The theme from the influential voices in food production this week was “movement” as the status quo for brands, executives and even consumer demand made significant shifts.

  • Buzzing: cocktails, soft drinks and juices
  • Migrating: industry movers and shakers

Changing Tastes, Bubbling Opportunities

Consumers demand a lot from their favorite beverages, and will shell out cash for those that deliver on taste, function and value — at least until the next-best thing enters the market.

  • The Washington Post reported that oddball soda (or is it pop?) Dr Pepper has bubbled up to surpass Pepsi as the second-best-selling soda in the U.S., with each brand at 8.3% of the market (behind Coke at 19.2%). They attribute part of Dr Pepper’s rise to flagging Pepsi sales.
  • Anchor Brewing, which shut its doors in 2023 after 127 years as a craft-brewer, is being resuscitated by Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani. Still, the craft beer business has been in decline as drinkers shift to spirits and cheaper alternatives, reported CNN Business.
  • In another sign of changing consumer tastes around brewed beverages, The Wall Street Journal reported that Japanese whisky maker Suntory is in talks to buy Boston Beer, known for its Samuel Adams brand among others. At $3 billion, it’s looking like a wicked good deal.
  • Forbes highlighted the rise of BuzzBallz, a brand of spherical canned cocktails that grew popular enough to warrant an “at least” $500 million in a buyout deal by Sazerac. Forbes portrayed the sale as “a rare feat in an industry with few female founders.”
  • Regenerative agriculture and Kernza grain proponent Patagonia Provisions announced a partnership with Deschutes Brewery to create two USDA Organic beers made with Kernza: Kernza Lager and non-alcoholic Kernza Golden Brew (New Hope Media).
  • Prebiotic soda maker Poppi has been sued in federal court by a consumer who claims the company’s products are more about marketing than health. The drinks contain agave inulin fiber but at insufficient levels to provide any real benefit, the suit says. Poppi is one of many functional beverage brands — a category that tripled its sales in 2023. 
  • CNBC noted that citrus greening in Florida and extreme weather in Brazil have sent global orange juice prices to record highs. Mintec analyst Harry Campbell explained, “[Manufacturers] will be changing the quantities of juice they are putting in their blends to drop the orange juice and increase other juices, such as pear juice, apple juice, grape juice.”
  • Danny Stepper, CEO of beverage incubator L.A. Libations, told Food Dive that even amid turmoil in the beverage space, libation entrepreneurs can look toward bright horizons as brand-promiscuous consumers seek new things. He noted 50% of the growth in the sector is coming from brands that didn’t exist five years ago. The downside, though, is there’s a 98% mortality rate among startups.

Our Takeaway: Opportunity may abound in the beverages space but it can evaporate faster than spilled Evian in Phoenix as consumers chase the next great thing.

Musical C-Suites

At the core of Bader Rutter’s Intel Distillery is recognizing that change in food, beverage and agriculture production hinges on leadership. And, lately, there’s been a lot of change in leadership, from restaurateurs to grain millers:

  • Chef-philanthropist José Andrés stepped down as CEO of the José Andrés Group. Sam Bakhshandehpour will take up the leadership position as investment firm RockCreek underwrites the restaurant brand’s expansion. Andrés will no doubt keep busy running the humanitarian group World Central Kitchen.
  • Wendy’s split its executive suite, with Abigail Pringle heading up U.S. operations and E.J. Wunsch leading international business. CEO Kirk Tanner explained that the specialization “will be a catalyst to accelerating growth and performance.”
  • Minnesota-based manufacturer Schwan’s promoted Brian Schiegg to the role of CEO, succeeding Dimitrios Smyrnios. The company reaches foodservice and retail through brands like Red Baron, Tony’s and Bibigo.
  • Todd Kaplan announced plans to leave his role as chief marketing officer at PepsiCo. Kaplan’s departure comes as PepsiCo grapples with losing its second-place ranking in the soda market. 
  • Liquid Death — a canned water manufacturer, not a metal band — hired Karim Sadik-Kahn as its CFO. Sadik-Kahn told Fortune the brand’s over-the-top marketing drew him in after stints at behemoths Beam Suntory, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper. We’ve never seen someone so excited to give away a jet. What could go wrong?
  • Ardent Mills, the largest grain miller in the United States, appointed Sheryl Wallace as its CEO. In a stark contrast with Liquid Death, Ardent Mills lauded Wallace for “serving, simplicity and safety.”
  • Derek Neilson, head of CNH Industrial’s agricultural division, departed after 25 years at the company. Agriculture Dive noted that the company has shed several executives as it reorients toward precision farming tech.
  • Additionally, a pair of brand acquisitions caught our attention. Natural products data tracker SPINS acquired The Data Council as it expands its coverage from brick-and-mortar to include e-commerce as well. And Dollar Tree bought 200 locations of previously closed 99 Cents Only stores, expanding its footprint in the Southwest (The Associated Press).

Worth Reading

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Calories

Science Daily detailed a Curtin University study that found taking pictures of food could improve people’s diets. Comparing technology-assisted methods to recall what participants had eaten over 24 hours, the study found accuracy of nutrition intake was higher for the group who had taken photos of what they ate versus participants asked to solely remember what they ate. So our Instagram habits are healthy now?

Alt-Protein Sugar Daddy

On May 31, the Bezos Earth Fund earmarked $30 million to establish the Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein at North Carolina State University. The center will research plant-based and cell cultured meat alternatives, with Earth Fund President and CEO Andrew Steer explaining: “more research is needed to reduce the price and boost the flavor and texture.” 

Sage Slice

In a time when food prices are a stressor for many consumers Nation’s Restaurant News relayed insights from a fireside chat with Dominos CEO Russell Weiner: “The best way to raise price is to not raise price and to [instead] give people something that they want to pay for. Then they choose to pay more versus you telling them they need to pay more.”

A Different Category of To-Go Fare

In a random bit of editorial synchronicity, Food & Wine seemed to focus on transportation dining this week. They covered everything from Amtrak upgrading the food served on its Acela line and in its lounges (fresher and more sustainable, less packaging) to scientific reasoning that explains disappointing in-flight meals and a warning against ordering coffee and tea on airplanes. Alternately fascinating and horrifying, we will now be doubly sure to stop for coffee before boarding.

Artificially Illustrated
Actually, YOU may be the one getting squeezed for that morning glass of sunshine.

Midjourney illustration by Ryan Smith