CBD 2.0: Why 2021 is the Dawn of a Promising New Era in the Hemp

CBD 2.0: Why 2021 is the Dawn of a Promising New Era in the Hemp

NOTE: ABRIDGED VERSION ABOVE PUBLISHED BY NASDAQ 2-18-21

In 2004, Tim O’Reilly popularized the term “Web 2.0.” According to Tim O’Reilly, “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.[3] He went on to say, “Web 2.0″refers to the historical context of web businesses “coming back” after the 2001 collapse of the dot-com bubble, in addition to the distinguishing characteristics of the projects that survived the bust or thrived thereafter.[4]As we enter year three of federally legal hemp CBD, I am calling CBD 2.0.

 I lived through the dot-com bubble having founded eSkye.com in 1999 as a B2B exchange for the alcohol industry. I then led through the transition from dot-com to Web 2.0 morphing eSkye.com into eSkye Solutions and shifting to become a SaaS software provider to the industry, at one point establishing it as the largest provider of dedicated software services to the wine industry. We also handled all the vendor managed pricing with Walmart, Walgreens, and other chains for many of the largest wine, spirits and beer companies in the world. I was also Chairman of Wine 2.0, which was a riff of the Web 2.0 movement to bringing technology and wine experiences together.

O’Reilly and Gary Vaynerchuk (winelibrary.tv and Vaynerchuk Media) joined us at the New York Wine 2.0 event that featured cutting edge wine start-ups and wineries, plus over 1,000 wine and tech lovers coinciding with O’Reilly Media’s Web 2.0 Expo.

This week, on Yahoo Finance, I characterized 2021 as “CBD 2.0.” as the beginning of a fundamental shift from the early “Wild West” days of the hemp CBD industry to a year that will lay foundation for national brands. Let me explain and see if you agree.  

Pablo Zuanic, the well-regarded research analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, put out several reports this week on the Cannabis and CBD markets and companies. As he points out:

“Macro view: our projections remain bullish for the next five years. Despite lackluster trends in 2020, partly COVID-related, and a slowdown pre-COVID in 2H19 – as lack of regulatory guidelines from the FDA prevented the FDM channel from adapting CBD a widely as had been expected, across formats and by all major retailers – projections remain quite constructive. Most estimates by the industry’s trade shops continue to forecast US CBD $ sales of $15-20Bn by 2024. The Brightfield Group projects sales of $15Bn by 2024, up from $4.2Bn in 2019. BDS Analytics projects sales of $20Bn by 2024, more than 10x the $1.9Bn in sales generated by the industry in 2018 (~50% CAGR), as per their estimates. BDSA estimates 63% of the $20Bn 2024 figures would be hemp-derived CBD and 37% marijuana-derived CBD. The current market split is as follows, according to BDS Analytics: ingestibles 47%, topicals 26%, inhalables 21%, pet products 3%, and 4% other (including pharmaceuticals). But as discussed below, without clear FDA guidelines and formal classification of CDB as a dietary supplement, the bulk of the FDM channel will stay reluctant to stock CBD products, and this will limit growth, in our view.”

He goes on to point out that without a major FDA/regulatory catalyst, it’s hard to see things improving rapidly from 2020. While I agree with his general assessment of the handful of public CBD companies he covers – cbdMD (YCBD/Neutral), Charlotte’s Web (CWBHF/Neutral) and CV Sciences (CVSI/Neutral)— I think those companies’ biggest issues are more related to the rising tide of other serious brands from mostly private companies but also new entrants. This new onslaught is much more sophisticated and include larger scale CPG brands than what the early CBD companies are used to competing against. Two such examples are Martha Stewart’s CBD Gummies launched by Canopy Growth and Molson Coors announced launch of their CBD beverage, TRUSS CBD in Colorado. This new crop of brand focused companies is leading the way and initiating the dawn of CBD 2.0.

