Beverage Industry

'O' For Original

September 1, 2006
‘O’ For Original
By JENNIFER ZEGLER
The founders of O Beverages combined their industry experience to launch a unique water brand
‘How can I drink more water that is not plain water?’ It’s a simple question for healthy-minded – and thirsty – people. It also is the question that started O Beverages, Cambridge, Mass., the brainchild of experienced industry executives, Tom First, who co-founded Nantucket Nectars, and Ed Slade, former president and chief operating officer of Fiji Water.
“We wanted to combine the thirst for water and health in a new-age product line,” Slade says.
Two and a half years ago, the former executives were both looking for something new and a way to get back into the industry, First explains. After being introduced by Ralph Crowley, chief executive officer of Polar Beverages, a Worcester, Mass.-based distributor for both Nantucket Nectars and Fiji Waters, the pair met and “carefully” shared their ideas for a new beverage. Having a similar vision, they decided to work together on a new flavored water line they dubbed ‘O,’ which symbolizes the simplicity and cleanliness of water.
“Personally, Nantucket Nectars was something that appealed to me, my friends and my generation; we marketed the product to ourselves,” First says. “Well that’s when I was 23 years old and now I’m 40 and my taste buds have changed. I don’t want anything that’s too sweet, but generally plain water is somewhat boring. Ed and I wanted to do something different that was not being made in the sector – a lightly sweetened to unsweetened product.”
The pair also wanted to create a product that tasted unlike anything that was available at the time and something with a flavor that is closer to squeezing fresh fruit into a glass of water. During concept development, First shared this idea with Ming Tsai, best known as one of Food Network’s American “Iron Chefs.” The two were neighbors of a sort, sharing adjoining seats at Boston Red Sox games.
“We were actually talking about the product concept during the World Series season,” he explains. “Tsai invested in the company and was instrumental in developing the flavors. During development, we would head to [Tsai’s Wellesley, Mass., restaurant] Blue Ginger and break out the wine glasses and taste and sample O.”
The flavors, which include Lemon & Lime, Mandarin Orange and Wild Berry, were carefully chosen. Slade says they opted for flavors everyone would love, such as Strawberry or Lemon, and not anything “too niche-y.”
“We worked very hard on the flavors being right,” First says. “Very often fruit flavors are called fruit but the flavors bear little resemblance to the actual fruit.”
Both believed that packaging helps sell the product and the pair developed unique packaging to showcase their innovative product.
“We knew we wanted to develop something breakthrough so we didn’t even attempt to go through stock bottles and labels,” Slade says. “We wanted something that was dramatically better than what is available. The bottles have a unique shape and the see-through label with high-impact colors that reinforces the fruit flavors inside. On the label you can see through the ‘O’ to the fruit on the back side of the bottle which is eye-catching and fun.” 
The unsweetened line of O Waters was launched in May 2005 and is currently distributed in seven varieties in 25 states. In August, the company released new Infused beverages, a lightly sweetened line including vitamins or energy ingredients without artificial sweeteners or colors. The Infused options include Strawberry-Guava-flavored Energize and Lemon-flavored Soothe, each with 50 calories per bottle.
“We tried to take into account the total needs of the water drinker,” Slade says. “At different times of the day you want the unsweetened product and at other times you want water with a little more oomph. The infused line is for people who want vitamins, electrolytes or energy through their beverages. They're a product you would make for yourself without artificial sweeteners or colors that have just the right fruit taste."
As Slade says, “Everybody drinks water,” and the products transcend demographics. On its Web site, obeverages.com, consumers of all ages can post photos of themselves enjoying O Waters. From parents to athletes, consumers are sharing their love for O Waters.
“Ultimately, we want to build a great water brand,” First explains. “We’re using a focused approach by sticking with an area where we can succeed and be good at in every aspect – from packaging to distribution. We’ve come out with two great products and we’re thinking of what’s next. We want to be a ubiquitous brand that goes from this country and beyond.”