COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of life and business across the world. People are being asked to stay home, industry gatherings have been canceled or postponed, consumption habits and shopping patterns have shifted dramatically, and companies have had to respond with limited information and no precedent to look to for guidelines or best practices.
While not unaffected, the beverage industry is uniquely equipped to weather difficult conditions. The complex and competitive nature of the market for beverages requires constant flexibility, dynamism, and resilience. Beverage companies know how to respond to changes to meet demand. So, it is no surprise that, instead of shrinking away from the current crisis, beverage companies are doing what they do best, finding new ways to show up and serve their customers.
We spoke with several beverage industry leaders about what they are seeing and doing during this unprecedented time. It turns out, the values that have always been at the core of the beverage industry are driving resilience and innovation during these times of unprecedented uncertainty.
Putting Collaboration Above Competition
Collaboration is essential to success in the beverage industry. It takes a team with a range of skills to execute on the formulation, financing, sourcing, packaging, production, and distribution of a beverage.
The importance of working together has been amplified during the pandemic. No one source has all of the information or resources needed to navigate the changes and their impact. Now, more than ever, beverage professionals are reaching across boundaries to help one another. Even the most direct competition is giving way to coordination and collaboration.
Andy Stallone, CEO of SAS Sales and Marketing, says his network is helping him get the up-to-date information he needs to keep the retailers and brands he supports safe.
“I know I can call on any of the people in my network, even the ones I compete with directly, and find out what they’re seeing,” says Stallone. “We’ve built relationships and trust, and we help each other out.”
Monitoring and responding to everything from retailer and distributor needs throughout the country, to supply chain issues around the world, becomes more manageable when you have a network of people to rely on.
Even in the absence of in-person industry events, new meaningful connections are being made. Beverage leaders are reaching out and coming together to solve challenges, share information and ideas, and formulate plans that benefit the industry as a whole.
“I just had someone reach out to me who saw a presentation online from an industry event several years back,” says Stallone, “We were able to jump on a video conference and brainstorm ideas together. Important discussions and plans are still moving forward.”
Embracing an Open Exchange of Information
Collaboration, transparency, and trust go hand-in-hand. Beverage companies with open, authentic communication build relationships quickly and create momentum around their brands. While the industry navigates the implications of COVID-19, transparency and visibility also ensure that everyone has the vital information they need to make good decisions.
During “normal” times, companies tend to share strategic content to build their brand and help them achieve specific goals. Transparency during uncertain times has an additional layer of value, opening the door for broader partnerships and more comprehensive solutions.
Mike Schneider, Chief Marketing Officer at BevNET, sees the conversations taking place across BevNET’s channels. Founders like Adnan Durani laid out Saffron Road’s crisis playbook. BevNET spun up COVID-19 crisis coverage and the conversation has even become pervasive on the Elevator Talk Live Stream, and Taste Radio podcast.
“Brands and suppliers have the opportunity to talk openly about where they are and what they’re doing during this time,” says Schneider, “It’s not just the scientific and technical information people are looking for right now. We need people to state the basics because they’re shifting, and we all need to know what they are as they change so rapidly.”
Beverage leaders are engaging in discussions and openly sharing information and ideas that will propel the industry forward collectively.
Creating New Solutions to Get Things Done
You don’t have to look far to see beverage companies resourcefully shifting to meet new circumstances. From implementing new methods of distribution to adapting products and marketing and communication methods, the beverage industry isn’t collapsing; it’s creating.
“Right after the first trade shows were canceled, we started seeing creative shifts from beverage entrepreneurs,” says Schneider. “We have seen marketing campaigns driving to new ecommerce channels, brands giving products to healthcare officials on the fronts lines, and online happy hours, and celebrity social media appearances. Brands are testing different ways to interact with people to keep them close during this time of social distancing.”
Distilleries and breweries are making hand sanitizer and hiring bartenders for virtual happy hours. Juice companies are donating products to health care workers. Large and small beverage companies are donating a portion of their profits to various non-profits and relief efforts. Distributors are not only safely delivering products, but also keeping in touch with brands and retailers virtually.
As a community of action takers, beverage professionals are designing solutions when they’re needed most.
Balancing Planning and Patience
Uncertain times require sound strategy and smart risk-taking. Beverage entrepreneurs are skilled at monitoring changes and adjusting plans and timelines to optimize their chances of success.
As the pandemic hit, some brands immediately felt the impact of restaurant closures and sporting event cancellations, while others experienced record-breaking off-premise sales. Many companies have had to revisit their plans for an impending launch or product line extension.
Jason Kane, CEO of Liquid Opportunities, sees proactive brands putting together effective plans no matter where they find themselves.
“Brands that haven’t hit the market yet are still working with co-packers to get to production,” says Kane. “They’re staying in touch with their suppliers and distributors to get plans in place, and tie up loose ends.”
Brands that are already on the market are focused on keeping up with demand and monitoring the supply chain. Overarching everything is a great deal of concern and compassion for keeping people safe.
“Companies across the industry are balancing their planning with a heavy dose of patience during this time,” says Kane. “We all understand the benefits new products and brands bring to the industry, but we also know the importance of keeping everyone safe. We’ll get the best practices in place in short order, but nobody is fully prepared for something like this.”