News highlights, market trends, and original data analysis related to the U.S. retail food & beverage industry … by Jay Nargundkar

The Unlikely Rise of Sparkling ICE


In the summer of 2010, a struggling niche beverage company based in the suburbs of Seattle was in turmoil: their CEO, president, and VP of sales all quit the firm in a 6-week time span. It was the best thing that could have happened to the company, TalkingRain.

The man then promoted to the top job, Kevin Klock, decided to make a last-ditch bet placing all his chips behind a redesigned version of TalkingRain’s sparkling water product flavored with a hint of fruit juices. Sparkling ICE received a lifeline from grocery chain Kroger, which picked up the product on a limited trial basis — and were blown away by how quickly these bottles flew off the shelves.

Success at Costco followed, and the rest, as they say, is history. Sparkling ICE sold roughly $10 million in 2010. According to Nielsen data, it sold north of $280 million in 2013 (not counting sparkling lemonade sales), and could hit $400 million or more in sales this year. Klock aims for Sparkling ICE to be a billion-dollar brand by 2018.

What’s most surprising about the success of Sparkling ICE is that many better-known products in the “enhanced water” category are struggling. Sales of vitaminwater, Propel, and SoBe have all been posting consistent declines — down 23%, 22%, and 45%, respectively, from 2010-2013.


Annual sales of select “enhanced water” brands

Another surprise is that Sparkling ICE is bucking the “no artificial sweetener” trend; its waters maintain their zero-calorie claim by using sucralose. Klock agrees that a natural sweetener would be the “holy grail,” but for now, says the focus is on having a product that consumers enjoy:

“Our positioning is great tasting and refreshing. As far as it being zero calorie, that’s great… but I don’t think zero calories is the reason for this growth rate. People are looking for flavor, not necessarily zero calories.” (Source: Beverage Daily)

And now, in their highest profile marketing push to date, TalkingRain announced last week it had signed reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant to an endorsement deal. Klock says the deal coincides with the company’s launching into international markets and plans for expansion into other beverage products in the U.S.

This follows reports that earlier this year the company finalized its DSD (direct-store-delivery network), using Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and independent distributors to increase its presence in convenience stores and other outlets. If Sparkling ICE still isn’t on the radar for many consumers, it’s a safe bet that won’t be the case for much longer.


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