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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.”
I want to hear from you. Tell me how we can improve.
The January premiere issue of 2020 kicks off with the Bottler of the Year profile on Refreshment Services Inc. (RSI) Key West. Readers also can clue-in on the latest developments and insight in reusable packaging, tracking technology in distribution, and new, convenient ways antioxidants are shining as ingredients. Readers also can check out new product releases, the latest in packaging, and innovations in the supermarkets space. The year in beverage has much in store, so read up now!
Check back throughout the month for additional content.