Legendary basketball player Michael Jordan is quoted for having said, “Authenticity is about being true to who you are, even when everyone around you wants you to be someone else.” In the beverage market, the next generation of brands are showing that being authentic is the recipe for a successful beverage brand.
Kathy Maurella, Chief Marketing Officer at Waterloo Sparkling Water, Austin, Texas, notes that consumers drive to support authentic brands that also support a healthy lifestyle is helping drive success of the sparkling water market.
“Consumers are looking for ways to enjoy authentic, full-flavor experiences without sugar and other less desirable ingredients,” she says. “And, for many people, sparkling water fills that need, but they are not all created equal.”
Maurella notes that sparkling water dollar-sales overall are up 7% year-over-year. In terms of its reach, data shows that consumers will continue to gravitate toward this segment.
“With more than two-thirds of U.S. households buying sparkling water (up 1% from a year ago), category [all commodity volume] at 98%, and retailers expanding shelf sets, the future of the category is bright,” Maurella says.
Recognizing the opportunity that an authentic sparkling water brand could deliver for consumers in terms of “better-for-you” with an elevated taste profile helped, Waterloo Sparkling Water established its consumer base while also recording impressive dollar sales growth early in its tenure.
“In 2017, we knew that sugar was becoming enemy No. 1 and carbonated soft drinks were declining,” says Jason Shiver, CEO of Waterloo Sparkling Water. “We realized that if we could create a product that was full flavor, ‘tastes like it is supposed to’ and is better for you, we would have a real opportunity to build a successful brand. So, we founded Waterloo Sparkling Water with an unwavering commitment to creating authentic, better-tasting and better-for-you sparkling waters that support a healthy, active lifestyle. Now, in 2023, we have a growing fan base and dollar-growth ten times the category.”
Beyond the vibrant flavors that have no sugar or sweeteners, Waterloo’s authenticity aligns with the verifications associated with the leading natural consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands.
“Made with Non-GMO Project Verified natural flavors and Whole30 Approved, Waterloo has a unique nutritional profile ― free of calories, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sodium ― and has only ever been produced in aluminum cans made with BPA-free liners,” Maurella explains. “And, with our full-flavor artistry approach to innovation, we feel like we offer the best-tasting sparkling waters on the planet for an active, healthy lifestyle.”
Shiver also touts the brand’s “full-flavor artistry,” which are crafted by its in-house flavor artists, for what differentiates Waterloo Sparkling Water from others on the market.
“We blend custom authentic flavors with crisp carbonation to create uniquely refreshing waters that ignite the senses,” he says. “Our craft is in the layering of the flavors with authenticity and meticulous attention to the nuances of taste and aroma. And by developing innovations at cold temperatures, we find the right carbonation level to bring to life the overall flavor experience.”
The flavor experience with Waterloo takes place across its 13 core lineup varieties as well as a range of limited-time offerings (LTO).
“Black Cherry is our flagship ― and demonstrates Waterloo’s approach to flavor innovation, focusing on flavors that drive incremental growth for the brand and category,” Maurella explains. “Another favorite, Summer Berry, was extraordinarily successful as a multi-year LTO and was brought back this year with permanent, nationwide distribution. Our 2023 innovations are off to a strong start, with Orange Vanilla and Ginger Citrus Twist delivering strong incremental sales for key retailers in these early days.”
Earlier this year, the company launched Orange Vanilla and Ginger Citrus Twist. Waterloo Orange Vanilla is inspired by the “frozen orange treats” of warm summer days, with a hit of zingy, sun-ripened orange that mellows out to a smooth, rich vanilla, the company said at the time of the announcement. Meanwhile, Ginger Citrus Twist features a balance of ginger notes and zesty citrus, provoking soothing memories of ginger ale with the sophisticated, grown-up flavors of ginger beer, it added.
Maurella explains that Waterloo’s collaborative approach played a part in the development of these new additions.
“Our marketing and innovation teams are continuously evaluating flavor trends while our sales team is gathering insights from our retailer partners on opportunities to drive incremental sales in the category,” Maurella says. “We also conduct research to test and prioritize the portfolio of ideas with consumers. For both Orange Vanilla and Ginger Citrus Twist, we knew there was an opportunity to lean hard into nostalgia ― without the sugar and sweeteners, as always.”
