Beverages: Distributor's Notebook 2014

By  Kelly Kurt, Freelance writer

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It’s an odd question to ask of a bottle of water: What can you do for me?

But that’s exactly what today’s consumers are demanding of beverages, even water, as they look to them for something that goes beyond refreshment.

“It’s not just about quenching thirst anymore,” explains Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising for Naperville, Ill.-based distributor Eby-Brown Co. Consumers want beverages that are functional, enhanced, perhaps even fortified enough to stand in for a meal.

“When we talk about the beverage category, for the consumer it really has been a year of looking at functional beverages and, ‘What can this product do for me?’ ” she says. “The trend that we’re seeing is really trying to go toward that healthier consumer lifestyle.”

Retailers are finding real opportunities with the rise of all-day snacking and the appeal of juices, smoothies and coffee drinks as snack and meal substitutes. For example, research group Mintel reported that one-half of juice drinkers turn to that beverage to increase their servings of fruits or vegetables and boost their vitamin and mineral intake. Mintel forecasts that 2014 will bring more “stealth-health products”: foods and beverages that are fortified with added nutrients, such as protein-enhanced juices.

Kuncl says retailers are likely to find success not only in promoting healthy beverages for immediate consumption but also in offering impulse options alongside those beverages for later in the day.

“As consumers are coming into your store and grabbing that orange juice, they may grab that bottle of water for later,” she says. “I’m hearing both on the warm side as well as the cooler door [that] there may be opportunities there for that grab-and-go option.”

On Tap for This Year

As far as trends for 2014, Kuncl cites the following:

 ▶ Water returns: Sales of water in both the take-home and cooler-door segments saw a resurgence last year, and she expects that to continue. Enhanced waters, in particular, will likely offer consumers that extra something they’re looking for. Nestlé’s resource Natural Spring Water, promoted as “more than hydration,” is catching on as a lower-cost option to some direct-store delivery waters, Kuncl says.

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