Tripping on Shrooms

Since the early 2000s we’ve been reading about the emerging superfood status of mushrooms. As awareness of the physical and mental health benefits grew, interest in ancient Eastern remedies continued, and the word “adaptogens” became part of our industry vernacular, we’ve seen the number of studies, patents and possibilities rise. Combine this with its incredible versatility in both form and function and the over 2,000 edible varieties,[1] and the mushroom feels quite mighty. Here are the results of our forage:

Culinary Capabilities. Our first inclination is to check out the kitchen, where chanterelles, king trumpets, lion’s mane and oyster mushrooms are adding visual and textural interest to the plate.[2]

mushrooms

Lab Experiments. A quick stop in Europe yields mock salmon, courtesy of Legendary Vish, a 3D-printed “blend of mushrooms, pea protein and gelling agents able to take on the characteristics of sashimi or lox”.[3] Back in the U.S., companies like Atlast Food are working on mushroom-based meat alternatives, like bacon,[4] and researchers at Penn State are moving to develop non-browning mushrooms by removing the offending enzyme from the DNA.[5]

But, there’s something larger at play here — mycology to be exact — the science of fungi overall, and it includes (but is not limited to) mushrooms. Mycologists claim “the future is fungal…and will play a crucial role in our understanding of the environment via a range of new technologies”.[6] We concur. There are multiple examples of the amazing work of mushrooms behind the scenes, let’s take a look:

Functional Benefits. There are many. The medicinal mushroom market was last estimated at $18B globally[7] and started to take off in the U.S. following a 2010 Dr. Oz segment.[8] Throughout the last decade R&D suggests mushrooms demonstrate potential to provide a source of Vitamin D (when exposed to UV light during processing)[9], deliver antioxidants[10], control blood sugar[11], combat obesity (when used as a substitute for meat)[12], support heart health[[13], support brain health[14], and particularly relevant to 2020: boost energy[15], immunity[16] and treat mental health (via psychedelics and synthetic spin-offs).[17]

Formulation Enhancers. Fermented mushrooms are a marvel and being leveraged in the battle to maintain flavor while significantly reducing sugar, salt, and fat,[18]  providing additional opportunities to reduce or eliminate gluten[19] and lastly and most surprisingly, to “block bitterness”.[20]  In fact, the ability to “deflavor and deodorize” is what sets them apart in product formulations, according to Pete Lubar, EVP of Business Development at MycoTechnology, an industry innovator.

Mushrooms are also capable of impacting viscosity and mouthfeel in beverages[21] and by-products are being investigated for their potential to “enhance the survival of probiotics during cold storage and improve probiotic tolerance in digestion”.[22]

All in all, there is a wealth of opportunity to reimagine existing products. Based on the above riches, we recommend considering mushroom-based technologies in your Innovation Strategy. Two places to start? MycoTechnology, the aforementioned food technology startup with over $120M in venture capital, and Ecovative Design, a biotech company using mycelium — the root structure of mushrooms — to disrupt packaging.


[1] “A mushrooming industry”, NutraIngredients, 8/16/06
[2] “In Pursuit of Immunity, Consumers Look to Medicinal Use of Mushrooms”, The Hartman Group, 3/20
[3] “Legendary Vish Makes Realistic Salmon from Mushrooms & Pea Protein”, TRENDHUNTER, 7/09/20
[4] “Why mushrooms are a miracle material – and might be your new favorite meat”, Fast Company, 8/17/20
[5] “What’s a GMO? Mushrooms, ‘gene editing’ and a brave new world for regulators?”, NutraIngredients, 4/18/16
[6] “The future is fungal: why the megascience of mycology is on the rise”, The Guardian, 8/23/20
[7] “New launches capitalize on popularity of medicinal mushrooms”, NutraIngredients, 4/18/17
[8] “Om founder: It’s a very great time for all mushroom companies”, NutraIngredients, 1/16/19
[9] “PLT wins novel foods approval for mushroom-based Vitamin D”, NutraIngredients, 9/04/20
[10] “Demand for mushrooms skyrockets as the West catches up on the rest of the world”, NutraIngredients, 11/06/19
[11] “Mushroom extracts show blood sugar management potential: Study”, NutraIngredients, 2/26/15
[12] “Mushrooms can replace beef to help in obesity struggle: study”, NutraIngredients, 8/19/08
[13] “Study supports heart health benefits of mushroom powders”, NutraIngredients, 5/10/17
[14] “Mushrooms for memory: Singapore study finds beneficial impact against cognitive decline”, NutraIngredients, 3/18/19
[15] “Rare Chinese mushroom gives energy to the middle-aged”, NutraIngredients, 4/20/04
[16] “Mushroom blend shows range of immune boosting effects in vitro”, NutraIngredients, 3/16/20
[17] “Get Ready for Pharmaceutical-Grade Magic Mushroom Pills”, Vice, 5/26/20
[18] “Tyson, Kellogg back mushroom-based ingredient startup”, Food Business News, 6/12/20
[19] “Mushroom mycelium could breathe new life into declining cereals category, claims MycoTechnology”, NutraIngredients, 6/03/15
[20] “MycoTech brings mushroom-based bitter blocker to Europe”, NutraIngredients, 8/17/18
[21] “Medicinal mushrooms meet alcohol free beer”, Food Navigator, 8/17/20
[22] “Prebiotic potential: Mushroom ‘waste’ could enhance probiotic survival”, NutraIngredients, 8/02/13

