KANSAS CITY — In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, food and beverage manufacturers face unique challenges surrounding new product development and introductions.

Tarick Gamay, vice president of sales and marketing for shelf stable liquid mix developer DreamPak, said companies will encounter numerous questions while navigating these new situations.

 “It’s uncertain and risky," Mr. Gamay said. "There’s going to be a lot uncertainty with getting product to customers, who’s going to want what, and when and things like that.”

However, several companies were already in the process of rolling out new products when the outbreak struck. For these companies, the cancellation of Expo West – where more than 3,600 brands planned to exhibit – was devastating. New Hope Network, the Boulder, Colo.-based producer of the annual trade show, announced on the eve of the show that it would postpone and reschedule the event due to concerns related to coronavirus, and two weeks later canceled the expo altogether.

"There’s going to be a lot uncertainty with getting product to customers, who’s going to want what, and when and things like that." 
— Tarick Gamay, DreamPak

Poppi, a brand of functional prebiotic soda infused with apple cider vinegar, was poised to make its debut at the show. The company was previously known as Mother Beverage and intended to unveil its new brand identity and sodas at Expo West.

“We have spent the last year preparing for the launch of Poppi,” said Allison Ellsworth, co-founder of Poppi. “Everything was lining up perfectly, as months of planning were coming to fruition. The momentum was tangible and electric. Two weeks ago, we were set to debut Poppi at Expo West, AKA the Super Bowl of the natural foods world, when the whole world started to shut down, and consequently, Expo West was canceled.  All of our meetings with buyers and press vanished, and any ROI (return on investment) from the show dissolved before our eyes. We had invested a significant amount of time and money into Expo West and had high expectations of an impactful show. As a new brand set to launch nationwide in Sprouts and Whole Foods, this expo was monumental for industry exposure.” 

Deliciously Different LLC planned to launch its first offering at Expo West as well: Scramblers Original Omelet Bar. The keto-friendly bars are made with free-range, organic, certified humane eggs from Pete and Gerry’s Organics LLC.

“Our first impact (from coronavirus) was Expo West being canceled,” said Matt Tolnick, founder and chief executive officer of Deliciously Different. “We originally planned to exhibit with our egg supply partner Pete and Gerry's. Our booth presence was going to be quite small, but when Pete and Gerry's pulled out, we found ourselves inheriting a potentially much bigger booth space.  For a small and scrappy company, we saw this as an opportunity and started planning for a larger presence. Not long after, New Hope canceled Expo West, which, in hindsight, was not only the right decision, it was the only decision.” 

For Poppi, the rollout of its new offerings amid COVID-19 has been hindered by myriad hurdles with retailers, marketing and e-commerce.

Poppi prebiotic sodas

“Coronavirus has created a lot of uncertainty,” Ms. Ellsworth said. “Retailers are hyper-focused on just keeping the essentials in stock. The last thing they are concerned with is whether or not a new product, like Poppi, will make it to the shelf, and how they can help to keep it in stock. Our in-store promotional strategies have been put on hold by the retailers.  We’ve even had issues with Amazon picking up shipments. However, with new challenges comes new opportunities, so we are working quickly to make the best of a tough situation.”

Deliciously Different has experienced less immediate negative impact from the outbreak, Mr. Tolnick said, but the company expects trying times ahead.

“Somewhat surprisingly, our suppliers and partners have, thus far, been just as responsive as prior to the worsening of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Mr. Tolnick said. “We've been told to anticipate some possible shipping delays but so far haven't been adversely affected by them. But we've been hearing from some of our direct-to-consumer peers that they expect a ‘recession’ to follow, so we aren't getting too excited. Brands like ours could be affected by launching following this mass stockpiling and during the recession that follows.”

As the country continues to grapple with COVID-19, food and beverage manufacturers like Poppi and Deliciously Different are focused on their current offerings and acclimating to the new market atmosphere.

Scramblers omelet bars“Given the circumstances, all innovation and new product development will temporarily be put on hold as we work to address the issues at hand,” Ms. Ellsworth said. “Our efforts will be focused on our SKUs in distribution and adapting to the current climate to make our launch as successful as possible. We feel blessed to have the opportunity to press on and even contribute to the health and happiness of our communities. All that we can say is that we are so grateful for the support of our community and retailers, as we all work together to stay happy and healthy during this time of uncertainty.  We respect the decisions that have been made to keep everyone as safe and as healthy as possible.”

Mr. Tolnick said, “We'll be opening up our website in the next month for e-commerce sales.  Given folks' desire to steer clear of public places, the long lines at grocery stores, and the run on everyday essentials like eggs, we would love for Scramblers to be a solution for folks in these strange and scary times.”