In New York City, whether beverage consumers know it or not, there ain’t much bigger than Big Geyser. The tenured urban powerhouse, a distributor that has long had the up-and-down-the-street accounts covered, has just about done it all on the wholesale side of things. Vitaminwater, Muscle Milk, Sparkling Ice, Monster Energy. They’ve got the streets covered.
But on the manufacturing side of things, even Big Geyser is a rookie. That’s why it’s an especially exciting time for the company, said COO Lewis Hershkowitz.
Big Geyser has launched a new brand of seltzers titled “Hal’s Beverage,” named after Irving Hershkowitz, the father of Lewis and his brother Steven, another executive at Big Geyser. Irving, who founded Big Geyser in 1986 and passed away in September 2011, was known by those close to him as “Hal.”
Hal’s Beverage, which hit the market on Tuesday, is sold in 24-packs of 20 oz. bottles to retailers that will sell the product by the individual bottle. The seltzer is available in seven flavors: Original, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Raspberry, Black Cherry and Vanilla Cream. Big Geyser is selling the cases to retailers for $13.50 plus deposit — an aggressive pricing model within the city’s highly competitive seltzer market. Hershkowitz said that he understands the competing brands to be selling cases to retailers for $15 to $22. The main seltzer rival for Big Geyser is likely Worcester, Mass.-based Polar Beverages, which already has most of New York City covered with its flavored sparkling beverages.
Hershkowitz said that his company spoke to several players in the category about a distribution partnership, but was unable to strike a deal that made sense. Either the numbers didn’t work out or it wasn’t the right product. He also felt that Big Geyser had a major void in its portfolio when considering the size of the city’s seltzer market and the continued declines of the carbonated soft drink (CSD) category.
“Instead of not playing in it, we decided to make our own,” Hershkowitz said.
When asked about the difference between Hal’s and the competition, he said with a chuckle: “probably nothing.” However, simply entering the space by leveraging its existing distribution model, which covers all channels of trade in the five boroughs, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Putnam Counties, instantly makes Hal’s a serious player in the city.
While Big Geyser carries other sparkling products such as premium offerings Perrier and Pellegrino along with Sparkling Ice, he doesn’t see much overlap. Perrier and Pellegrino are a small part of the distributor’s business and Sparkling Ice has sweetness and coloring. Kevin Klock, the CEO of Talking Rain, the parent company of Sparkling Ice, has said in the past that his brand eats into CSD sales, which is one of Hal’s main targets. However, Hershkowitz said that no one from Sparkling Ice is concerned about the launch of Hal’s.
Meanwhile, Hal’s will sit exclusively on cold shelves in the city’s up-and-down-the-street accounts, the same accounts that have helped build Big Geyser over the years into its current juggernaut status.
Before deciding on the future of Hal’s, such as further distribution or line extensions, Hershkowitz said that he first wants a proof of concept. Those decisions will follow. Could Hal’s end up in stores beyond New York?
“That’s a great question,” Hershkowitz said. “And it’s funny, because I think I’ve heard that from every single person that I’ve spoken to regarding this. It’s not our focus right now. Right now I want to get out there, I want to build the brand one store at a time, one bottle at a time, and we’ll evaluate anything future after I have a feel for what we have. We’re going to be our own guinea pigs.”