Dr. Priestley’s Fizzy Water may not have invented the sparkling water category, but it’s building its brand on the name of the guy who did.
The New York-based beverage company, which launched last month on Amazon, markets a line of premium sparkling waters with cocktail-inspired flavor profiles. Named for Dr. Joseph Priestley, an 18th century renaissance man who is recognized as the first documented inventor of soda water in 1767, the brand was co-founded by Michael Rovner, a group creative director at ad agency McGarryBowen, and Josh King, a political commentator and former director of production for presidential events at the White House under the Bill Clinton administration.
Introduced to Priestley through the biography The Invention of Air, King registered the name as a company trademark in 2012 but sat on it for four years until meeting Rovner in 2016. Rovner admitted the decision to embrace a brand identity with an old-time aesthetic was “a bit geeky” but believes it can serve as an alternative to the bright and colorful branding of other sparkling water brands and resonate with consumers who are seeking a premium, sophisticated sparkling water.
“There isn’t a sophisticated seltzer that wants to charge more than LaCroix does, but we do,” Rovner said. “We want to be positioned not so high above them that people turn their noses up at us but we want to create a new audience for this.”
Born 1733 and died 1804, Joseph Priestley was a chemist, theologian, and political theorist who, in addition to inventing soda water, is also credited with the discovery of oxygen and was a founder of English Unitarian Christianity. Later in life he became known as a staunch supporter of the French Revolution and a confidante of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Though Priestley does have living descendants, Rovner and King said they are not involved with the brand. He said several family members are aware and supportive of the company.
Comparing Dr. Priestley’s to craft beer brand Samuel Adams, Rovner added that the branding invoked “the foundations of America” with values of “bold experimentation” and “freedom.” Borrowing from spirits branding, Dr. Priestley’s is also billed as an “American Small Batch Fizzy Water,” an identity that Rovner said invoked an earthy, Americana feel. The brand is produced in small batches, but he said the company may rebrand to remove “small batch” once its scales.
The team worked with Willy Shine Consulting — which specializes in bar and restaurants — to develop a product line with cocktail-minded flavor profiles and formulated the line with Target Flavors. In order to ensure a more robust taste profile, the brand doubled the standard amount of flavor additives — a decision which increased the price of production and required the premium positioning, Rovner said.
The line includes Original Virgin, Cucumber Mint, Meyer Lemon Ginger, and Rosemary Grapefruit varieties. The products currently sell for $24.99 per 24-pack of 12 oz. cans. Rovner said the brand will maintain a similar per unit price point when it launches in brick-and-mortar retail later this year.
Though they initially planned to target bar and restaurant accounts, Rovner said Dr. Priestley’s will focus on building out a retail footprint, including “sophisticated” liquor stores and natural and specialty channel accounts, before expanding into on premise.
King noted that the brand is currently focused on cultivating word of mouth with consumers through social media marketing and is also looking to partner with influencers in the near future.
“If you’re like me or Mike, you like to go to Whole Foods and bring home a couple cases, you like the way this looks in your refrigerator, you like the combination of flavors that we’ve offered, and you ask your supermarket where can we get Priestley,” King said. “I think the distribution relationships are going to come. But we’re not in a huge rush, we’re watching happily over the last several weeks more and more people pay attention to what we’re doing.”