Coffee Futures

With a reported 6 in 10 drinking it daily, coffee has been deemed “America’s favorite beverage”[1], but we’ve found a lot of tinkering going on both inside and outside of the cup. Whether impacted by the pandemic, influenced by macro trends driving consumer behavior across all categories, or latching onto micro trends in the beverage category itself, coffee is evolving. Here are some examples beyond nitro and cold-brewed:

At Home. Lockdowns, distance learning, WFH, as well as limited café seating have shifted coffee consumption to the home, but analysts are divided on its long-term outlook. While the pendulum currently hovers in the at-home consumption camp, retail brands are targeting the amateur barista with DIY recipes, as well as improving their digital experience to better facilitate takeout and delivery.[2] In addition, we see momentum with instant coffee, where global sales are projected to grow +2.5%[3], buoyed by the Dalgona craze and prompting Starbucks and Nestle to team up on a premium Medium and Dark Roast version for sale overseas.[4]

Whipped coffee

Craft Brewed. Consumer desire for personalization, heightened experiences and authenticity contribute to the +143% growth predicted between 2018 and 2025 in this “next boom industry”.[5] Look for more emphasis on origin stories and the elevation of coffee “as an art form”[6], taking a cue from the craft cocktail movement.

Edible. While coffee-infused foods are nothing new, coffee as a food is. We see fine-ground coffee beans being combined with cocoa butter and new techniques to produce bars like Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Thins and Nudge Butters.[7]

Hybrids. The last 12 months have delivered a rash of coffee-blended beverages. In fact, “coffee is being integrated into everything from sparkling beverages to energy drinks to juices”.[8]  Both Pepsi[9] and Coca-Cola[10] have debuted coffee-flavored colas either domestically or internationally, hard coffees have been rolled out by beer brands,[11] “coffee juices – iced fruit drinks topped with cold coffee” are brewing on the East Coast,[12] and Ocean Spray has created a non-alcoholic shandy pairing Cranberry Lemonade with Cold Brew Coffee.[13]

Functional. Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults are interested in wellness benefits via beverages, with 4 in 10 interested in enhancing sports & fitness performance.[14]  WORKOUT coffee intends to deliver, armed with a patented black tea extract and clinical research to support pre-workout and sports recovery claims.[15]

Sustainable. In response to global coffee bean crops negatively impacted by climate change, coffee rust and limited arable land, two entrants are raising eyebrows. Atomo Coffee, a startup with over $10M in VC funding that has developed an alternative coffee to mimic the beverage without the bean[16], and Jolt – a shelf-stable, coffee concentrate whose small, liquid volume reduces the burden on shipping and therefore, carbon footprint.[17]

Despite all of this innovation, we feel compelled as coffee lovers to recommend a few ideas of our own. First, attempt to relieve stay-at-home-fatigue. Consider sending consumers on a trip around the world via LTO specialty drinks inspired by the flavors of the globe. Enhance the sensorial experience, experimenting with garnishes or textures. Enable mental and physical self-care pushing both flavor and health. Try swapping tap water with flavored, infused or functional waters like coconut, rose, birch, water kefir or chlorophyll water. And finally, be holistic in sustainable offerings, considering not just origin stories and footprint, but packaging as well.