Hemp CBD Early Days

In 2014, after years of grassroots efforts, Congress included an experimental program that allowed hemp to be legally grown in the US for the first time since 1937, provided it was attached to a University. 14 states ended up participating in the program. It was quite restrictive but a huge step forward for the industry. This was pre-CBD 1.0, a period of primitive CBD industry and initial consumer trials of the cannabinoid. During this time, there was a volatile) gray/illegal market for CBD with shady operators popping up all over brokering CBD from China and putting it into products with no testing, no truth in labeling and zero reliability. It was truly the “Wild West” and was common to have “brokers” claiming to have for sale or want to buy millions of dollars or liters of CBD, only to have them disappear when one actually tried to make a deal. It was a close cousin to the illegal cannabis industry with many of the same players participating in both.

I went to Washington DC to meet with congressional leadership in March 2018 to gauge the likelihood of expanding the hemp program nationally and of cannabis prohibition repeal overall. My impression was that full-on cannabis prohibition repeal still had meaningful opposition, but that hemp legalization could move quickly with bipartisan support.

My team jumped into it in 2018 growing 115 acres with partner farmers in Kentucky and establishing a hemp processing facility there as well. Just about everything that could go wrong did. The seeds were not great, the weather was terrible (wet when we needed dry and dry when we needed wet – “Welcome to farming,” they told me), our equipment kept breaking as most was not designed for the hemp plant, etc. Despite these challenges, we learned quickly and were able to lay the groundwork for what was to come.

Hemp CBD 1.0

Enter the Farm bill, which passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law in December 2018. This laid the foundation for a truly national, legal hemp industry, provided that each state set up a system and apply with the USDA. The excitement was palpable. It was a bit like a mini dot-com in terms numbers of start-ups, money flowing into the space, and news coverage. We bet heavily that the market would expand dramatically with legalization and committed to growing more than 1,800 acres of hemp with partner farms in KY and TN. We plowed millions of dollars into the production side of the business while at the same time putting a portfolio of brands together. We successfully launched our first brands into nearly 1,000 convenience stores in late 2018. It was a CBD “Gold Rush” with 100s of new “brands” appearing out of nowhere. Farmers switched to hemp production in mass, and $100s of millions of investments pumped into hemp processing operations. Big retailers began taking meetings with the anticipation of rolling out CBD products in 2019.

Between the Fall harvest of 2018 and 2019, the hemp growing, processing, and CBD ingredient side of the industry collapsed. In retrospect, perhaps it seems obvious that a frenzy of new investment and market participants in a brand-new industry would cause over-supply. Also, the proliferation of start-ups, populated with inexperienced business operators, caused plenty of issues. However, in a twist unforeseen by anyone but perhaps big pharma, the regulatory headwinds led by the US FDA threw a wrench in the momentum towards retail adoption. Their position was that CBD ingestibles are unsafe until proven otherwise, and therefore not permitted. This declaration caused most of the major retail outlets to cancel plans to bring CBD onto their shelves. (See my article in the Denver Post on this here)

The resulting destruction of value in the industry was swift and massive. Seven of the largest hemp processors who had raised over $400 million failed by February 2020 (pre-COVID lockdown). The largest, GenCanna, had a reported $2 billion deal to go public in the Fall of 2019, only to collapse into bankruptcy months later. I was 36 hours from a $700 million+ merger into a SPAC on NASDAQ when it unraveled in October 2019. We faced a collapsing market and a flight of investment capital. My team at Vertical Wellness took immediate action by cutting our costs and pivoting to a services business to help recover investor/creditor dollars from all these failed companies. In the end, we landed contracts to dry or process over 18 million pounds of hemp, making us profitable in 2020 during the pandemic. Given the retail environment, our brand launches were pushed into 2021, but we used the time and cash flow to prepare and make strategic acquisitions to be ready for what was to come. I share our rare success during a dismal time in the industry not to boast, but simply to inspire other entrepreneurs and demonstrate that being resilient and never giving up are essential qualities.

Entering CBD 2.0

In five years, we can look back and see if I called this too early, but something feels different to me. To be clear, I’m not suggesting good times are here immediately, but rather, we will soon be able to clearly see the path forward for a thriving cannabinoid industry. Here is my case that 2021 is the turning point for CBD.

1.    Survivors: Only the strong survived the great destruction of CBD 1.0 – those of us remaining either pivoted, figured out how to make money, or emerged with new focus on execution.

