Kroger’s highly anticipated entrepreneurial beverage set, Taste of Tomorrow, has become a program of the present.
The supermarket giant’s natural foods team activated the promotional and merchandising strategy, designed to help incubate innovative beverage brands in the supermarket giant’s retail system, earlier this month in King Soopers in Colorado.
While the Kroger team, working closely with sales and marketing advisory group L.A. Libations, had run tests of the business in its California-based Ralph’s stores, the full program launched under the company’s King Soopers banner with eight different brands: JIN+JA, Minta, ChiaVie, Aloe Gloe, Kona Red, Just Chill, Chameleon Coffee and Motto, the most recent winner of the New Beverage Showdown at BevNET Live.
“We’re trying to build something on a small scale within a very large universe,” of Kroger stores, said Mary Ellen Adcock, Kroger’s vice president of natural foods, which is shepherding the program. “But it’s not something that we’re just trying out [in Colorado], it’s something that we’re going to grow over time.”
The reasoning behind the program is that it gives Kroger the opportunity to get insights into the new and innovative brands that can appeal to consumers, while also making it clear that it’s a retailer that is interested in helping to develop those kinds of beverage companies.
“Our customers are telling us that they want this type of products and they want to enjoy these unique brands,” Adcock said. “We want to learn about these categories that could be emerging and how we can play on a smaller scale.”
The program is designed to offer the entrepreneurial companies a platform to launch their brands, but with an eye toward their expanding in the area as they normally would.
“We want to have a connection to them, we’re going to be open and honest and have the best advice, and build you in our stores, but we also want to expand that connection to the actual heartbeat of the industry,” said Mathis Martines, the senior category manager of innovation and natural snacks at Kroger.
A recent 10,000-consumer health and wellness fair sponsored by King Soopers served as the unofficial curtain-raiser for the program. There, the drinks were clustered near each other in booths with multiple sampling opportunities. Since then the brands have been sampling extensively in King Soopers throughout Colorado, both individually and in shared sampling and merchandising situations that Martines executives likened to a cooperative. “Taste of Tomorrow” shelf-talkers are also helping point consumers to the brands, and coordinated promotions have been ongoing. Additionally, the entrepreneurs behind the brands have been asked to be in the market with some level of regularity to keep communicating the story to consumers.
Meanwhile, shopper insights are being funneled back to the brands so that they can hone their message, creating a much deeper level of information for the brands than would normally be available.
“Usually when a retailer gives an entrepreneur this opportunity, it’s pretty much sending them the paperwork and them getting into the store and hoping for the best,” said L.A. Libations’ Danny Stepper, whose Aloe Gloe is part of the program, and who works with three of the other brands. “I view this as more of a coaching presence in the store, with a lot of two-way communication going on about demographics. They’re doing everything.”