[1] “Need for comfort, energy will carry coffee through coronavirus, pave path for post-pandemic growth”, Food Navigator, 4/03/20
[2] “Coffee Brands Are Adapting as Consumers Opt to Brew at Home”, Adweek, 7/27/20
[3] “Global Drinks Trends After Coronavirus”, Euromonitor, 7/20
[4] “Starbucks launches premium instant coffee with Nestle”, Food Navigator, 2/25/20
[5] “Craft Coffee: The Next Boom Industry?”, The Hartman Group, 1/20
[6] “New Wave Coffee”, JWT, 1/24/19
[7] “Bored of chocolate? Eat coffee instead, says The Whole Coffee Co: We’re creating a completely new food category”, Food Navigator, 1/06/20
[8] “Coffee evolution driving beverage category growth”, Food Business News, 12/26/19
[9] “Pepsi Café, a cola-coffee blend, comes to stores next year”, FoodDive, 12/13/19
[10] “Coca-Cola to debut coffee-flavored cola in the U.S.”, FoodDive, 7/31/20
[11] “Hard coffee, hard kombucha – experts say no beverage is safe from alcohol”, The Washington Post, 2/03/20
[12] “No more OJ on the side: Coffee and fruit juice share the cup in a refreshing twist”, Restaurant Hospitality, 8/21/20
[13] “NPD Spotlight: New product launches in RTD tea and coffee”, 7/17/20
[14] “Wellness in a bottle: Delivering consumer-preferred beverages”, Givaudan, 2020
[15] “How coffee can fuel your workout”, NutraIngredients, 7/27/20
[16] “Atomo Coffee gets $9M for a molecular morning jolt”, FoodDive, 8/11/20
[17] “Miss your fancy coffee shop habit? Silicon Valley has the answer – in one tablespoon”, Fast Company, 4/23/20

Time to Snack

According to a recent study, over one-half of U.S. adults snack 2–3x per day and two-thirds are using them to replace meals. While snacking is overwhelmingly driven by cravings or hunger, it also satisfies emotional needs for indulgence, rest, rejuvenation and reward.[1]

                                                            Motivations to Snack

Chart showing various motivations to snack
Mintel 1/19

Considering snacking’s ability to provide balance (by contributing to both physical and emotional wellness), it’s no surprise that nearly 5 in 10 U.S. consumers deem them “an important part of healthful eating.”[2]

And now for the burning questions…

  1. Who are these snackers? Primarily, Millennials – the cohort with the highest penetration of “Super Snackers” and self-reported snacking growth vs. the year prior:[3]
Chart showing share of snacking by age
Mintel data via Kerry 2019

Chart showing percentage of consumers snack more this year by age

Millennials are also significant for having “redefined snacks from both an occasion and food perspective” with a penchant for grazing throughout the day, an emphasis on healthier fare and an attraction to innovation in the category[4] – especially via “new and foreign flavors and formats.”[5]

  1. Where are the pockets of growth? In pre-pandemic 2019 it was Wellness (+28% dollar growth), Indulgence (+27%), and e-Commerce snack sales (+46%).[6] During COVID-19, it’s Salty Snacks, the “No. 1 food item that’s contributed to sales growth at retailers since early March,”[7] knocking performance, health and nutrition bars off their pedestal.[8]
various salty snacks
  1. What are emerging opportunities and pain points? We’re most intrigued by four:
  • Trial. Snack subscription boxes are being touted as “a new frontier in the snacking world”, and online search for ‘snack subscription’ has increased +85%.[9]
  • Enabling Online Impulse. According to new research, the most popular impulse purchases in online grocery are snack foods and ice cream or frozen treats, yet retailers struggle with how to facilitate impulse through the e-Commerce channel.[10]
  • Beverages as snacks. Some 4 in 10 consumers (and 5 in 10 Millennials) “often use beverages as a snack, instead of food.”[11]
  • Foodservice. The majority of consumers are purchasing snacks most often at convenient retail locations like mass merchandisers or supermarkets,[12] but while 5 in 10 claim it isn’t hard to find snacks at restaurants, only 2 in 10 are purchasing them there.[13] Furthermore, pandemic-era “snack delivery” searches have increased by +83%,[14] implying a significant gap between emerging demand and current offerings.