2.    Execution and Funding: The extreme loss of value has scared away many investors. This makes it a lot harder for new entrants to attain funding and for existing folks who are not executing to stay in the business.

3.    State Permitted Ingestibles: In spite of the FDA inaccurate proclamation against the safety of CBD, consumer demand for health and wellness products has only grown. Fundamentally, consumers want natural alternative solutions (from Big Pharma drugs) to solve sleeplessness, anxiety, pain, and other ailments. Cannabinoids increasingly demonstrate their proper role in solving for this consumer demand. Just as in the overall THC-based Cannabis market, the States are leading the way in permitting ingestibles of CBD. This will accelerate in 2021. The states are driving permitted CBD consumption and consumer demand (it’s 47% of consumption nationally in spite of the FDA). Additionally, there are more studies coming out regularly, adding further lack of evidence of any harm caused by CBD. These factors and continued support from a growing bi-partisan group of lawmakers will eventually overcome big-Pharma’s grip over the FDA on this issue. I’m hopeful this can happen in 2021 but is not essential for my case for CBD 2.0.

4.    Retailers Need for Growth: Retailers who are coming out of a crazy year of focusing on essential supplies or in other cases being shut down are looking for new ways to grow. CBD is back on top of their list of growth categories in which many are not yet participating.

5.    Efficacy Matters: More and more companies and brands today are focused on the real impact CBD and other cannabinoids can have on people’s lives. Faster acting products with clear uses will lead the growth.

6.    Real Brands: More legitimate, credible brands, not named “CBD this” or “CBD that,” are emerging. That would be like naming my new beer brand “Beer.” CBD is simply one of about 150 cannabinoids in the Cannabis plant that, when combined with the right balance of other ingredients (e.g. melatonin), can have tremendous efficacy in solving or alleviating real health and wellness ailments. Consumers want it, but they don’t know who or what to trust because of the lack of workable regulations and proliferation of unknown, unproven, generic brands. That is starting to change as premium brands are being backed by credible companies and honest leaders with proven track records. Our kathy ireland Health & Wellness® CBD solutions is a great example of this. Kathy is a recognized leader and advocate for women’s health. Our acquisition of The Organic Candy Factory is another. We are very excited to bring these to market.

As Tim O’Reilly once said, “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.” I believe “CBD 2.0” is a worthy endeavor and indeed will make the world better off. I recently had my whole team read the late Tony Hsieh’s (former Zappos CEO) book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. In it, Tony shares a plethora of stories where Zappos was at the brink of going out of business but found a way to persevere despite the odds.  Had a small group of impassioned leaders not fought through those times, there never would have been a $1 billion exit. Many in the industry are in a similar moment. Those who show resilience and conviction will prevail. 2021 will prove to be the turning point in building a thriving, healthy industry that contributes to the societal good.

Farm Bill Poised To Pass: Legalizing Hemp Across the Land

The Farm Bill of 2018 just passed the House and Senate and sits on the President’s Desk.  Here are some thoughts on its impact on the Hemp and CBD industries as well as information on our activities in the space, I have shared in a number of interviews.


Here is our Vertical Wellness operation getting started in KY in October

WHV: Vertical Hemp Company Cuts Ribbon To Cadiz Factory

Bloomberg: Hemp Companies Poised to List in U.S. as Farm Bill Goes to Vote

 

QUARTZ: Proposed hemp regulations continue the racist legacy of the US war on drugs

CSP: Instant CBD Strips Arrive in C-Stores Nationwide

WKMS: Hemp Company Vertical Celebrates Opening Of CBD Facility In West Kentucky

 

Tapping the Booze Business

Tapping the Booze Business

May, 2018

Tapping the Booze Business

Hemp, CBD and extraction companies can crack the infused alcoholic beverage market but must navigate a regulatory thicket

By Vicky Uhland

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, small, local brewers and distillers were the first to get back into the alcohol business. Many either grew into national brands or were snapped up by larger companies looking to expand.

Today, the same scenario is occurring with beer, wine and spirits infused with hempseed oil, cannabidiol or cannabis terpenes. Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing, for example, recently unveiled a hemp beer, while California-based Lagunitas Brewing last year offered a brew infused with cannabis terpenes.

