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From Diageo's Distill Ventures to Coca-Cola Amatil X - the just-drinks guide to incubator units, venture capital funds and start-up initiatives

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The last five years have seen a raft of drinks companies launch all kinds of venture capital funds, incubator units and start-up accelerators as they look to enter new categories or invest in new technologies.

Anheuser-Busch InBev launched ZX Ventures in 2015

Anheuser-Busch InBev launched ZX Ventures in 2015

The units are often operated as start-up-style divisions themselves, buying minority stakes, setting up prize funds and nurturing growth potential before a brand or an initiative becomes part of the main business. This approach allows big business to adapt quickly to changing consumers trends - a bit like investing in a few speedboats, rather than trying to turn around an oil tanker.

Here, we look at some of the major companies and their incubator assets.

Described as AB InBev's "disruptive growth organisation", ZX Ventures has made a string of investments since its inception, including US homebrew supply company Northern Brewer, Chinese craft brewer Boxing Cat Brewery, beer ratings website RateBeer and UK-based e-commerce drinks business Atom Group.

Amatil X made its first splash in mid-2018 when it invested an undisclosed amount in Melbourne-based Doshii, a company that integrates point-of-sale systems with payment and loyalty apps.

Later in the year, Amatil X completed its second transaction - an unspecified minority share in Singapore-based TabSquare, which has created a system that uses AI to "improve the restaurant experience for diners and improve operational efficiency for restaurant owners". 

VEB aims to "identify and nurture brands with billion-dollar potential". Brands within VEB include Aloe Gloe organic aloe water, Honest Tea and Zico coconut water, as well as 2017's investment, Mexican mineral water Topo Chico. In mid-2018, VEB also took on the Moxie Cola brand. 

Interestingly, in 2017, Coca-Cola called time on its tech incubator, Coca-Cola Founders. The unit was started in 2012 to help solve the group's challenges through new technology.

  • Danone - Danone Manifesto Ventures (2016)

Danone Manifesto Ventures was set up to invest in "early-stage, disruptive food and beverage, and food technology companies". In the drinks world, investments include 2017's Hawaii-based water brand Kona Deep as well as coconut water brand Harmless Harvest, in early-2018.

  • Diageo - Distill Ventures (2013)

Distill Ventures is currently active in Europe, Asia and North America, and has made over US$75m of investments, including Stauning whisky in Denmark, Starward whiskey in Australia, Belsazar vermouth and non-alcoholic spirits brand Seedlip.

In early-2017, Diageo bought Belsazar in the spirits giant's first acquisition from the Distill Ventures incubator programme. Then in the second half of this year, American single malt whiskey Westward became the latest addition to the unit.

  • Kraft Heinz - Springboard (2018)

Springboard's incubator programme launched in early-2018 with a focus on supporting food and beverage start-ups at pre-valuation stage. Later in the year, Springboard welcomed Chicago-based antioxidant, reduced-sugar lemonade brand Poppilu to the fold.

  • Moet Hennessy - La Maison des Startups (2018)

La Maison des Startups has been designed to boost Moet Hennessy's track record of innovation in the luxury market. The company welcomes 50 international start-ups each year, in two six-month terms.

  • PepsiCo - Nutrition Greenhouse (2017)

The Nutrition Greenhouse, designed to "discover and support emerging brands", started off with its focus on Europe. A year later, and PepsiCo rolled out the initiative to North America.

The 2017 European round saw Tapped Birch Water owner Nature on Tap receive a financial boost. Meanwhile, 2018's finalists included three drinks contenders: France-based Le Petit Béret, which develops the Feelness non-alcoholic wine, UK-based Rokit Pods, which produces organic, vegan-friendly drinks capsules and Bulgaria's Welldrinks, which is developing a brand of functional beverage combining hydrolised collagen with vitamins and minerals.

NBV is part of Pernod's US division and was set up to "accelerate momentum" as part of the company's wider strategy to "win in the US". Investments through the unit include Mexico's Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal. The unit is also responsible in the US for some brands previously acquired by Pernod, including Monkey 47 gin and French aperitif Lillet.

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