While not classified as a soda, but a flavored zero-calorie sparkling water, Sparkling ICE has been steadily taking market share from the diet carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) category following a brand overhaul in 2010.
“Our main competition is really two different types, it’s carbonated soft drinks and unsweetened sparkling water,” said newly appointed CEO of Talking Rain, Chris Hall.
“The differentiation between us and soda is really the fruit [flavor] and the basis being carbonated water.”
Hall took over as CEO earlier this month after serving as the company’s COO in charge of the sales, operations, and supply chain teams. In his new role as CEO, Hall will be taking on marketing and enterprise responsibilities.
Hall’s vision for the company is to “grow the business in a sustainable way so we can continue to be an independent organization,” in addition to building a team-oriented company culture. Talking Rain employs approximately 400 employees, including 100 part-time workers.
Tapping into caffeine beverage channel
Hall told FoodNavigator-USA the launch of Sparkling ICE + Caffeine stemmed from the company’s desire to create a caffeinated “immediate consumption solution” for consumers and to make a direct play into the $16bn energy and CSD category.
“The package (a 16-ounce can) is going to be something that’s a little more user friendly for someone on-the-go,” Hall said.
Sparkling ICE’s identifiable tall and slim PET bottles tend to topple over in a car cup holder, explained Hall, and the addition of 70mg of caffeine will help the brand compete against the functional benefits of energy drinks and RTD coffees.
Sparkling ICE + Caffeine will formally launch in October at the NACS show and distribute nationally in 2019.
“We’re in testing right now with Sparkling Ice + Caffeine in several cities across the US,” Hall added.
‘Getting loud’ about natural colors, natural flavors, and new design
The company has completed four years of research and development to replace synthetic colors with dyes from natural sources including fruit juice, vegetable juices, beta carotene, and paprika, to fall in line with current consumer avoidance of artificial ingredients.
“We haven’t really talked about the reformulation yet,” Hall said. “We’re going to start getting loud about the natural colors and the natural flavors; that will be the next big marketing push.”
As a result of consumer feedback, Sparkling ICE has also developed a more modern and unified look, according to the company. The brand has highlighted the fizzy aspect of the Sparkling ICE with a new design and updated logo (a three-dimensional cube highlighting fresh, real fruit) featured on each bottle, offering a stronger on-shelf visual impact.
In addition, the new design prominently features the 'zero sugar' claim, a transition from the original design’s 'zero calories' call out.
Sparkling ICE delivered on the zero sugar promise by reducing the juice content in the new formulation, the company said.
The brand is exploring multi-serve options as well for its Sparkling ICE line.
A $1bn brand?
Since 2011, Talking Rain’s strategic focus on Sparkling ICE has ignited the brand, resulting in 5900% sales growth from 2010-2015, and surpassing $650m in sales that same year.
“Sparkling ICE took off and became our national brand,” Hall said. The company’s regional unsweetened sparkling water brand, Talking Rain, remains an important mainstay for the business, he added.
When FoodNavigator-USA spoke with former CEO Kevin Klock in 2013 about its projected growth, he shared that Sparkling ICE “could be a $1bn brand by 2018.”
Fast forward to this year, and while still growing strongly, the Sparkling Ice has not hit that projected $1bn mark, yet.
“I think the tough thing back then is when the product and brand is exploding, it’s really hard to project… We’re still working towards that [$1bn brand]. We’re having solid growth compared to last year.”