“We’re in a unique moment in time. There are no big hemp or CBD alcohol brands yet, so there’s a window – maybe for the next three to five years – to establish a brand,” said Smoke Wallin, chief marketing officer and president of distribution for Vertical, a company in Agoura Hills, California, that is developing a CBD oil that can be infused into alcohol.

Some big companies are wasting no time, especially with Canada poised to legalize recreational marijuana. Last October, New York-based Constellation Brands, which distributes more than 80 wine, beer and spirits brands, paid $190 million (CA$245 million) for a 9.9% stake in Canadian cannabis cultivator Canopy Growth Corp. Wallin and others believe more large beverage companies will follow.

 

Smoke Wallin, former WSWA Chairman and President of Vertical Companies

 

“I’m absolutely certain the Anheuser-Busches, the Bacardis, the Jack Daniel’s are going to get into this, but they will wait until marijuana is fully legal to do it,” said Wallin, who has more than 25 years of experience in the alcoholic beverage business. “Anyone that can get a brand established in the meantime, and show traction, is going to be very attractive to the big players.”

That translates into business opportunities for hemp growers, CBD producers and companies that extract oils such as cannabis terpenes. Those products don’t carry the same stigma in the United States as THC-laden marijuana, but it won’t be a slam dunk.

The marriage of alcohol and cannabis faces unique regulatory and legal hurdles, making it difficult for hemp, CBD and extraction companies to produce their own booze. The simpler option for those companies is to sell their products to alcoholic beverage manufacturers to get a foothold in what could become a lucrative product niche.

Striking a Partnership

That’s what Joe Pimentel did. In 2017, Pimentel, the owner of Luce Farm in Stockbridge, Vermont, decided to start producing CBD-infused honey to set his farm apart from other area hemp growers. He approached Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont, about carrying the honey in the brewery’s restaurant and gift shop.

“The CBD hemp market is so immature, so our strategy is to align with a lot of Vermont brands that are better known than ours,” Pimentel said.
Long Trail decided not only to sell the honey, but also to make a beer with it. “We liked that the hemp gives us new flavors we can’t get anywhere else,” said Head Brewer Ian Harbage. But the honey played havoc with the beer’s consistency, so the brewers opted for Luce’s CBD extract and hemp terpenes instead.

Terpenes are separated out at the beginning of the hemp-extraction process, like an essential oil, and then the CBD extract remains. Pimentel used to do his own extractions, but “nothing we could create in our kitchen had consistent levels of THC,” he said.

He started researching the best extraction techniques and decided on a carbon dioxide method offered by the PhytoScience Institute in Waterbury, Vermont. PhytoScience now handles all of Luce Farm’s hemp extractions, and the terpenes are consistently documented at less than 1 part per million THC.

CBD has more health properties but not as much flavor and aroma as terpenes. “The main terpenoid in cannabis is the main flavor in hops, which makes terpenes and beer a good partnership,” said Andrew Follett, the owner of Philadelphia-based Keystone Canna Products, which was founded in 2014 to help hemp farmers distribute nationally.

Follett also said CBD, which has a slightly nutty flavor, is a better option for wine and spirits manufacturers that don’t want a distinct cannabis taste or smell in their products. But he noted that it takes time, effort and creativity to mix the oily product into beverages, which can deter some brewers and distillers.

Regulatory Headache

Like the cannabis sector, the alcohol industry faces a web of regulations – in this case from both the states and the feds. Consequently, hemp, CBD and extraction companies must be aware of the complicated regulatory process when wading into the alcohol business.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s declaration in December 2016 that CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance – like marijuana and heroin – complicated matters. Last year, a Colorado craft beer producer, Dad & Dude’s Breweria, butted heads with the feds over the brewery’s production of a non-THC, CBD-infused beer. Dad & Dude’s had previously won approval for the brew from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The brewery, which continues to sell the beer on its premises, is for now locked in a legal battle with the DEA as well as the agency.

