Carbonated Conversation: Talking Rain Executives Discuss Strategy for Sparkling Ice Essence

sparkling_970Amid surging demand for unsweetened sparkling water, Sparkling Ice marketer Talking Rain is planning a major distribution push for its “essence of sparkling water” line. Launched in April, the new beverages are lightly flavored and, unlike other Sparkling Ice products, contain no sweeteners, artificial colors or preservatives.

The essence line is currently distributed regionally at major grocery and mass channel retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Stop and Shop, Publix and Target. In an email to BevNET, Talking Rain CEO Kevin Klock said that after six months on the market, the essence line is “off to a solid start” and performing “well enough” to launch nationally in 2017.

As the essence line picks up new distribution, Talking Rain will focus on marketing initiatives intended to drive awareness of the products and how they are different from not only from competing carbonated water brands, but also other Sparkling Ice drinks, as well.

Right now, the essence waters are packaged in the same 17 oz. slim plastic bottle used across the Sparking Ice portfolio, which includes iced teas and lemonades. However, the product lines look quite similar and merchandising them alongside each other might cause some customer confusion. It’s one of the reasons that Talking Rain is having “ongoing discussions” about new label and bottle options for the essence water line, according to Nina Morrison, Talking Rain’s vice president of community and customer relations.

Brand-building aside, Klock said that an increasingly competitive pricing landscape for sparkling water, especially for multi-packs, represents the biggest challenge for the essence line.

“Competition is $3.99 in a 15-pack of cans and private label is selling as low as $1.99 for a 12-pack,” Klock said. “It’s always been a commodity category.”

Nevertheless, Talking Rain views an opportunity for Sparkling Ice essence to gain traction with sparkling water consumers because it comes in a resealable package. BevNET spoke with several Talking Rain executives at the NACS 2016 show, who pointed to the brand’s screw cap bottle as an advantage to can-packaged waters, particularly for single-serve sales.

Sparkling Ice essence waters are also being positioned as complementary products to the brand’s flagship drinks, according to Talking Rain’s vice president of sales Chris Hall. It’s a strategy grounded in company research which found that current customers of Sparkling Ice’s primary line are also buying essence waters.

As Talking Rain looks to 2017, the company is preparing for a “big splash” in messaging and new marketing campaign that cuts across the entire Sparkling Ice portfolio, one that comes with a $20 million budget for media buys. Newly installed CMO Brian Kuz said next year’s marketing efforts will be “a little bit louder” and supported by a new advertising agency, Seattle-based Wexley School for Girls. Kuz, the former Global Head of Trade Marketing and Insights at Red Bull, sees an opportunity for Sparkling Ice to one day become synonymous with sparkling water beverages, one that begins with developing a strong consumer connection to the brand.

“A true, trusted, loved brand proposition — you will see it next year with the new campaign,” Kuz said.