Perspective: Brewing Digital Success in the Natural Beverages Industry

The natural beverages industry is often seen as somewhat traditional, but does it have to be?

With a growing market, dynamic product innovation, and consumers increasingly demanding high-quality, sustainable products, our industry is ripe for digital transformation that delights consumers and brand owners alike.

So what might this look like? Not just today, but tomorrow as well?

Taking a long-term view, there are a host of ways we could be using digital innovation to drive our industry forward, including strengthening customer engagement, streamlining and securing the supply chain, cultivating new markets, sustaining sustainable practices, and growing innovation and personalization, among others.

Here's a look at the possibilities.

1. Strengthening Customer Engagement

Digital solutions open new avenues for B2B businesses to engage brand owners and their consumers in novel ways. For example, a business can use online chat and social media to interact with customers in real time. Mobile applications that can securely connect back to enterprise grade systems – such as ERP or enterprise resource planning, and CRM or customer relationship management – allow for personalized customer experiences. These can show, for example, new product offerings which may be of interest, or the latest status on a pending delivery.Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies could also be leveraged to allow customers to explore tea farms (or other natural beverages) virtually, immersing themselves in the production process. Such engagement fosters brand loyalty and generates a sense of connection and trust between passionate growers and conscientious customers.

2. Streamlining and Securing the Supply Chain

Digital technology can help beverage businesses to optimize supply chains, ensuring smooth operations from field to cup. From a growing perspective, the integration of devices connected to the Internet of Things can allow for real-time monitoring of crop conditions, inventory levels and quality control. Smart sensors can detect factors such as temperature, humidity and light, ensuring optimal storage conditions throughout the supply chain. Modern data science approaches, coupled with rigorous and auditable governance practices, enhance transparency and traceability, assuring customers of the origin, quality and sustainability of their tea (or other natural beverages).

RELATED: Could Agri-Tech Transform the Global Tea Industry?

3. Cultivating New Markets

Digital technology bridges geographical barriers, expanding the reach of B2B businesses in the tea and natural beverage industry by providing access to new customers and partners. They can use e-commerce platforms to sell their products into new global markets. By integrating those e-commerce solutions with relevant internal systems and data, businesses can ensure only those products with the necessary regulatory approvals are offered for sale in each jurisdiction. Online B2B marketplaces provide convenient platforms for buyers and suppliers to connect, streamlining the procurement process and allowing suppliers to personalize their content offering to different potential buyers.

4. Sustaining Sustainable Practices

As sustainability becomes an ever-greater priority, digital technology empowers B2B businesses to implement and showcase environmentally responsible practices. Across the supply chain (move, make and sell), relatively affordable Internet of Things-enabled devices can be leveraged to monitor resource consumption, reducing waste while helping relevant functional leaders to optimize energy usage. Machine learning algorithms can analyze huge volumes of data to identify areas of improvement in cultivation, processing and packaging, minimizing environmental impact. By leveraging digital platforms, businesses can better communicate their commitment to sustainability, educating customers and encouraging responsible consumption. This not only appeals to eco-conscious consumers, but also strengthens brand reputation.

5. Growing innovation and Personalization

Digital transformation can supercharge innovation in the tea and natural beverages industry, leading to the development of new products and experiences. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants provide instant customer support, addressing queries and resolving issues promptly. By leveraging consumer data (for example, by better understanding buying patterns of consumers for a given product category), businesses can provide more tailored product recommendations and exclusive offers to their customers. By leveraging the same data set, infused with generative AI, highly targeted and personalized marketing campaigns can be quickly developed. By embracing digital innovation, B2B businesses can stay at the forefront of the industry, continuously delighting customers with innovative offerings.

Our Industry’s Digital Transformation Continues to Develop

Most of the technology I have mentioned above is already here – the question is how quickly should our industry move to take advantage? In my view, the answer is as quickly as possible.

For example, within Finlays – a leading global supplier of tea, coffee and botanical ingredients and solutions – we are busy deploying optical character recognition (or OCR) technology to scan handwriting on documents, digitize that information, and then automatically load the result into relevant internal systems. We have developed a mobile-ready application to allow easy reporting and rapid escalation of health and safety concerns, especially for those employees who are not always office-based.

Leveraging cutting-edge dataware capabilities, we are building out a global data collaboration platform which will ultimately allow our customers to access the data which is most relevant for them, irrespective of where it is sourced. Employees across the globe can use the same platform to pull together disparate data sources and so generate new insights, which drive increased operational efficiency and ever-greater customer value.

The bottom line? The tea and natural beverages industry might be steeped in heritage, but there are huge benefits with digital transformation. By blending traditional knowledge and expertise with modern digital solutions, we can create a compelling proposition, enabling the industry to not only survive but to exponentially thrive moving forward.Here’s to brewing digital success for the future of beverages.

John Walsh is group head of technology (global CIO) at Finlays, a leading independent B2B supplier of tea, coffee and botanical solutions to beverage brand owners worldwide. A commercially focused technology leader, Walsh delights in driving customer-centric organizational transformations through the targeted and innovative use of digital solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in IT & Telecommunications from the University of Limerick, Ireland, together with a master’s degree in business administration from HEC Paris, France. To learn more about Finlays, visit

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