The TTB, meanwhile, presents other hurdles. Any alcohol company that sells across state lines, for example, must secure approval from the agency. Back in 2000, the agency’s predecessor issued requirements covering formulas, processes and labels for domestic hemp products. The policy requires all alcoholic beverages that contain hemp or a hemp component to submit a lab report stating the amount of THC in the hemp, a move that dovetails with the DEA’s policy.

“It follows the DEA’s rules, and the intent of those rules are to ensure the product is THC-free or has trace amounts,” said Ryan Malkin of Malkin Law, a Miami Beach, Florida, firm that specializes in alcohol law.

In December 2017, Weatherford, Texas-based TVM Wines received TTB approval to manufacture and sell its hemp wine across state lines. The process took two years and 28 different paperwork submissions to the agency, said Elease Hill, TVM co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing.

Hill said the key was to supply the agency with lab tests showing the hempseed oil used in her sweet, citrus-based wines had less than 4 parts per million THC, and that the oil was derived from hemp stalks, roots or stems rather than flowers or resin, which is considered a Schedule I substance by the DEA.

“You have to be careful where you get your hempseed oil from,” Hill said. “I had one that was 3% THC, from mature hemp stalks, and the DEA said that was too high, so the oil must be coming from hemp resin.”

Hill found her suppliers through a list provided by the Texas Hemp Industries Association and by simply Googling hempseed oil companies. She read product reviews and then called the companies to check their references and lab work documentation.

Hill eventually partnered with Keystone Canna Products. Its hemp oil and food brand, Cannagenix, specializes in paper trails and lab testing, according to Follett, the owner.

“There are a lot of hemp and CBD products but not a lot of quality documentation,” he said, noting that growers and CBD companies that can’t produce a regulatory paper trail are likely to be shut out of the alcohol business.

Labeling Semantics

Hill said even though TVM’s wines contain CBD, they’re labeled as “hemp seed oil infused” because the TTB and DEA preferred the word “hemp” to “CBD.”

But, like most cannabis law, this is a gray area. The determining factor appears to be where the beer, wine or spirits are sold. Even if alcohol doesn’t cross state lines, regulations vary from state to state, just as they do with cannabis.

So far, Long Trail’s Medicator beer hasn’t run up against the TTB, even though the can says: “Vermont’s first CBD infused beer.” But the company has made only three small batches and has limited sales to the brewery’s pub.

In California, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing uses cannabis terpenes in its SuperCritical Ale. CannaCraft, a vertically integrated medical cannabis producer and distributor in Santa Rosa, California, extracted terpenes for the beer using a carbon dioxide process.

“There is no THC in the beer, so we simply made the beer and did not ask for permission to do that which we do every day,” said Lagunitas founder and Executive Chairman Tony Magee. “However, the TTB became interested, and we are talking with them about it right now. I’m pretty confident they will understand what we intend to do, and we’re looking forward to making a whole lot more of it.”

 

COURTNEY DORNE AND J SMOKE WALLIN JOIN VERTICAL COMPANIES EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM

COURTNEY DORNE AND J SMOKE WALLIN JOIN VERTICAL COMPANIES EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM

VERTICAL EXPANDS EXECUTIVE TEAM; CEMENTS LEADERSHIP IN LEGAL CANNABIS INDUSTRY

Courtney Dorne, J. Smoke Wallin bring significant executive experience in Food and Alcohol Beverages to one of country’s leading medical cannabis companies

Los Angeles, CA (January 25, 2018) – Vertical, one of the country’s leading vertically integrated medical cannabis companies, announced today the addition of Courtney Dorne and J. Smoke Wallin to their leadership team.  Dorne is an entrepreneur and food industry leader who joins Vertical as a partner and President of Vertical Brands Co.  Wallin is a serial entrepreneur and thought leader in the beverage alcohol industry and has joined as a partner, Chief Marketing Officer and President of Vertical Distribution Co.

Vertical was founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs who saw the potential created by the transition of cannabis to a legitimate and legal business. Drawing from results-driven expertise in a variety of industries, the Vertical team has a synergistic energy that offers proven experience from seed to sale.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Courtney and Smoke to our executive team,” said Todd Kaplan, Founder & CEO of Vertical.  “Smoke’s deep knowledge of alcohol distribution and scaling new businesses in highly regulated industries, combined with Courtney’s perishable food distribution and extensive network strengthen our competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving legal medical cannabis industry.”

