“Consumer expectations of better-for-you is constantly shifting and through extensive consumer testing we recognized that for our brand, out of everything, including things like sweeteners, natural colors and natural flavors ranked the highest” in terms of importance for shoppers, Chris Hall, CEO of Talking Rain Beverage Co., told FoodNavigator-USA.
But, he acknowledged, the transition to natural colors wasn’t easy – especially for a carbonated beverage that relies on bold colors to catch consumers’ attention at shelf. Among the main problems the company needed to tackle were ensuring the colors remained vivid, didn’t fade and didn’t stain the bottles.
“We tried to test for every environment the bottle could be in to account for any kind of staining around the bottle cap, and we learned a lot, we accounted for most, but missed a couple,” and in those cases the company worked closely with its consumers to quickly identify problems and continuously improve the product, he said.
Among the many strategies the company used to test its products before they hit the shelf was tumbling the filled bottles in a laundry dryer to mimic the constant agitation over a long period of time that comes with production, shipping and finally storage on retail shelves, he said.
The company also needed to change the colors of two of its beverages to account for limits in the range of natural hues and to ensure the colors would be stable over time. As a result, it reformulated its Strawberry-Kiwi flavor from green to a reddish-pink, and its Lemon-Lime from green to clear.
A new ‘fresh, crisp look’
Sparkling Ice didn’t just change what is on the inside of the bottle, it changed the outside, too, with a brand refresh that places more emphasis on sparkling, legibility and zero-sugar.
“Most consumers refer to us as ‘Ice’ and not ‘Sparkling Ice,’ and that is because in our original logo the ice was the predominate thing and sparkling was secondary and didn’t stand out as much as the ice did, so we wanted to pronounce sparkling a little bit more with better letters that are easier to read,” Hall said.
The company also downplayed the ice by removing the icicles from the letter ‘c’ in the word, making it more legible, Hall said.
The emphasis on sparkling comes at a time when sales of sparkling water are soaring and competition in the better-for-you carbonated space is heating up.
But, Hall said he isn’t worried about the increased competition because in addition to the new logo, Sparkling Ice has an advantage of “doing this for a long time,” and producing high quality beverages that engender consumer loyalty for their flavors.
While the company wanted to play up ‘sparkling,’ it didn’t want to lose the ice completely. So it also updated the picture of the ice cube on the label to make it more three dimensional and give it a “fresh crisp look,” Hall said. “Now, the fruit looks suspended in the ice, so it is a big improvement.”
Finally, the brand swapped out the zero-calorie claim that had been at the bottom of the label for years with zero-sugar claim, which reflects consumers’ efforts to reduce sugar to promote health and wellness.
Sparkling Ice taps AI for digital marketing
While the company is relying on the new label and bright natural colors of the beverage to catch consumers’ attention at the point of sale, it also is supporting the reformulation and refresh with digital marketing, Hall said.
“The company has transitioned away from traditional marketing to digital over the last year,” which Hall said gives it more flexibility to “turn things on and off so if a message or image isn’t not working, we can pivot right away. This is different than with traditional TV advertising, which once it is turned on it is on and there really is no going back.”
Like many companies, Sparkling Ice is focused on social media, but it also is finding success with running pre-roll before videos on YouTube and other platforms, Hall said.
The company also is using artificial intelligence and predictive modeling to improve the impact of its digital marketing, Hall said.
“Now that we have a year and a half or two years of digital advertising, we have enough history that we can start feeding that data into this machine and the… the predictive modeling can give us an idea of what is really going to give us the return we are looking for,” Hall said. He added, “We are constantly looking at different taglines, different colors and other components to find the best return … and constantly be fresh.”
As part of the campaign, Sparkling Ice also is launching a new “Sparkling IceMaker” voice skill for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa that will give consumers’ ideas for cocktails and mocktails that use the line as a base mixer.
“Everyone is predicting voice is the next big thing when it comes to online shopping and marketing,” but so far there isn’t much for sparkling on the platform, “so the first step we wanted to do was create something that can create engagement through voice with consumers, such as building recipes.”
New products refine Sparkling Ice’s appeal
The original line up of Sparkling Ice beverages is aimed at creating mainstream appeal with a broad range of flavors, but new line extensions from the brand will target specific consumer subsets, including those looking for functional beverages and the Hispanic population.
“We recently launched our first line extension of Sparkling Ice with caffeine … which is a big bet for us,” Hall said.
He explained that while the original line of Sparkling Ice beverages had strong velocity in the food channel, it wasn’t pulling off the shelf fast enough at convenience.
“We recognized there is a packaging and functionality component missing, so we went to work creating a plus caffeine line that is launching right now and will become bigger over the next few months as we start getting it on shelves and authorizations turned on,” he said.
“We also launched a new line of Sparkling Ice that was more Hispanic focused as far as flavor profiles, including mandarin, guava and fruit punch, which were specifically designed with the Hispanic taste in mind, and that is driving a lot of excitement,” he said.
Hall explained that the Hispanic population is a growing base in the United States and offers a lot of opportunity for growth. But he also noted that this segment is very brand loyal and it may take a few years to build a heritage that resonates with and is trusted by the Hispanic population.
Finally, Hall said, Sparkling Ice is exploring more limited time offerings that can create seasonal buzz and consumer engagement around holidays or other events.
“Last year we did two [LTOs] and they were a wild success. The first one was a mystery flavor and then we did a Cranberry Frost for the holidays, and we are going to continue on that not only with flavors, but also offering specific packages for different times of the year, such as a variety pack for summer or club,” he said.
The company also will continue to listen to consumers for other suggestions in terms of cleaning up the formula and providing flavors and experiences that they want, Hall said.