The company also has been active in the LTO front with its recent announcement of its seasonal Tropical Fruit. Inspired by “big summer fun,” Waterloo flavor artists started with blood orange for sweetness, layered on pineapple to lift the flavor, and added juicy mango for a riper, nuanced tropical taste, the company stated.
To support the launch of the two new permanent flavors as well as the LTO Tropical Fruit creation, Waterloo has partnered with Chef Curtis Stone. To celebrate the launch of Tropical Fruit, the brand has collaborated with Stone to create a Waterloo-infused treat available in a summer-inspired picnic basket for a limited-time only at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant. This follows the company and Stone working together where Stone created an innovative tasting menu featuring the Orange Vanilla and Ginger Citrus Twist releases.
“Chef Curtis Stone has spent decades bringing flavor to life and obsessing over nuances that deliver extraordinary flavor experiences unlike any other,” Maurella says. “That’s what we do with our sparkling waters, too.
“Our partnership with Chef Curtis to celebrate the launch of Orange Vanilla and Ginger Citrus Twist (and our LTO, which officially launched May 16th) is a perfect pairing, given our target consumers tend to appreciate the nuances of good food and flavor,” she continues. “The unique Waterloo-infused tasting menu created in collaboration with Chef Curtis has generated a lot of interest from our fans.”
LTO remain important to the Waterloo portfolio. Last fall, the company released Spiced Apple as well as Cranberry.
“LTOs are an important part of our approach to innovation,” Maurella says. “They bring newness and seasonal excitement to the shelves for consumers and our retailer partners.”
The timing of Tropical Fruit’s LTO announcement also coincides with Waterloo announcing that last year’s LTO Summer Berry now is available year-round given how in-demand the variety became.
“Summer Berry had been a multi-year summer-time-only favorite with our fans,” Maurella says. “With so much consumer demand for the flavor, retailers also began asking for year-round availability. Starting this year, Summer Berry became available year-round nationwide, with a number of retailers still choosing to take it on for the season only to bring summer-fun to their shelves.”
Growth and maturity
Waterloo has seen its portfolio and sales rise not just because of what it packages in the aluminum cans, but also the steps it’s taken over the years to build out its distribution and marketing operations.
“Our dollar-growth at ten times the category is the result of significant evolution in our approach to distribution, operations and marketing,” Shiver says. “With momentum fueled by strong consumer demand for our products, our sales team has expanded our retailer footprint year-over-year to our current nationwide coverage and broad assortment on shelf with the country’s leading retailers.”
Shiver notes that Waterloo is available nationwide at all major retailers, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, Albertsons Safeway, Walmart, Costco, BJs, Sam’s Club, HEB, Publix, Meijer, Stop & Shop and many more. Waterloo also is on leading online retailers including Amazon.
“Waterloo percentage of sales through the ecomm channel is higher than for the category overall,” he says. “We have robust online programs with Amazon, Walmart.com, Fresh Direct, GoPuff and the dot-coms of our retailer partners.”
Shiver adds that the sales team is focused on adding retailers while also exploring opportunities in new channels.
The Waterloo operations team also has been active to help support the growth model for the company. “[O]ur operations team has re-imagined our supply network for sustainable growth as we continue to innovate, fueling consumer demand for our brand and the category,” Shiver says.
With the growth and maturity across its operations, the company also is approaching its next phase of marketing for the sparkling water brand.
“We also fundamentally reset our marketing strategy to focus on the target consumers for our sparkling waters, with the result being our WATER DOWN NOTHING ad campaign, which is beating all benchmarks and helping to drive household penetration gains,” Shiver says.
Maurella highlights that this campaign is designed to stimulate the senses. “[W]e launched the newest evolution of our WATER DOWN NOTHING ad campaign, which leverages leading-edge AI technology to show how our full-flavor artistry ignites the senses,” she says.
Consumers also can be on the lookout for Waterloo in a sporting arena. “We also have new and exciting partnerships in the sports sector that we will be announcing shortly,” Maurella says.
Whatever comes next for Waterloo Sparkling Water, one can presume it will be done with authenticity.