According to The Arcview Group, the U.S. legal cannabis industry represented over $6.7 billion 2016 and is expected to grow to between $22 and $50 billion over the next 10 years. Legalization of the medical cannabis industry began in 1996 with California’s passage of the Compassionate Use Act.  Since then it has operated in a quasi-legal environment with conflicting laws throughout the land, while growing exponentially.  2014 marked the beginning of adult recreational cannabis legalization with Colorado and Washington leading the way.  Today there are 29 states that have legalized either medical only or medical and adult recreational cannabis production, distribution, retail and consumption.  Gallop recently reported 64 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization nationally. In this vibrant space, Vertical is a pioneer and is the first to offer fully integrated services from legal compliance and operation of cultivation to extraction, product development and marketing.

Dorne brings literally a lifetime of experience in food services and the restaurant industry to Vertical. From her family’s restaurant to founding the giant Fresh and Ready Foods, Dorne has a proven track record in food manufacturing and perishable packaged food distribution and has built an extensive network of customers ranging from airlines and hospitals to convention centers, the military and convenience stores, all the while working under the rigorous scrutiny of FDA and USDA regulations.  She is a member of the YPO Global One chapter and is the current Chair of the Women’s Network (WYN).

“After years of suffering from debilitating pain and crippling migraines as a result of extensive surgical procedures, I learned first hand about the efficacy of cannabis on pain management,” said Dorne. “All too often our culture is quick to treat pain with a pill and we’ve all seen what that has gotten us. I believe that legal cannabis can be a part of a legal, safer and healthier alternative and I’m thrilled to join the team that can help make this happen.”

Wallin comes to Vertical by way of Taliera, a company he founded in 2005 to create, acquire, manage and advise brands in the beverage space. His career in beverage alcohol has included serving as Chairman & President of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) and EVP and CFO for National Wine & Spirits (now part of RNDC/Breakthru). He is also active in YPO as Chair of the Beer, Wine and Spirits Network and has been active in legislative and regulatory affairs.

“I have always loved innovating, doing deals and building enterprises to scale, particularly in the beverage alcohol space,” Wallin said.  “I’ve been studying high potential growth brands and companies, and Vertical and is at the forefront of the rapidly growing legal medical cannabis industry. Both industries are highly regulated and for some time I have been expecting them to converge. The recent investment by Constellation Brands[STZ] in Canada’s Canopy Growth [WEED] validated my premise, and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the team building brands and distribution in a market worth $100s of billions globally.”

Wallin continued, “I can’t help but think of Sam Bronfman in 1933 at the Repeal of Prohibition who went on to build Seagram into the alcohol industry leader it became before selling to Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Vertical is positioned to achieve that level of success.”

About Verticalâ„¢

Vertical is one of the first and largest vertically integrated companies in the legal medical cannabis industry. It’s operations in CA, AZ and OR combined with strategic partnerships in CO, MI, and NV position it well to take advantage of the rapid legalization and normalization of cannabis globally. Vertical is led by an executive team of entrepreneurs and business leaders from the alcohol beverage, agriculture, CPG, distribution, entertainment, food and medical industries. Vertical’s operations include planning, permitting, development and operation of cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, distribution and retail facilities.  It has world class capabilities in product development, co-packing, branding, marketing, education, and legal compliance, Vertical does Everything Pertaining to Green. For more information visit www.vertcos.com.