Since taste, price and broad appeal to the family are the three critical factors in snack choice, we recommend focusing on free and paid sample sizes in order to drive trial. For manufacturers, this could look like subscription boxes, but also working with retailers to leverage existing bells and whistles on websites (e.g. ‘buy again’ functionality), providing LTO ‘bag stuffers’ at checkout, or creating ‘FREE. Take One.’ sites within the store. For foodservice, this would require killer snack menus…but also snack-related search engine optimization and delivery. Lastly, we recommend a media presence related to in-home viewing – whether traditional channels, streaming services or YouTube – as nearly 7 in 10 snacking occasions at home involve watching TV.[15]

[1] “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes”, Mintel, 1/19
[2] “Snacking”, Datassentials, 11/19
[3] “Snackification Takes Hold”, Kerry, 2019
[4] “NPD Group’s Darren Seifer: Is Gen X the Future of Snacking?”, NPD, 6/11/20
[5] “Millennials are ditching three square meals to graze throughout the day”, Food Navigator, 11/11/19
[6] “What will be the new norm? Looking at snacking universe beyond coronavirus”, Bakery And Snacks, 5/04/20
[7] “Snacks Shift Toward the New Normal”, Progressive Grocer, 5/19/20
[8] “Consumers are stocking up on snacks during the pandemic”, Grocery Dive, 7/07/20
[9] “Gauging the online snacking search trends during coronavirus”, Bakery and Snack, 5/15/20
[10] “Impulse buys get a boost online”, Grocery Dive, 7/06/20
[11] “Consumers Look for Functional Benefits in Beverages, The Hartman Group, 2019
[12] “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes”, Mintel, 1/19
[13] “Snacking”, Datassentials, 11/19
[14] “Gauging the online snacking search trends during coronavirus”, Bakery and Snacks, 5/15/20
[15] “Eating Occasions”, The Hartman Group, 2019

The Itty Bitty Beverage

The year was 2014. The beverage was soft drinks. The catalysts were sugar reduction, portion control (consumer) and higher profit margins (brand). The innovators? Coca-Cola and Pepsico, who drove significant unit volume growth by creating single-serve “minis”. This thoughtful play by beverage behemoths “enabled consumers to better measure and regulate their soft drink and caloric intake” all while paying a higher unit price.[1] The move was so successful, for example, that 40% of Coca-Cola’s soft drink brands now come in smaller serving sizes.[2]

Over the past few years, we’ve seen other beverages undergo a similar “shrink”. First, there were wellness-driven “shots” – tiny, two or three-sip elixirs meant to provide concentrated nutrition – with “higher amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”[3] Here again, Pepsico stays the course with smaller drinks via an alliance with Ocean Spray and the launch of the Atoka line, “herbalist craft beverages” in the form of tonics and shots.[4]

But where else is this tiny beverage trend playing out? Here are some intriguing examples:

Wine. Specifically, the “rejuvenation of the 375-milliliter bottle”, roughly the height of a wine glass with growth driven by tastings…especially the virtual kind…as Zoom users at home don’t want to open 3–4 full-sized bottles in order to participate.[5]

image of a 375ml wine bottle

Cocktails. Tiny spirits providing versatility and experimentation, allowing bartenders to create separate mini cocktail menus and enabling patrons to either sample more (e.g., flights) or imbibe less (a little taste for the designated driver).[6]

Notpla Beverage Blob. A half dollar-sized, edible (or compostable) sachet that breaks open inside the mouth, releasing its liquid contents. The experimental packaging has been tested by Glenlivet via a “glassless cocktail” and with water along marathon routes.[7]

Packaging samples from notpla.com
Packaging samples from notpla.com

Origami Bottle. Not a drink, per se, but a drinking vessel – one that collapses small enough to fit inside a pocket between uses.[8]

To us, this suggests an opportunity to examine not just what the beverage is, but how that beverage could be served in new ways to drive growth. While we’ve focused today on ever smaller drink sizes, we believe the key is “right-sizing”, decreasing or even increasing pack size in response to actual consumption patterns, demographic signposts and other trends.

