Sometimes that means I'm looking through obscure government reports to learn about the latest technology the Pentagon is using that could soon make it to a retailer near you.
Other times, it means I might be on the phone with an executive of a small company with designs on changing the way we fuel our cars -- or treat patients in hospitals.
But sometimes, I see a game-changing product right in front of me. And I just have to tell my readers about how they can profit from it.
You don't have to own shares of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) to know that through its worldwide production and distribution network, the company owns some of the most valuable brands in the world. All told, Coca-Cola pours 3% of the beverages served to humanity each day.
And you don't have to work on Wall Street to know that shareholders have done pretty well in the past decade...
Coke products aren't the most-consumed liquid overall, of course. Good old H2O accounts for the most amount of servings, then tea. But as far as soft drinks are concerned, Coke and Diet Coke are the No. 1 and No. 2 brands in the world.
A game-changer right in the midst of this "stodgy" industry...
This planet consumes 55 billion beverage servings a day. Globally, the research consultancy Datamonitor pegs the soft-drink market at an eye-popping $216 billion annually. Beverage Digest, a trade publication, puts the value of the U.S. soft drink market at fully $77.1 billion a year.
But the industry view from 30,000 feet isn't so hot. Beverage Digest, in its 2011 rankings, noted that carbonated soft-drink sales fell 1.2% in 2012. Soft drinks haven't seen an increase in U.S. sales since 2004, which seems to indicate people are cutting back for reasons other than the lackluster economy. Consumption, for now, is at 1996 levels.
So should investors steer clear of this industry? Not if you want to miss out on a game-changing company with virtually unlimited potential.
SodaStream (Nasdaq: SODA) is an Israeli company that makes a carbonation machine that makes custom-flavored sodas. The company has a razor/razor blade business model, given that it sells both the machines -- which cost anywhere from $99 to $129 -- as well as consumables like CO2 cartridges, flavoring and special carbonation bottles. The company's worldwide retail footprint comprises 60,000 stores in more than 40 countries, including mass-market chains in the United States.
The appeal of the product is multi-faceted...
We live in a do-it-yourself (D-I-Y) society. Consumers are learning how to do their own home repairs, create their own fashions, and grow their own food. And they're always on the lookout for more ways to stop buying someone else's product or service, and do it on their own.
Of course even the most brilliant concept can languish if management doesn't know how to crack a market. Sodastream's executives courted the most popular retailers to give its products visibility. Mission accomplished. Prominent Sodastream displays can be found in major retailers across the country.
Tapping into Bed, Bath & Beyond (Nasdaq: BBBY) and other U.S. retailers helped this once obscure company boost its sales to more than $400 million by 2012 from around $145 million in 2009. Considering that less than 2% of all U.S. households have a Sodastream beverage maker, this company's domestic growth prospects are open-ended. And management is now tapping into a range of promising international markets as well, setting the stage for more than $600 million in sales by 2014, and perhaps $1 billion a year later.
This isn't just a play on sugar-laden soft drinks that you can make at home. Many people simply make carbonated fruit juice or make plain old seltzer. The days of lugging home a heavy case of water bottles may soon be gone.
Of course, whenever you are looking at a young and fast-growing company, you have to wonder if management is too focused on sales growth and ignoring the bottom line. After all, profit-less growth is a Pyrrhic victory: you may win the sales battle, but will lose the profit war.
Notably, Sodastream's bottom-line performance may be even more impressive than its top-line gains. Per share profits rose an average 50% in 2011 and 2012, and should continue to grow at an average of 25% in 2013 and 2014 (to around $3.20) a share, according to consensus forecasts.
The strategy to grow is solid: Expand its retail footprint geographically across a variety of price points and functionally own the do-it-yourself soda market, then expand into office systems and food service.
That, to my mind's eye, is the money shot.
I've tried SodaStream products, and they're good, at least as good as the other stuff that is out there, but add booze into the mix and you might just have The Real Thing. Restaurants live and die on high-margin alcohol sales, and customized boozy sodas might be a nice way to augment the till behind the bar.
I like this product. I like that the company is profitable. I like its prospects for growth, and I like that it is riding a pair of trends -- wellness and the environment -- that I think have real legs as consumer movements. I also like that the company, valued at about $1.34 billion, has a lot of room to grow.
SodaStream is still growing, and it's not inconceivable that it'll experience some growing pains along the way. The stock can be a bit volatile sometimes, so it's important that you be able to stomach the day-to-day swings, keeping in mind that this company is capable of big things.
You may want to wait to buy this stock on any pullbacks, but I think shares are a good "buy" at their current level for aggressive growth investors.