Bottled water has been the year-over-year success story in the North American beverage market. With the hydration beverage becoming the No. 1 category by volume at the end of 2016, bottled water has remained a steady performer. However, bottled water’s success isn’t just coming from the value-based segment as the premium and super-premium offerings expand their presence.
“Over the past five years, bottled water has been the biggest contributor to beverage category growth, as consumers are gravitating toward healthier alternatives and away from traditional sweetened beverages — and carbonated soft drinks, in particular,” says Neil Kimberley, Essentia Water’s chief strategy officer. “In the same time period, premium water growth has accelerated.”
Kimberley attributes this acceleration to consumers’ hunt for beverages that deliver more than refreshment.
“It all connects back to consumers’ interest in healthier options that offer functional benefits,” he explains. “People are more thoughtful about what they’re consuming on a [daily] basis, which has contributed to the increasing popularity of alkaline waters and other enhanced waters with added ingredients such as minerals, electrolytes or vitamins.”
Indeed, consumers are seeking more from water today, and Kimberley details how the Bothell, Wash.-based premium bottled water company is playing a role in that market.
“Essentia has pioneered the creation of the high-pH alkaline water segment,” he says. “Essentia’s ionized alkaline water has a unique proprietary manufacturing process that creates Essentia’s consistent pH of 9.5 or higher and a clean, smooth taste. When people try us, they love us, and that shows in our position today as the No. 1 alkaline water brand and the No. 3 brand in premium bottled water.”
Although the high-pH bottled water segment surpassed $500 million in retail sales for 2019, Kimberley reports that the key to the segment and Essentia’s success was its timing.
“When our Founder and Chief Executive Officer Ken Uptain was introduced to ionized alkaline water and created Essentia more than 20 years ago, the market wasn’t ready for functional water,” Kimberley notes. “But he believed that Essentia was just ahead of its time. So, he scaled back the business to allow it to organically incubate until 2012. Since 2012, the marketplace has changed, and consumers are not just aware of premium bottled water, but opting to purchase it over other types of beverages. This has elevated the bottled water landscape, and to meet the growing popularity, we’ve seen increased competition in the space, particularly in the high-pH water category.”
Essentia has shown that it is a brand making waves in the bottled water market. Citing sales data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., Kimberley reports that Essentia Water recorded $286 million in retail sales for 2019. The premium bottled water brand also increased its number of storefronts from 70,000 at the beginning of 2019 to more than 90,000 by the year’s conclusion.
“We continue to demonstrate solid growth and we’re the biggest contributor to premium water category growth,” Kimberley says. “All of that said, these impressive numbers and milestones have not come without hard work and dedication from our amazing team here at Essentia. I could not be more grateful to our whole team. As a brand, we are all about overachieving and that passion and commitment starts with us.”
Essentia’s success can be credited to its three-step ionization process.
“The Essentia process begins with purification through reverse osmosis to remove contaminants — making the water 99.9 percent pure — and is followed by the infusion of a proprietary mineral blend in trace amounts, formulated to complement the body’s natural mix,” Kimberley explains. “Finally, the ionization process removes bitter-tasting acidic ions, which results in water with a pH of 9.5 or higher, with a clean, smooth taste that provides the body with necessary hydration.”
Kimberley adds that this three-step process is what differentiates Essentia from other alkaline bottled waters on the market.
“Most alkaline waters achieve higher pH from the source (i.e., from minerals that exist based on geographic location and result in higher pH) or from the adding of minerals in (e.g., electrolytes),” he says. “[Essentia’s] process not only removes bitter-tasting acidic ions, but also raises the pH level to 9.5 or higher and results in a clean and smooth-tasting water.”
Although alkaline waters have been growing in prominence, not all consumers have realized the value of the subcategory. Because of this, Essentia is finding ways to highlight the benefits of high-pH waters.
“We can only speak to the benefits of our Essentia process and do so through various channels. We have a number of experts, like our Director of Clinical and Scientific Research Dr. Ralph Holsworth, [whom] we leverage to help communicate the benefits of our alkaline water and hydration at large,” Kimberley explains. “We also host a number of resources on our corporate website, essentiawater.com, and social media channels, most recently pushing out short, informational videos about our proprietary three-step process and 9.5-plus pH (including how to accurately test our pH), in direct response to consumer inquiries.”
Another challenge has been helping consumers understand the benefits premium bottled waters deliver, “which has taken a lot of education from the industry, given the category was dominated by value brands for so many years,” Kimberley notes. Additionally, the lack of clinical studies has stalled growth, he says.
“We directly acknowledged this by conducting a third-party clinical study, which can be found in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). This study showed Essentia rehydrated better than a leading bottled water,” Kimberley explains, noting that the results were part of a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study with Essentia Water versus a leading bottled water in healthy subjects over the course of two hours following moderate aerobic exercise.
What led Essentia to achieve its success has been to target the enterprising go-getters.
“People who drink Essentia tend to have one thing in common: they are ‘overachievers,’” Kimberley says. “Our core mission is to help these overachievers go farther for longer through better hydration, whether they are a parent managing multiple schedules, a student prepping for a big exam, an athlete staying hydrated on and off the field, or a business owner staying hydrated through back-to-back meetings.”
This overachiever sentiment parlays into its brand representatives, also known as Essentia Nation. The company describes this group as “a community of like-minded people competing, performing, creating and striving to be the best version of themselves through challenges and triumph.” Most recently, the brand added Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and 2018 NFL MVP.
“Patrick is the epitome of what it means to be an overachiever — he lives out our company values every day, on and off the field,” Kimberley says. “His success can be credited back to hard work, perseverance, ambition and resilience. Our partnership with Mahomes has helped to reinforce and amplify our mission of helping overachievers go further for longer, just as Mahomes has done in so many aspects of his own life.”
Essentia’s collection of overachievers also influenced the brand’s 2019 creative campaign: It Might As Well Be You. “Launched in April 2019, our community influenced the message of our national multiplatform campaign, It Might As Well Be You,” Kimberley says. “It was inspired by our mission, employee values and consumers who are already competing, performing, creating and striving to be the best version of themselves. It serves as a call to overachievers to get up, get out and go do that thing they really want to do — whenever and whatever that means for them.”
Essentia plans to further this campaign in 2020 with its Essentia Nation consumers. “The campaign’s mission to encourage people to live passionately and purposefully is important to us, and we want to reinforce its message into 2020,” Kimberley says.
Yet, rehydration is not the only passion for the functional water brand. Recognizing the challenges facing the overall bottled water market surrounding sustainability, Essentia is looking to be a proactive member of solving the environmental crisis.
“At Essentia, sustainability is a big focus in our production process as well as other recent initiatives,” Kimberley says. “For instance, our proprietary process enables us to source water from any municipal supply across the U.S., so that we’re not transporting water to and from different parts of the world. Additionally, our PET-1 bottles are fully recyclable, and we actively encourage our consumers to do so with their Essentia.”
With calls to action weaved into Essentia’s playbook, 2020 promises to be another year of overachievement for the brand. “It’s an exciting time here at Essentia, and we’re looking forward to 2020 and beyond,” Kimberley concludes. “We’re focused on corporate social responsibility, expanding our successful creative campaigns and, of course, building on our impressive sales momentum both via new channels and international expansion. We have come so far, but still have so much more to do.” BI