My 1st BevNET Live: You Can Find Your Tribe!

Top Brands & Trends to Watch in 2019 & Beyond

Samantha Turner, CEO of Mother Matcha, presents in BevNET Live’s New Beverage Showdown

I’m on an evening plane back home to Chicago on December 4th, and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited. No, I’m not jazzed about going from perfect Santa Monica weather to sub-freezing Chicago chill; I’m excited about how I just attended my very 1st BevNET Live.

BevNET Live is THE leading conference for the beverage industry, showcasing the most innovative products on the market and the leading entrepreneurs of the industry. The official conference agenda took place over 2 days, and 1 day prior, there was a separate program: “Beverage School,” intended to educate early-stage entrepreneurs and industry newcomers on the process of launching and growing a brand. 

With BevNET Live boasting attendees upwards of over 800, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to form real connections amidst such a sea.

But I’m happy to say I was able to find those I truly vibed with and shared values with.

It’s a testament to how truly diverse and varied the beverage industry is. In the most successful brands, the personality and values of the CEO/founders are reflected in the branding itself, right down to the packaging. 

If you’re starting a beverage brand, your brand should reflect your personality and values, because that authenticity will come through, making it a clear call to your ideal customers to come find you.

The brands I felt an immediate kinship with at BevNET Live include ESLENA, Partake Brewing, Mother Matcha, Joybird, Smart Cups, Hope & Sesame, and HopTea. 

ESLENA is an infused still water brand led by a bright, energetic, and passionate team who were my 1st contacts when I sat in the Beverage School portion of BevNET Live. Their positive energy set the tone for my maiden BevNET Live voyage. Co-founder Larkin Turner’s firm handshake and friendly face along with Co-founder Esther Turner’s spirited, youthful eyes and brimming energy made me feel hopeful and at home. (I learned they’re from Texas. A-ha! There’s that warm, home-grown welcome I know! I have good friends in Texas.) I got to try the Lemon Ginger flavor, which was a chill, yet refreshing delight. Personally, I prefer still water over the ever-so-popular sparkling.

And as someone who craves something a little more from my water (hence, my daily squeeze of lemon in my H2O), I was happy to meet the product as much as the people behind the brand.

Partake Brewing is an award-winning craft non-alcoholic beer brand with roots in Canada and fast expansion in the U.S. I had the valuable opportunity to spend time with CEO/founder Ted Fleming, where he shared with me his goals for 2019 and very personal reason for why he started the brand: He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and had to make the very real decision to cut alcohol out of his life if he had a chance of beating the relentless disease.

Mr. Fleming’s narrative is the heart of Partake. He offers refuge to those who can no longer imbibe alcohol but still long for the experience of discovering new craft batches of brew.

Partake Brewing is definitely a brand that clearly communicates its WHY, which is what I want for all emerging beverage brands. A winning formula, a Kickstarter, and sales to 1500 retail locations later, Mr. Fleming can proudly say that his disease has been in remission. It’s a compelling story that had made a diehard fan out of me even before I partook in my 1st sip. (I finally did. It’s delicious.)

Mother Matcha spoke to me from an empowerment of women standpoint. Founder/CEO Samantha Tanner’s unapologetically emotional brand appeal and female perspective had me looking up from my notes during her presentation at the Beverage Showdown.

This ‘Matcha with a Mission’ supports and empowers women in business, entrepreneurship, and technology.

According to Mother Matcha’s website, “Through our partnerships with nonprofits that share the same vision, we are focused on putting an end to gender inequality throughout the business and technology landscape.” Now THAT is a mission. Starting off my early career with a mindset that I had to bury my femininity to be successful, seeing Ms. Tanner lead the charge with her brand had me soaring with pride and confidence in seeing a distinctively female voice in the field. The calm and kind energy of the Mother Matcha team had me WHOO-ing from the audience.

I also had the pleasure of spending time with Founder/CEO George Yu of the new CBD-laden kid on the block, Joybird Wellness, a full spectrum hemp-based CBD beverage. (Yeah, I had to look up what “full spectrum” means, too. You can read about it here.) I nerded out and let Mr. Yu know how much of a big fan I was of Joybird’s packaging.

(I dare you to not smile when you see the monochromatic, languidly smiling sloth named Sammy.)

Mr. Yu and I sampled some new products together from other brands and spoke about our favorite brands making their debut at the conference. It felt great making a connection with a person so driven yet so easy to hang with. Joybird’s samples were all the rage, so unfortunately, I missed out on tasting the beverage at the conference. However, I ordered a variety pack, and as of publishing, Sammy the sloth is en route, delivering my CBD bliss in bottles. (UPDATE: You can watch my Joybird unboxing and review on my Instagram highlights titled, UNBOXINGS here.)

The easy-going duo leading Smart Cups, Owen Dolan and Chris Kanik, wowed the Beverage School students with their 30-second pitch. Their specially formulated, proprietary Smart Technology gives them an incredible ability: Printing a beverage right in the bottom of a cup.

Just add water (or the liquid of your choice), and the perfectly-measured ingredients transform right before your eyes.

The time limit for the pitch was 30-seconds, and to the audience’s dismay, Mr. Kanik was escorted off the stage before we could see a demonstration. Fortunately, I later found his business partner, Mr. Dolan, sitting next to my husband at the hotel lobby bar, and I was able express my admiration for his innovative new product in person. It could’ve been how long of a day he had at that point (with which I fully empathized, having stepped right off the plane from and straight to Beverage School), but his wearily pleased reaction indicated that he was used to receiving the raving accolades for Smart Cups.

He kindly did a demo for me at the bar with the Nerdy Lemon-T and Brilliant Berry Margarita Blast flavors. WOW were they delicious. In addition to their innovative product, I also enjoyed the co-founders’ rapport, as the banter between them was reminiscent of a veteran comedic act. I imagine their retail sales meetings are down to a perfectly timed pitch. 

As a plant-based enthusiast and a citizen concerned about environmental sustainability, I found a kinship with Hope & Sesame sesame milk. Co-Founder Matthew Coffer took the time to walk me through all 5 flavors, and he informed me about the sustainability of the sesame seed over other milk alternatives.

The sesame seed takes less water to harvest, making this beverage a delicious and environmentally friendly milk alternative.

I immediately ordered my own variety pack right after speaking with Mr. Coffer. (And you can watch my unboxing and review as well as peeks into my BevNET Live experience on my Instagram highlights here.) 

Unfortunately, I was not able to connect with the Co-Founder of HopTea who presented at the New Beverage Showdown, Dean Eberhardt, let alone try the product, but I was intrigued by the concept alone: Sparkling dry iced tea made with hops, giving the beverage a distinctly IPA flavor, without the alcohol.

As I move into my later 30s, I increasingly find appeal in drinking less alcohol. The costs of body and time are becoming steeper prices to pay.

But I do love the taste and experience of imbibing. HopTea aims to capture that experience in every day occasions, and they just might: HopTea won BevNET Live’s New Beverage Showdown with a triumphant prize awareness package of $10,000. 

We’re at the precipice of the trend of brewing hops in beverages sans yeast: There’s already sparkling water made with hops (See H2OPS Brand Hop Water and Lagunitas’ Hop Water). It was only a matter of time before tea steeped itself into the fold. 

These are the brands I’m most excited to see grow in 2019 and beyond.

Each of them has a strong connection to their brand’s WHY (the heart of their brand), and follow that through with their WHAT (the face of their brand). I was fortunate to find my tribe at my very 1st BevNET Live, and if you’re thinking of attending, I have no doubt you will too.