For the past 25 years, The Beverage Forum has been delivering in-depth insights, dynamic keynoters and in-demand workshop presentations about the future of the beverage market. To celebrate its silver anniversary, the two-day conference continued those traditions while tying into its theme of Embracing New Pathways for Growth.

Presented by Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) and Beverage Industry, the event took place April 24-25 at the Westin Chicago River North in Chicago. Beverage Industry Publisher Steve Pintarelli welcomed attendees to the annual conference before introducing BMC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Bellas, who delivered the opening address on the State of the Industry.

In his address, Bellas noted that the liquid refreshment beverage (LRB) market once again posted growth. However, he noted that 2017’s performance was a deceleration of growth compared with 2016. Among the factors that could have contributed to the slowdown were modest increases in gas prices, more consumers eating at home, and increased volume from outlets like taprooms or cafés, where it might be more challenging to track sales, Bellas noted.

Contributing to the overall LRB growth was the bottled water category, value-added waters and ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee. Once again, carbonated soft drinks and fruit beverages posted declines. For the beverage alcohol market, Bellas noted that wine and spirits led growth in 2017 to help beverage alcohol post a modest gain.

At the conclusion of Bellas’ address, he welcomed to the stage the day’s opening Keynote address and winner of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award: Muhtar Kent, chairman of the Board of Directors at The Coca-Cola Co. During their discussion, Kent reflected on his tenure at The Coca-Cola Co., which included his forecast that the Berlin wall was going to be coming down in the 1980s and encouraging the company to prepare for new market opportunities.

Kent also talked of the seamless transition between his departure as CEO and the assumption of James Quincy to the position. He also pointed to the future by noting that going forward, the beverage market should be viewed as a triangle. The points of the triangle are represented by consumer consumption options: packaged beverages, foodservice specialty with technology enhancements, and technology enhancements for beverage consumption at home.

During the first day of the conference, The Beverage Forum welcomed a diverse group of Keynote speakers, such as Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association (ABA); Deirdre Mahlan, president of Diageo North America; and Paul Hetterich, executive vice president and president of the beer division at Constellation Brands.

Three panel discussions also were included on the first day. Greg Butler, vice president of Miller Brands at MillerCoors; Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light at Anheuser-Busch; and Andrew Springate, chief marketing officer at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, discussed insights and experience as how they have identified and successfully capitalized on new market opportunities to drive growth.

The Beverage Forum, April 24-25 at the Westin Chicago River North
in Chicago - various photos

Tom Burkemper, senior director of DMM for beverages at Walgreens; Jessi Moffitt, director of innovation at Canteen; and Jesus Delgado- Jenkins, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at 7-Eleven Inc., discussed the impact that eCcommerce, technology, merchandising trends and delivery options are having on the retail landscape.

Also sharing their perspectives were Bonnie Herzog, managing director at Wells Fargo Securities; Carlos Laboy, managing director of the global beverage sector head at HSBC; Robert Ottenstein, senior managing director at Evercore ISI; Mark Swartzberg, managing director at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.; and moderator Caroline Levy, senior research analyst at Macquarie Capital (USA) Inc. The group offered a Wall Street viewpoint on the top publically traded beverage companies.

In the afternoon, the annual Beverage Forum Awards Presentations for Small and Large Company of the Year took place. Recipients of the awards were Essentia Water as Small Company of the Year and Constellation Brands as Large Company of the Year. Constellation solidified a three-peat performance by marking the third consecutive year that it won the award. Essentia’s distribution, and volume and sales growth was a prime example relating to the positive impact that bottled water continues to have on the U.S. beverage market.

New to the program was the Collaboration of the Year award. After participating as panelists at the 2017 Beverage Forum, Paul Hletko of FEW Spirits and Chris Campbell of Chameleon Cold-Brew combined their innovative spirits to develop a one-of-a-kind beverage collaboration. This dedication to innovation and evolution inspired the inaugural Collaboration of the Year award.

The second day of the conference welcomed Andy Peykoff II, president and CEO of Niagara Bottling; and Michael Doukeris, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, as Keynote speakers.

Two panels also populated the day. Jenna Behrer, senior director of innovation at Heineken; Faith Popcorn, founder and CEO at Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve; and Danny Stepper, CEO and co-founder at L.A. Libations, highlighted the new pathways for growth through innovation. Closing out the panels was Bill Creelman, founder and CEO at Spindrift; Charles Gibb, CEO at Fever-Tree North America; and Mike Stevens, co-founder at Founders Brewing, who discussed what it takes for a start-up company to succeed in a crowded and competitive industry. BI