[1] “Smaller is Better as Global Packaging Growth is Shaped by Variation in Pack Sizes”, Euromonitor, 2019
[2] Coca-Colacompany.com
[3] “I Drank Wellness Shots for a Week and It Was a Wild Ride”, Bon Appetit, 7/24/18
[4] “Ocean Spray focusing on agility, innovation during COVID-19”, Food Business News, 5/07/20
[5] “The Shutdowns Reveal Big Possibilities for Small-Format Bottles”, Wine Enthusiast, 6/11/20
[6] “Tiny cocktails – now? Here’s why they’re trending”, CNBC, 4/16/20
[7] “Notpla’s edible blob is a compostable water bottle”, Fast Company, 2/18/20
[8] “This reusable ‘Origami Bottle’ folds to fit in your pocket”, Fast company, 6/26/20

Gamer Grub

One of the most underserved markets in food & beverage is video gamers, of which there are nearly 3 billion worldwide. The market isn’t just huge, it’s hugely engaged. Even before the +65% increase in video game spending during the early weeks of the coronavirus lockdown1, global gamers across all age groups had substantially increased their playing time and the U.S. ranked 2nd in terms of hours spent per week.2

Graph showing hours playing videos games per week by age group
Graph showing hours playing videos games per week by country

In addition, gamers have birthed a new industry — eSports — where extraordinarily skilled and passionate players “go pro” and build careers competing not only online, but in concert halls, sports arenas and other venues3 in front of nearly 450 million global viewers.

So, why would this matter to CPG? Because of their unique eating habits and nutritional needs. As gamers among us report, while gaming requires the stamina and focus common amongst say, daily workers, it isn’t well suited for breaks in the action — especially in multiplayer scenarios or competitions. Gamers trying to complete tasks or working on teams cannot just stop to satisfy hunger and thirst, and often need to be prepared mentally and physically to perform for the duration — much like a traditional athlete.

Enter eSports nutrition. While the category is currently focused on supplements (pills, capsules, powders, gummies, etc.) and dabbling in snacks with a “created by Gamers, for Gamers” beef jerky,4 functional beverages are also emerging. One such example is Synapse, whose quarterly sales have consistently quadrupled by responding to unmet needs for a healthier, high-performance drink5 that enhances “focus, memory and energy” without stimulants (like caffeine).6

Drink Synapse website

Whether developing new products or marketing existing products to gamers, we do believe treating them like athletes — with healthy, performance-driven options — is the right direction. In addition, we encourage brands to message in context — within a gamer’s world — via dedicated platforms like Twitch, virtual events via Facebook and YouTube Gaming spaces, partnerships with professional eSports entities and promotions and/or product placement within popular games.

1 “Sales of video games soar as the coronavirus leaves millions trapped in their homes”, CNBC, 4/02/20
2 “Research Report Shows How Much Time We Spend Gaming”, Forbes, 3/21/19
3 “Esports Leagues Want Gamers to Root for the Home Team”, WSJ, 2/15/20
4 “Video gaming surge shows pivot opportunity from Sports to eSports, but authenticity is key”, Nutra Ingredients, 4/06/20
5 “From e-sports to mainstream, Synapse creates new category of functional beverages”, Food Navigator, 4/22/20
6 DrinkSynapse.com

Trust Your Gut

A few months ago, one of us found themselves at the Mayo Clinic and oddly enough, getting a glimpse into the future of food — as medicine — with all signs pointing to the health of our guts. An esteemed physician described a world where doctors would prescribe a personalized “yogurt cocktail” that would be filled at pharmacies in lieu of pills. A pre- or probiotic drink (or both: synbiotic) that would solve for our exact deficiencies and by doing so, restore overall health. We see several signs that this could come to pass.

First, gut health is being touted as the next frontier. The gut has been described as “our body’s second brain” and crucial to both physical and mental health.1 Increased stress, processed food and antibiotics have ravaged our gut flora, compromising our resilience.2 Pre- and probiotics are being studied for the role they may play in the prevention or management of obesity,3 as well as for inflammatory diseases and allergies.4 Google searches for “gut health” and “microbiome” have grown triple digits in the last five years;5 and the investment community went wild following a Bill Gates article on the potential of microbiome intervention.6

Second, personalized probiotics are possible. In fact, a Swedish startup has developed a kitchen counter device that customizes pre- and probiotic filled yogurts.7

YOGUT ME app and device

Third, highly sophisticated probiotic drinks are being developed for testing. Scientists at the University of Birmingham are seeking funding for a clinical trial of a probiotic drink called pCURE, designed to combat antibiotic resistance.8

Lastly, consumers gravitate toward yogurt-based concepts. Yogurt and yogurt-based drinks are the most preferred delivery vehicle for ingredients promoting digestive health.9

Chart showing category interest in purchasing products containing digestive health ingredients

