Headquartered in New York City, VOSS Water started distributing its artesian water from Norway in 2001. From the beginning it set out a clear premium strategy – determined to only be associated with the best brands, people and events they felt were complementary to the brand: and for a number of years its distribution and audience was kept to a narrow channel of high-end restaurants and hotels.
But now VOSS believes it has grown the brand to successfully be able to target both affluent and a wider aspirational audience – both in restaurants and in retail - while maintaining its premium identity and lifestyle positioning. Yet it’s not something that every brand has been able to do, said Siri Titlestad, president of Voss International.
“Creating a premium bottled water – a lot of companies can do. Creating a premium brand and maintaining it – it’s not so easy, and our journey has not been easy at all,” she said, speaking to attendees at Zenith’s Global Bottled Water Congress in Barcelona.
- Artesian water from Norway
- No sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Zero calories
- Still, sparkling & flavoured sparkling flavors
A key part of VOSS’ identity is its sleek cylindrical bottle – ‘we like to call it iconic’, says Titlestad – which is a distinctive shape that fits well on a dinner table or in a boardroom.
“Since the beginning, whenever people talk about Voss they talk about the bottle. And very often associated with that, people will tell us where they first had Voss, experienced it, and even in what city.
"That’s pretty unique when it comes to bottled water – remembering where you first saw the bottle. So that was, and still is, a big part of our strategy”.
Over the years the bottle has become ‘timeless, contemporary and pretty recognisable’, with a clear association with premium and luxury – the brand even spotted itself used in the Bond film Spectre.
Along with the bottle comes the brand’s three pillars of purity, distinction and responsibility. From the start VOSS set out a clear premium strategy that Titlestad says it was important to stick to: available only in the best hotels and restaurants.
“This premium strategy helped increase our positioning and led to the growth of VOSS: we were available, but not everywhere and not to everyone. The fact a lot of celebrities took a liking to our brand at an early stage did not hurt either,” said Titlestad.
Using the same strategy – hotels, restaurants, and premium partnerships with brands such as Rolex, Bently, Ferrari and the Festival de Cannes – the brand expanded to global cities such as Dubai, Sydney, London and Paris.
But a few years later, VOSS’ tight premium on-trade strategy – which had worked so well to date – was putting the brand in peril.
“Our rapid geographical growth, combined with a very narrow channel of development, put our brand and company at risk after the financial crisis of 2008,” said Titlestad.
“We hadn’t really capitalized on the demand we had built for VOSS because we hadn’t put the brand into retail: we have a very low consumer reach and simply couldn’t survive only doing business with premium hotels and restaurants, which is a very expensive business to be in.”
So the tricky decision was made to open up the brand to retail – “a lot of people including myself were very nervous of what this could do to the brand.”
But by following the same strategy of being extremely disciplined on price and premium positioning, Titlestad says the risk payed off: “VOSS in retail worked, and worked well.”
The brand is now available in Whole Foods, Wegmans, World Market and 7 Eleven among many others.
So the lesson to VOSS has been that the positioning as a premium lifestyle brand – wherever it is sold – is what is most important.
It has also fit in with wider trends: a growing bottled water category with particular demand for premium products; consumers who are more educated and want better products and more choice, and global premiumization trends across all sectors.
VOSS continues to associate itself with the best events, influencers and lifestyles – even though this has been widened to a larger audience.
It has created VOSS World – ‘both a real and virtual place comprised of VOSS enthusiasts that share similar values that transcend both borders and culture’. Promotions and competitions such as Miami VOSS and VOSS escape opens the brand up to ‘aspirational’ consumers – for example, VOSS escape offers competition entrants a chance to win a getaway to Australia’s ‘most extraordinary luxury lodge’.
“We’re still a young company, for us we’ve only scratched the surface and the journey is on-going” said Titlestad. “We believe that our success comes from staying true to our strategy, being determined and being extremely disciplined as well as having a passion for our brand which is shared throughout our organization, with our customers and our consumers.”