July 24, 2019
Dave Holmes is always after the next big thing—and sometimes, he creates it. So it was back in 2013 when he and a homebrewing buddy decided to shake up the alcoholic beverage world with what is now the popular hard seltzer category. The two founded and developed SpikedSeltzer, which they sold to Anheuser-Busch in 2016. The beer giant debuted commercials for the rebranded Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer beverage line during the last Super Bowl—a clear indication that this low-calorie, sugar-free carbonated drink is ready for prime time.
So it’s not that big of a surprise that Holmes has now launched PLNT Blend, a beverage brand that, for starters, is non-GMO, gluten-free, organic, all-natural, vegan and kosher. As the name suggests, the drinks begin with plant blends—mint and matcha, pineapple and chamomile, turmeric and ginger—and are supercharged with full-spectrum hemp extract.
The resulting products mark a subtle shift both in the innovation-rich functional beverage category and within the booming CBD product set. These drinks are fresh, cool and hip as all get out. And knowing Holmes’s pedigree in identifying—and creating—the next big thing, we think he’s on to something here. We caught up with him to discuss PLNT Blend’s growing fortunes.
You’ve done well with SpikedSeltzer, so what lessons inform this new endeavor?
Dave Holmes: SpikedSeltzer grew very deep roots here in the Northeast, organically with very little marketing cost. Word spread with retailers and distributors, and so did our business. We wouldn’t have been able to properly serve our customers if we’d grown too fast. Controlled growth is good.
What most helped market your product in the beginning?
DH: You can’t underestimate the power of a beautiful bottle—especially when it’s paired with an incredibly delicious and thoughtfully composed liquid.
What was the first retail account you landed?
DH: The Little Beet in New York City—it’s an elevated, clean-menu, fast-casual place.
Where do you focus your retail education efforts?
DH: We start with a bit of an advantage in that our retailers have gravitated to PLNT because they’re already well educated and appreciate what we’re doing. Of course, we also try to equip retailers with information about the product itself, as well as detail what we know about the hemp market generally. There’s certainly a lot to learn and know—and we have an obligation to explain the landscape to our partners.
Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?
DH: SpikedSeltzer was all indie for the first few years. Indie partners are an incredibly valuable resource for us—we learn from them about what is working and use that to inform our strategies as we grow. It’s such an asset to be able to walk into a location and speak to the people who are front line with consumers every day.
How can independent retailers stay in the game as hemp CBD gains a wider audience?
DH: I don’t see an issue with independent retail keeping traction as the segment grows. By and large, indie will always see new and interesting products (like ours!) first, and that’s valuable.
How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?
DH: We aim to keep our message consistent and simple—like the product itself: simple and high-quality ingredients with delicious flavors.
Why is it important for your products to be in independent retail stores?
DH: From a practical standpoint, indie really is the market for hemp beverages at the moment, at least until better guidance comes to pass. But beyond that, we appreciate that indie retailers are able to explain and educate their customers—that’s great value for us.
What has surprised you most about operating in the natural products industry?
DH: I have generally thought of “natural” as traditional natural—like Dr. Bonner’s or Bare Naked Granola, which started down the street from our office. It’s amazing to see how the natural segment has become closely adjacent to—even combined with—next-generation innovations. Put another way, maybe the surprise is how natural continues to innovate.
What is the biggest challenge for hemp CBD brands?
DH: The elephant in the room is regulation. Apart from that, I think it will be gaining—and keeping—consumer trust as bad actors and substandard products are weeded out of the market.
What’s next for hemp CBD?
DH: Hopefully, a set of clear and progressive guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.
What's next for your brand?
DH: We’ve got plenty of work to do in developing our retail network, but of course, we also have some flavor extensions.
What does the hemp industry need most today?
DH: From my seat in the food and beverage industry, we need thoughtful guidelines. But I’d also love to see more brands looking for third-party verifications from groups like the Clean Label Project.
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