerging brands and categories are having on the beverage market were Paul Hletko, founder of FEW Spirits; Chris Campbell, co-founder, president and CEO of Chameleon Cold-Brew; and Neil Kimberley, chief strategy officer of Essentia.

Additional panels that day were Disrupting the American Retail Landscape and The Road to New Product Development. The retail-focused panel addressed many topics including the impact of eCommerce through insights from Clint McClain of GigPig, Alexander Rink of 360pi, and Tim O’Connor of Retail Performance Solutions.

The new product panel highlighted the successful new products in the market and the trends they are fulfilling through insights from Meghan Labot of Spring Design Partners, Larry Levin of IRI and Jennifer Zegler of Mintel.

Keynote addresses for the day featured Pete Coors, vice chairman of the Board and chief customer relations officer for Molson Coors; and J. Alexander (Sandy) Douglas, executive vice president and president of Coca-Cola North America for The Coca-Cola Co.

Next year’s The Beverage Forum will return to the Westin Chicago River North in Chicago, taking place April 24-25, 2018. BI