As a brand marketing and development professional, Tonkin heads up Healthy Brand Builders, and warns that “typical forums for what I consider to be a healthy beverage are minimal at best across the US”
“Typically, they are Expo West and Expo East, very large shows. But what they think is a healthy beverage compared to what some of us in the industry define as one is very different,” he insists.
“There’s a dollar motivation there as a front cow catcher that’s more important than actually drawing a line in the sand,” Tonkin added.
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Welcoming the second-ever Healthy Beverage Expo – which combined with the long-running World Tea Expo attracted 4,600 visitors and exhibitors to Long Beach California from May 29-21 – Tonkin nonetheless said he thought the show could have raised the bar still higher.
One problem is that beverage entrepreneurs often have no business or regulatory experience, Tonkin warns, and since they are under-capitalized haven’t vetted labels or claims.
“So it’s up to the ‘police’ to bring it to their attention. Let them know that the only way the industry can raise its persona is by policing itself – not waiting for the FDA, FTC or USDA or others to send a red letter or cease and desist,” he said.
That said, Tonkin praised the depth and level of talent brought together by Healthy Beverage and World Tea Expos – with some 105 hours of education sessions (you can see one in the photo below) in Long Beach dedicated to developing a brand, labeling and advising on regulations and claims.
Health and wellness beverages – encompassing naturally healthy, fortified/functional, better for you and organic – clocked $64bn+ in US sales in 2013.
“The World Tea Expo alone isn’t a gigantic show, but it’s the one place worldwide where people can come and talk to their brethren and see trends, in addition to [Summer] Fancy Food and the Expos,” Tonkin said.
Val Moon, director of sales and marketing for the two shows, insists that the Healthy Beverage Expo is run precisely to help brands, buyers and experts refine the definition of what counts as healthy, and the expo’s website insists exhibitors conform to a “demanding criteria”.
Healthy beverages worthy of the name, in 7-Eleven and Costo?
Both Tonkin and Rona Tison, who is senior VP of corporate relations for high quality bottled and loose leaf tea, ITO EN North America, agree that healthy is increasingly becoming more mainstream in the US food and beverage space.
Consumers are reading labels, Tison says, the NYC authorities trying to resurrect a super-sized soda ban and even the likes of Costco and 7-Eleven – a far cry in terms of image from, say, Whole Foods Market – are keen to lead in healthy beverages.
Tonkin delivered a presentation at this year’s Healthy Beverage Expo alongside Tom Burkemper, senior director of marketing at 7-Eleven, and said the executive spoke about the chain’s desire to extend its offering well beyond energy drinks and CSDs with no nutritional value.
Healthier, lower or no calorie beverages, with better ingredients, traceability, interesting new package concepts. 7-Eleven wants to be at the forefront in the C-store space with 75,000 stores worldwide – a trendsetter in this space, not a follower,” Tonkin said.