Janet Johanson's company can be found just about anywhere beverages are sold.
But BevSource isn't a household name.
This is what the supply chain looks like.
Over the past 20 years, St. Paul-based BevSource has grown into a leading supplier of packaging, ingredients and services for the beverage industry. Numerous global brands, regional breweries and local THC seltzer makers have in some way relied on BevSource to get their products on shelves.
"We want to impact brands and really solve their issues," said Johanson, who founded the company when she was 24 with a focus on beverage development.
The Star Tribune recently asked Johanson about her journey and trends in the beverage industry. The conversation has been edited for length.
Q: What needs to happen to make packaging truly sustainable?
To achieve truly sustainable packaging, two important factors need to be addressed. First, the cost of sustainable packaging should be reduced without compromising its quality. While consumers express a desire for sustainable options, many are unwilling to pay extra for them. Therefore, finding ways to make sustainable packaging more affordable is crucial. In addition, the voice of the customer and environmental groups are also critically important, as we saw in the 1990s when McDonald's announced it would start phasing out polystyrene packaging. So make your voice heard.
Secondly, while I do not like more regulations, this is the fastest way to sustainability. We have experienced this globally — for example, bans on single-use plastics. Several countries and regions have implemented bans or restrictions on single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws and utensils. These measures encourage the use of alternative materials and promote the adoption of reusable or recyclable packaging options. These regulations play a crucial role in setting standards and guidelines that promote the adoption of eco-friendly materials and practices.
Additionally, the influence of major retailers is noteworthy. Initiatives like the Target Forward campaign demonstrate how retailers can drive change by encouraging suppliers to invest in sustainable packaging. Collaboration between retailers and suppliers plays a vital role in promoting sustainability.
Q: Over the past 20 years you've built BevSource into a leading supplier of packaging and ingredients for beverage companies and now have $250 million in annual revenue. How did you do it?
First and foremost, our success is rooted in the amazing people we have on our team. We truly love our BevSource family and prioritize their growth and development through training and experiences.
Furthermore, our genuine love for our customers drives us to go above and beyond to enhance their businesses. As evidenced in 2021, during the aluminum can shortage, none of our contracted customers faced shortages. Our commitment to supply assurance and follow-through exemplifies our partnership approach.
To expand our offerings and values, our platform recently acquired iTi Tropicals, an esteemed ingredient and raw material supplier serving the beverage industry and extending into the food sector.
Q: You've talked about building a culture of trust, which has allowed employees to work where they want without fear of lost productivity. How does someone build that culture in their own organization?
Building a culture of trust starts with vulnerable leadership, consistency and accountability from the top. At BevSource, we prioritize open communication, sharing our annual plans and quarterly reports with the entire company, including successes and failures. We ask for help, showcasing our human side and acknowledging external challenges like COVID-19. Collaboration is encouraged, creating a safe environment for expressing ideas and concerns. Consistency in our actions reinforces trust.
By fostering a culture of vulnerable leadership, open communication and collaboration, organizations can build trust. This foundation empowers employees to work flexibly and independently, knowing they have the support and trust of their leaders and colleagues.
Q: You were a founding organizer for the Black Business is Beautiful Market. What more do established businesses, nonprofits and government need to do to support BIPOC entrepreneurs?
Where we choose to spend our money holds immense significance. At BevSource, we understand the significance of spending our dollars in a way that positively impacts BIPOC communities.
It is essential to create an environment that fosters inclusivity and equity. This involves implementing initiatives and policies that address systemic barriers and promote diversity within organizations. By cultivating a culture of inclusivity, we can provide BIPOC entrepreneurs with the support and opportunities they need to thrive.
There is a need to provide comprehensive resources and mentorship programs tailored specifically for BIPOC entrepreneurs, just like I had great mentors and resources. By offering guidance, networking opportunities, and access to capital, established businesses, nonprofits and government entities can play a significant role in leveling the playing field and empowering BIPOC entrepreneurs to succeed.
Q: As for the business of beverages, what are a few trends you're keeping an eye on over the next few years?
One important trend is the growing demand for clean labels and fewer preservatives as consumers seek more natural and transparent products. Another area of focus is the development of new preservation methods and ingredients that maintain product quality while extending shelf life. Additionally, we are keeping a close eye on the evolving market for cannabis beverages, including products containing THC, and the potential impact of federal regulations on product consistency.
Q: Any predictions for major moments that will mark the next 20 years of BevSource?
Looking back, the shift from glass bottles to aluminum cans was unprecedented, with glass bottles accounting for 90% of new beverages in 2002 now being dominated by aluminum cans.
As for the future, I foresee a shift toward personalized beverages where consumers can create their own drinks, aided by AI technology that understands their preferences. We may also witness the emergence of robot bartenders, revolutionizing the way drinks are prepared and served. The industry is likely to experience a resurgence in reusable packaging, as sustainability becomes a paramount concern.
At BevSource, we anticipate integrating AI into our beverage development services, enabling us to offer enhanced solutions and tailor-made products. We also expect significant advancements in beverage ingredients and preservation methods, paving the way for new and exciting categories of beverages. However, staying vigilant on regulations will remain crucial as we navigate these innovations.