Despite current developments, we see the potential of gut health expanding into categories beyond yogurt and beverage. Probiotic claims are emerging in everything from dips and spreads to pasta, and social media influencers are buzzing about where you can find them. To set your product up for success, design for personalization. If gastroenterologists are already recommending patients have customized gut mapping, we can assume this will become standard procedure amongst physicians. In this environment, identifying specific strains and providing supporting research will set you apart from those promoting generic, probiotic claims.10

[1] “What’s your beef? How bacteria could save dairies”, Food Dive, 3/12/20
[2] “How to know when your intuition is talking to you”, Fast Company, 2/26/20
[3] “Prebiotics stamp authority in deciding gut health and overall wellbeing”, Nutraingredients, 1/13/20
[4] “Big in Japan: Probiotics most popular non-vitamin/minderal pick for children”, Nutraingredients, 1/27/20
[5] Ganeden
[6] “2020 predictions: Staff changes and FDA, CBD, personalization and the microbiome”, Nutraingredients, 1/15/20
[7] “Nespresso-style gut health: Bioengineer creates personalized probiotic yogurt machine”, Nutraingredients, 1/06/20
[8] “Probiotic drink could offer new way to combat antibiotic resistance”, Science Focus, 2/20 [9] Kerry Global Consumer Survey, 2019
[10] “Unleashing the power of probiotics”, Food Business News, 3/25/20

Sober Curious Movement

#DryJanuary #SoberOctober #SoberCurious #SoberIsSexy

The sober-curious movement is a natural outflow of plant-based eating and lifestyle diets. Consumers are more focused on what is in their food, where it came from and how it benefits their body. The sober-curious movement is no different. As discussed back in July, the low ABV and sober trend has taken off this year, with more beverage companies creating no to low alcoholic beverages and more consumers are challenging themselves to take a break from the booze.

Fruity watermelon cocktail/mocktail drink decorated with cubes of fresh watermelon and rosemary

According to Nielson, Millennials are driving the mindful drinking movement, with 66% saying they’re making efforts this year to reduce their alcohol consumption1. For those 21 and older, the top two reasons they stated for abstaining from alcohol were health (50%) and weight loss (28%). In January 2019, one-fifth of Americans said they participated in Dry January and 83% of Americans who participated this year say they will participate again in 2020.

More recently we have begun to see companies pop up like Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water, who’s tagline “Keep running wild”, which speaks to active lifestyle consumers who value the outdoors, socializing with friends and healthier living. We are also seeing non-alcoholic spirits popping up like Seedlip, who wants to help the dilemma of ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’. 

Bar and restaurant experience without the buzz

Bars and restaurants are noticing the trend as well. The Sans Bar in Austin, TX is the first sober bar in the city. The owner of the bar wanted to create a safe and inviting atmosphere for people who want to have a good time without alcohol. They offer live music, upscale environment, and sober drinks that you can’t find anywhere else. Even in our hometown of Minneapolis, MN the restaurant The Lynhall has created a Sober Sunday Supper Series where they partner with local restaurants, prepare a four-course family style dinner paired with non-alcoholic beverages. Colorado is the latest state to take part in this trend with Bar Zero, a nonprofit bar supporting people who are choosing not to drink.

Shot of an immaculate bar with many bottles and glasses with no people

What’s next?

As consumers experiment with making a shift away from the prominence of alcohol, there will likely be even more who challenge themselves with #DryJanaury to give their body and mind a break. How operators start and continue to lean into this “movement” with food, drink and social experiences may offer new ways to win over this emerging group.

1 Nielsen, Many Americans Are Looking for a Bar Experience Without the Buzz, 2019

Superior Switchel + JTM Scale

If you’ve been tracking with us this summer, we’re in the midst of a series that focuses on the local Minnesota food and beverage start-up scene. This time around, we feature Superior Switchel and its founder Melina Lamer, the recipient of the inaugural JTM Scale Award. Over the past year, we had the opportunity to partner with this local entrepreneur to identify ways to propel the brand forward.

WHAT IS SWITCHEL?

The product itself is a key factor in Superior Switchel getting “the W” last year. Switchel is a refreshing, thirst-quenching beverage that is based on simple ingredients: carbonated water, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and a natural sweetener like maple syrup or wildflower honey. Lamer’s take on the 17th century recipe is unique and flavorful, with three variations that suit replenishment for many occasions—Honey Cinnamon Kick, Orange Maple Splash, Lavender Lemon Lift.

