Beer giant Mahou San Miguel has launched the Rethink Your Drink Challenge. As part of its BarLab Ventures innovation platform, along with Eatable Adventures, the brewery says it wants to offer an open innovation platform for the entire food and beverage sector.
"BarLab Ventures allows us to unite two of our main commitments: to leverage the possibilities that technology offers in order to provide innovative solutions to new challenges of the beverage sector, as well as strengthening collaboration with other organizations to drive their transformation,” explained Miguel Ángel Miguel, General Manager of Transformation at Mahou San Miguel.
The ambition is to support innovative beverage entrepreneurs globally, offering selected start-ups the opportunity to develop a product test alongside Mahou Sam Miguel’s team of experts. ”We are convinced that through this project we will be able to share with entrepreneurs a common perspective to make bars, restaurants, distributors and the rest of our value chain strengthen their collaboration towards generating wealth, based on aspects such as excellence, innovation, and sustainability,” Miguel Ángel added.
Seeking solutions to today’s pressing problems
In an open call to start-ups, Mahou San Miguel and Eatable Adventures said they are looking for innovators with a ‘differential’ and ‘sustainable’ proposal that generates ‘transformative impact’ on the traditional beverage sector.
So, what are the challenges facing the drinks industry that the BarLab and Rethink Challenge are seeking answers to?
“The beverage industry is currently under pressure due to multiple factors, with sustainability being the main driver that is motivating the transition to more efficient and less polluting production models and products,” Itziar Ortega, Senior VP of Global Operations at Eatable Adventures, explained.
Discussing the initiative with FoodNavigator, Ortega said that issues range from waste to water. “The optimisation of natural resources, such as water scarcity, is one of the main challenges facing the industry. We are also seeing a major effort in recent years regarding waste that is driving the proliferation of new solutions through technology and innovation.
“Purchased final products need to include less packaging materials, always ensuring the correct supply of products. Also, recycling is key: avoiding the use of plastics and using materials that encourage recycling is another major area of focus for innovation efforts.”
A concern that has jumped up the industry agenda since energy prices started their upward spiral in the last three months of 2021 is increasing operational efficiency. The sector is at an inflection point where the need to decouple costs from external factors like energy, where possible, is pressing. Ortega believes collaboration can help. “The recent energy crisis is certainly playing an important role in reducing production costs and there we see the key role of the collaboration between corporate and start-ups to scale costs and have a business efficient model,” she suggested.
Mahou Sam Miguel and Eatable Adventure also recognise the importance of placing evolving consumer concerns at the heart of innovation efforts – and an awareness of shifting trends is also high on the project’s agenda.
“We need to take into account the diversification of the sector to meet consumer demands with the entry of new categories with non-alcoholic alternatives and low alcoholic beverages. This is the main objective of the new challenge of BarLab Ventures, Mahou San Miguel’s innovation platform,” we were told.
Reinventing categories with the drinks of tomorrow
Participating start-ups will have to present their innovative solutions in one of the following categories: innovative non-alcoholic alternatives, low alcoholic beverages (4º-7º), traditional categories reinvented, and beverages of the future.
Eatable Adventures is especially keen to identify technologies that can deliver answers to the big picture challenges across these four segments.
Ortega is bullish on the prospect that technology is going to reimagine the beverage sector. “Some of the technologies that are having the greatest impact at the moment are fermentation, packaging technologies, generation of healthier ingredients or the use of functional ingredients. Thanks to fermentation, for example, we can use food waste substrates to produce beer. Nootropic and adaptogenic ingredients are also becoming very popular in recent times, and in terms of personalisation we see the adoption of artificial intelligence or even metaverse augmented reality to improve the user's consumer experience,” she noted.
As well as co-developing a product test, Mahou San Miguel will offer winning proposals access to its distribution network, support in managing their territorial licenses and financing, among other services.