2020 VIBE Conference Breaks Attendance Record

Tito's Vodka and grapefruits
VIBE's On-Premise Industry Legend Award went to Bert "Tito" Beveridge. Image: Tito's Handmade Vodka

A record-breaking attendee list topping 700 people arrived in Carlsbad last week to attend the 2020 VIBE Conference.

Over 200 of those attendees were operators representing more than 150 separate chain restaurants, hotels and cruise lines.

About 400 sponsor attendees representing more than 100 companies also attended in support of the conference, with more attendees coming from distributors, agencies, consultants, speakers and industry notables, taking total attendance above the 700 mark.

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Before the start of the conference, the official charity of VIBE, Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) invited operators to its annual “Giving Back to Our Own” party on Monday, Feb. 24. Through the event and its partnership with VIBE, CORE raised $63,000 for families in the food and beverage industry facing terminal illnesses or sudden losses. When all contributions were totaled, including those from the silent auction, CORE received $138,000 during the conference.

Throughout three days, attendees learned about the latest beverage trends through education workshops, beverage tastings, research sessions and lively networking opportunities. Research presentations dominated the conference in terms of news.

For example, during the presentation “Refining Your Drink Program Based on Local and Global Trends” presented by Scott Elliott and Matthew Crompton from Nielsen CGA, exclusive on-premise data combining a variety of Nielsen CGA's research products revealed that the number of adults drinking hard seltzer at bars and restaurants grew by 73 percent between spring and fall of 2019, 7.3 million more drinkers ordering seltzer last autumn than the previous quarter. Since last July, in fact, hard seltzers have been outselling pale ales in the on-premise.

On Tuesday, well-known wine consultant Evan Goldstein kicked off the event by welcoming operators to the VIBE Conference inside the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. Following the opening remarks by Goldstein, American Beverage Institute’s Rick Berman and Questex CEO Paul Miller, attendees heard one of the top-rated presentations annually from Colleen McClellan of Datessential on the current trends that influence consumer behavior in the on-premise environment and how operators can best get their attention.

Then Goldstein presented the VIBE On-Premise Industry Innovator of the Year and the On-Premise Industry Legend awards to Joe Smith, senior vice president of sales of Monin Gourmet Flavorings, and Bert “Tito” Beveridge, founder and master distiller of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, respectively.

Smith’s career has been marked by his contribution to the on-premise market through his long association with Monin Gourmet Flavorings. Since joining Monin, he has restructured the sales and customer service departments, and implemented a strategic business development plan that included adding the sales operations department and expanding staff in the beverage innovation area.

Under Smith’s leadership over the last 18 years, Monin has been awarded many beverage excellence honors by valued customers and organizations. These include VIBE’s Non-Alcoholic Supplier of the Year since the award's inception eight years ago.

In 1997, before he sold a single drop of spirit, Beveridge fought to create a permitting process in Texas in order to legally open the state’s first distillery. Without investors, any formal training, and on a tiny budget, he relied on credit cards to fund his dream and ran up 19 of them before he started making money. With the unwavering dedication of a small, devoted staff and friends who pitched in to help build the distillery shack, his dream started to take shape.

After a brief break, David Henkes and Donna Hood Crecca of Technomic looked at the ways diminished traffic are affecting chain restaurant business and how beverages can help change that. Then a panel led by consultant Matt Durbin and including operators and technology providers explored the most useful tech tools currently available to operators.

Other sessions included breakouts like “Global Drink Trends” presented by Brandy Rand of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis; “Menu Your Wine to Sell ” with Datessential’s McClellan; “Me and My Negroni” and gin tasting by master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim; “New Horizons in Non-Alcoholic” with Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen and a panel of operators; “A Rosé for All Seasons,” including tasting presented by sommelier Rebecca Fineman; and “What’s Next for the Changing Status of Beer?” a panel of operators and consultants led by author and consultant Stephen Beaumont.

Other breakout sessions were “Making Use of Secondary Ingredients,” with David Commer of Commer Beverage and Brian Bell of Abuelo’s; “Leading by Styles: Unlocking Growth in the Beer Category” with Sara Hillstrom of AB InBev; and “Growing Green: Responsible Grape Farming,” a panel of operators led by sommelier Bob Bath, Culinary Institute of America.

Other general sessions to be reported on in subsequent newsletters included David Portalatin, vice president, food industry advisor, The NPD Group, Inc., on the changes in the retail landscape, especially how inroads into food and beverage have disrupted the restaurant business; Technomic’s Henkes with a panel of hotel F&B execs for their outlook on what has become a growth segment; and  an update on the role of cannabis in hospitality, now and as the momentum continues to grow and more states legalize usage, with Hood Crecca from Technomic joined by marketing expert Freddie Wyatt, Munch & Co.

VIBE is an experience from Questex, Inc., produced by Laddie Weiss, Weiss Foodservice Visions, Inc.

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