In addition to taste, Superior Switchel plays in the rapidly growing functional beverage category. As consumers continue to look for ways to use food as medicine, Superior Switchel offers a number of health benefits: it boosts recovery by replacing electrolytes, supports immunity, digestion and can help promote energy. As we’ve seen Kombucha take over the ready-to-drink (RTD) space on shelf, the broader category of shelf-stable functional beverages is $3.3 billion in sales, an increase of 11.7%. And Superior Switchel is shelf-stable, with the added perk of being delicious both hot and cold!

PARTNERING TO PROPEL

We were both new to this approach to partnering, and we spent time early on to identify how to best leverage the $75K JTM Scale award to impact the Superior Switchel business.

Brand work can be tough for an entrepreneur to commit to with an agency – it is real money for resources that can feel a bit…intangible. But as a rapidly growing brand, we knew it was critical to do this work upfront – especially as the Superior Switchel story was beginning to be told by people other than Melina, who does so with passion and expertise.

Expo West is a huge opportunity to gain exposure with retailers, investors and industry influencers. So, it was exciting to help Superior Switchel bring the refined brand work to life at this years’ event – and in a way that was repeatable for other important tradeshow opportunities throughout the year. The right event strategy is an important avenue for emerging brands. Being at the right place, at the right time, with the right product to build awareness can accelerate growth.

Superior Switchel at Expo West

For many entrepreneurs, social media is part of how their brand was built. Regardless of personal appetite for social media, it is often a necessary piece of the puzzle as the business grows, and approaching it through content strategy becomes more important in order to scale appropriately. With the goal of maintaining a high level of ongoing, quality engagement, we worked with Melina to develop a strategic framework for thinking about her channels and social presence strategically– and one that made planning out future content both simple and scalable. To supplement her current approach, we provided assets that could be dispersed in timely, relevant ways.

WHAT’S NEXT?

In reflecting on the last year of work, it is pretty cool to see how much one entrepreneur can inspire so many advocates around them. Through Melina’s personal story, passion and dedication to her business, our team was energized by our partnership. It was easy to want to do more and to go further, which is a testament to the brand she is building. It’s also a reminder that advocates can become resources – through a formal partnership or by leveraging this community of food experts in the local community.

Low Alcohol by Volume

One of the latest trends in the bar scene may influence your next summer cocktail or craft beer selection – whether on a patio or in your own backyard. The “Low ABV” category is growing on all fronts, from bartenders experimenting with new recipes, to producers creating near-beers and faux spirits that provide flavor and fun.

BUT, WHY?

You might be wondering… “but why? isn’t that missing the point?” As Millennials and Boomers are trying to stay fit, a recent study by International Wines and Spirits Record found that “52% of US adults who drink alcohol are either trying now or have tried before to reduce their alcohol intake”[1]. This is right in line with the emergence of “Dry January” – the 31-day alcohol-free challenge that has become a tradition for many following the holidays. Indicative of an overall search for moderation with alcohol, restaurants and retail brands have taken note.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

In NYC, the bar scene is rising to the challenge with trendy sober bars, mocktail menus and booze-free pop-up parties. These spaces are set up to look and feel like any other hip bar in the area, offering patrons an “alternative” night out. Most claim not to be a strictly sober space but rather one that promotes being social: talks, meet-ups, music, workshops, and my personal favorite: Juicebox Heroes, a karaoke lounge split into sober and non-sober sections. I have to imagine the experience is rather different from one side to the other!

On a broader scale, bars are putting more effort into their Low ABV program, and many times calling it out as a specific section on the menu. Generally defined as containing less than 1 ounce of high proof spirit, they are often only slightly less expensive as they tout similar high quality and unique ingredients as their alcoholic counterparts.

SO, WHAT NEXT?

Consumers will continue to look for what benefits their beverage choices can provide for them, by way of both wellness and experience. With the low- and no-alcohol beverage category projected to grow roughly 32% by 2022, it’s likely that creativity will continue to be key in shaping this trend – with the addition of items like “CBD-infused lattes” and “mushroom-elixirs”, the bar scene and how we consume mood-altering beverages is going to look very different even a few years from now.[2]

[1]“Low- And No-Alcohol Beverages Are a Growing Trend Worldwide.” Forbes. Pellechia, Thomas. February 20, 2019.
[2]“Sober-ish Summer?” Vanity Fair. Bryant, Kenzie. May 24, 2019.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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