Right-sizing packaged beverages is Mike Orwat’s mission, and he’s seeking some science to help steer the process. “We need to find a more scientific way to balance the tried-and-true energy brands with the new innovations,” said Orwat, the packaged beverage category manager for G&M Oil Co., Huntington Beach, California. Orwat has helmed the category at the 200-unit chain since fall of 2016. Over the years, he has managed such wide-ranging categories as hot/cold/frozen dispensed beverages, tobacco, car wash, general merchandise, health and beauty care, auto, lottery and prepaid services.

What do you love about your category, the very essence of it?
I am always in continuous pursuit [to identify] the next big trend, brand, program or product to hit the market. Along with that never-ending search, I enjoy executing programs and promotions with vendors and distributors to bring these exciting new products to our customers. Being a category manager is my true passion. (He has developed monthly store promotions and created CSD, non-carbonated and beer cooler schematics.)

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
For 2023, I am not changing any strategies regarding how we are displaying products. We are rotating promotional shippers, partnering with key suppliers on additional cooler locations, and using endcaps to drive sales outside the cold vault.

What consumer purchasing trends established in 2022 are you looking to cultivate even further in 2023?
An opportunity to capitalize on is that consumers in general are moving away from plastic packages and moving to aluminum or Tetra Paks. It will be interesting to see if customers adopt a [deeper] path away from plastic, and it’s early in the cycle. ZenWtr has innovated with a recycled bottle [taking plastic from the ocean and recycling the discarded plastic]. Another is PathWater in aluminum bottles and HumaniTea.

“An opportunity to capitalize on is that consumers in general are moving away from plastic packages and moving to aluminum or Tetra Paks.”

Can you talk about the tendency on the part of consumers to embrace online delivery of package beverages, which became a trend starting with the pandemic period?
During COVID, people shifted to delivery services, and many have kept doing it. They are making packaged beverages part of the order. Gen Z were early adopters in using an app for delivery services but baby boomers are now using the app for delivery as well.

Are there any packaged drink segments in your stores that have experienced some surprising trends in 2022?
Hot dispensed coffee consumption continues to leverage the growth of ready-to-drink cold brew, with one notable brand being Black Rifle [Coffee Co.]. Dunkin’ Brands also found a niche in packaged cold brew, with such newer innovations as Caramel Black and Midnight Black (both contain 40 calories or less per serving). Packaged teas, in both aluminum cans and Tetra Paks, are growing in our stores. One example is Liquid Death Mountain Water, which launched an iced teas in aluminum cans in October 2022.