Evolving Drinks Brands

Evolving Drinks Brands

Evolving Drinks Brands banner

I recently read and shared an article in Forbes by Patrick Hanlon called, “Why Brands Must Evolve” that is so spot on that it has led to a number of interesting conversations in the past week with some of my clients and partners who own brands in beer, wine and spirits. As one who spends a lot of time thinking about new brands, as well as igniting established brands in new ways, Patrick’s thoughts really resonated with me. I don’t think there is a better industry than beverage to illustrate his points about what is going on with brands. Brand proliferation is happening across the board making “breaking through the clutter” ever more difficult. At the same time, the reason this is happening if fundamentally that there is demand for new brands. As I wrote in “RE: Is Craft Beer In A Bubble”, there is a big and growing market for new brands in beer, but also in wine and spirits. Not everyone will succeed and in fact many new brands will fail. To the big brand manager, the fundamental challenge has also never been so big – how do you keep a loyal following when your following gets gigantic. I think about an Iconic brand like Patron Tequila. I was a distributor for Patron as it passed between different sales companies and was a very difficult sell. Five years from the time it launched, Patron was doing about 55,000 cases. Now that is a nice little brand, but nothing would have screamed, “This brand is on fire!” Then, it did catch on fire and became the very symbol of luxury. Check out Patron case sales for the first 10 years:

Patron sales first 10 years

Patron is an amazing brand and continues to outsell all of the other super premium tequilas (and frankly all other spirits brands at $40/750ml bottle and higher). They have a huge and loyal following. However, as brand manager for Patron today, the things one has to do to market the brand are quite different than in the early years. How does one keep the “cool” factor going when you are the largest brand in your category. There are dozens of new entrants who are going after their market and have the advantage of being smaller (think Avion, Casamigos, Don Julio) and bringing a new “cool” factor to the market. Clearly there are many that succeed at this but being true to your brand and your audience while changing things up can be quite difficult. Absolut Vodka was THE luxury brand of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was the “it” brand among the “it” crowd.

Andy Warhol Absolut IMG_6541

Pernod Ricard paid over $8 billion to acquire the brand a few years back. How does Pernod now manage a giant brand that was formerly the top luxury vodka in a market with such massive proliferation of brands that the high-end vodka category has experienced. I’m told there are 800 vodkas in the Beverage Media New York book. Pernod recently announced a new bottle. Absolut is one of those brands that defined itself by its bottle.   Changing the bottle is a big move even in subtle ways. Adding the big A is a pretty big move. Large companies don’t usually make big moves, but staying relevant in a crowded market sometimes requires big moves.    Pepsico made an even bigger move a few years back with their Gatorade brand. I thought at the time, it was fairly risky, but it appears to have paid off (does anyone know details?).

gatorade new gatorade old label

Patrick’s article certainly cites a number of great examples of big brands that have managed to evolve over time and keep or even build on their past successes. “…the challenge for brands has evolved from creating awareness to creating meaning.” How do you keep creating meaning at scale like Nike, Apple and Disney have successfully done.  They each connect to their consumers and continually create meaning.

The wine market has evolved so dramatically, that I have to look up many of the brands on the grocery shelf today and I have been involved in selling $100s of millions of wine over the years. Why? New brand proliferation to attract the millennial consumers.

barefoot wine logo Meiomi wine

Take a look at the top 10 domestic “Hot Brands” put out by Marvin Shanken’s Impact Databank:

  1. Barefoot
  2. Black Box
  3. Bota Box
  4. Liberty Creek
  5. Boggle
  6. Apothic
  7. 14 hands
  8. Barefoot Refresh
  9. Gnarly Head
  10. Meiomi

Four of these are Gallo Brands, but none say Gallo. All have interesting, contemporary labels. To succeed in this hyper-competitive market, every brand must have a number of things. Great branding is vital, without it your brand is lost and has no chance. Great liquid that fits the taste of your target market is key, without it they won’t buy a second time. Distribution is essential, a brand cannot become relevant if consumers can’t find it. But how does a brand build a real following of consumers who care? That is, how do we create meaning? That is the question every new brand team needs to answer.

 

To quote Patrick again: “We want the added value of believing in something. The added value of belonging to something: being a part of something that hard-wires us to a larger community of “people like me””

 

Seth Godin in his fantastic book “Tribes” articulates this concept well.

“Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.” Brands have to figure out how to reach their tribes and how to engage with them. Notice, I did not say create their tribes. This is an important distinction. I believe tribes are discovered not created. Brands who overtly try to create one typically struggle. If a following is not organic, today’s savvy consumers sense it.   I think brands can make themselves relevant and worthy of a following and then as that following begins to show signs of life can play a role in fostering and accelerating it.

 

I’d love to hear your stories of brands you think are doing this right.

 

Cheers,

 

Smoke

 

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