2008 Hot List

We've busted out the crystal ball to predict the hottest industries for the coming year.

Food & Beverages
New!
Spirits
As consumers nationwide toast the moment, their glasses reveal the cravings of today--premium spirits. "Over the past 15 years, there has been a trend toward people drinking less but drinking better," says David Ozgo, chief economist at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. He points out that the superpremium segment has enjoyed double-digit growth over the past four or five years.

In this industry, life is good, but barriers to entry can be quite sobering. Production costs are high, distribution regulations are difficult, and shelf space is a hot commodity. But you can measure up by standing out.

Matti Anttila's refined drinking habits and frequent visits to Rio de Janeiro clued him in to his niche. The former investment banker noticed the lack of a super-premium brand of cachaça, a Brazilian spirit, and resolved matters by launching Cabana Cachaça in New York City in 2006. From production to design, Anttila, 28, focused on creating a premium spirit that evokes an emotional connection with Brazil. By hand-selecting cocktail-forward, A-list restaurants and lounges as his primary accounts, Anttila has introduced his brand to 10 U.S. states, as well as London, and has good reason to celebrate with 2007 projected sales of $2 million. Says Anttila, "I'm creating a brand, but I'm also helping create a category, and that has really increased the overall upside of the venture." --S.W.

Years on the list: 3 out of 21
Wine
Whether sealed with a cork or a screw cap, consumers can't get the tops off of wine bottles fast enough. Continuing its popularity, wine has gone mainstream and is being sipped, savored and outright guzzled at such a rate that by 2010, the U.S. could actually uproot France from its perennial seat as the world's largest wine consumer, according to the Wine Market Council.

The explosion of the culinary category and the employment of more effective marketing strategies have made the market fruitful and the opportunities ripe, says wine consultant Michael Green . And the rise in direct-to-consumer wine sales and online sales is also creating buzz. According to Deborah Brenner, author of Women of the Vine, "There are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved by providing necessary tools for wineries, such as shipping and fulfillment centers, software tools, e-commerce tools, etc."

Cameron Hughes founded San Francisco-based wine-trading company, Cameron Hughes Wine , in 2001. By buying small lots of wine in bulk from high-end producers, eliminating middlemen, cutting his own costs (he doesn't own a single tank or barrel) and selling to Costco Wholesale Corp., Hughes, 36, has been able to stake his spot in the flourishing $10 to $15 bottle category and will grow sales to a projected $20 million by June 2008. --S.W.

Years on the list: 5 out of 21
Beer
Ask industry experts what's brewing and you'll get a stout response: craft beer. The volume of craft beer sold in the first half of 2007 rose 11 percent compared to the same period in 2006, and dollar growth increased 14 percent, according to the Brewers Association. "People like the taste of hand-crafted beers that deliver unexpected flavors," says Keith Villa, a brewmaster at Coors. Beer writer Stephen Beaumont credits the growth of craft beer to the trading-up phenomenon that is raising the bar across all industries.

Do the prospects have you giddy? If so, don't discount women and do tap into underserved markets. Beaumont believes the image-friendly premium beer segment--seen as more tasteful than the frat-friendly nonpremium market--will draw a wide consumer base, and that in the U.S., markets in the South are "poised to turn the corner." Craft beer has surpassed 5 percent of overall beer sales, according to the Brewers Association. Justin Fisch, marketing director for United States Beverage , a beer and spirits sales and marketing company, predicts that number will grow to 15 percent to 20 percent within the next 10 years. --S.W.

New!
Enhanced Beverages
Food may nourish, but in today's world, beverages are the real cure-all. According to Judy Ramberg, vice president and consumer strategist of food and beverage for the trend research firm Iconoculture, consumers, especially Millennials--individuals under age 30--are looking to beverages to cure everything from fatigue to hangovers.

It's an easy-to-swallow trend, especially for entrepreneurs like Cheryl and Steve Schneider, 29 and 46, respectively, who have satisfied their quest for success with the 2006 launch of their flagship product, Malava Relax . Instead of packing in antioxidants, nutritional fortifications and vitamins to increase energy, the husband-and-wife team behind Malava Beverages in Newport Beach, California, pack in kava and let the Polynesian plant that's known for its calming qualities work its magic. "We're the only one with a true relaxation drink," says Steve, who is bottling up profits with sales expected to grow from $4 million this year to $46 million next year.

Be aware of an increasingly savvy, label-reading consumer and steer clear of caffeine, as consumers are craving sustainable energy, cautions Ramberg. Look to the East for inspiration. As Donald Wilkes, CEO of Blue Pacific Flavors and Fragrances Inc., a food and beverage technology and flavor innovator, says, "We see a lot of flavor trends originate in the Asian market and then migrate to U.S. consumers." --S.W.

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This article was originally published in the December 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 2008 Hot List.

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