Pepsi Co. debuted Bubbly sparkling water to compete with rivals like La Croix, Perrier and Pellegrino
Sparkling water is officially the new soda.
PepsiCo debuted a new line of sparkling water this month with zero-calories, no artificial flavors and no sweeteners, likely to rival cult-favorite seltzer water LaCroix.
The new fizzy beverage, called Bubbly, comes in eight flavors: lime, grapefruit, strawberry, lemon, orange, apple, mango and cherry. The bright colored packaging comes with greetings on its tabs like “Hey u” and “hiii.”
The major sales splash comes in large part from the La Croix obsession, the fizzy, zero-calorie beverage with no-sugar that comes in a dozen different flavors, like Pamplemousse (French for grapefruit); Cran-Raspberry; and Tangerine. The brand has been around since the 1980s, but thanks to revamped pretty pastel cans, they’ve been a sippable accessory popping up everywhere from the beach to bachelorette parties and even as artwork.
Now, there’s even a restaurant featuring sparkling-water based La Croix cocktails mixed up with spirits like tequila at The Hideout by STK Los Angeles. Drinks include the French Kiss, made with La Croix Berry, Hennessy, and lemon; the Berry Wild, with La Croix grapefruit water and Belvedere Wild Berry vodka; and the Coco-jito, a riff on the piña colada with La Croix coconut, tequila, lime, and mint.
The sparkling water craze has only recently started to make waves in the U.S. Between 2015 and 2017, sales of domestic sparkling bottled water — not including imports like San Pellegrino — doubled to $8.5 billion, according to the DrinkTell database. La Croix net sales rose from $646 million in 2015 to $827 million for the company’s most recent fiscal year, with profits rising from $49.3 million to $107 million over the same time frame, Fortune reports.
But what makes this carbonated sip hip isn’t the bubbles, it’s the marketing. Apparently a little millennial pink, fluid script writing and bold print is all you need to take an otherwise unsexy seltzer product from Costco mom to life of the party, experts say.
“Seltzer doesn’t have an experience to it, but they’ve created one,” branding consultant Rana Good, who has worked on nightlife campaigns for Perrier, tells Moneyish. “It’s an unlikely product that people somehow can’t get enough of.”
Unlike some of its competitors like Vintage Seltzer or Polar, La Croix hasn’t done TV advertising and instead has a heavy focus on social media campaigns targeting millennials. Instead of paying celebrities, they’ll sponsor events at music festivals like Coachella where they popped up at Moschino designer Jeremy Scott’s party, and hire influencers to post photos nonchalantly featuring the product. It’s all helped them gain a whopping 102,000 followers they call their “Sparkle Squad.”
“Unlike wine or liquor there is no way to really taste test carbonated water so people’s only brand loyalty is to what they see showing up at parties or events,” says Michael Tommasiello, a New York City-based influencer with 14K followers.
“It’s not like a clothing brand that you can be like ‘oh the quality is bad’ or ‘the materials are cheap,’ water is water, and as long as they can get people to believe theirs is a luxury, people will pay.” Tommasiello was hired by Perrier for years to post up to three times at parties and has done promotions for them on his personal Instagram page to get followers to sign up for more and was responsible for bringing in plenty of young newcomers.
Perrier has pushed heavy nightlife campaigns subtly promoting the sparkling water for bottle service because it doesn’t fall flat when left out, and can make a great vodka soda. And Pellegrino, the Italian mineral water, capitalizes on food pairings. Last month all star chefs April Bloomfield and Ludo Lefebvre were hired to make a whole tasting menu devoted to pairing with the bubbly.
The recent hype could be because regular soda is falling flat as consumers quench their thirst with a healthier alternative to soda. In March, bottled water, including the sparkling category, trumped soda as the No. 1 drink sold in the U.S. last year. Americans drank an average of 39.3 gallons of bottled water in 2016 and 38.5 gallons of carbonated soft drinks, according to research firm Beverage Marketing Corp. And this year people consumed $7.831 billion worth of sparkling bottled water, that’s more than twice as much since 2014.
“Sparkling water has been available in the United States for decades, but has mostly remained as a niche category until recent years,” says Beverage Marketing Corp Director of Research Gary Hemphill.
“Consumer demand for healthier refreshment is the primary driver behind the recent strong growth of the category,” he adds.
Other seltzer brands are gaining traction for using real ingredients, like Spindrift, which claims to be America’s first and only sparkling water made with squeezed fruit, like the sparkling Blackberry variety, which contains less than 15 calories and two grams of sugar. Others, like the cucumber, contain actual chunks of the veggie.
“Plain water is 100% the best for you,” says nutritionist and registered dietitian Lisa R. Young. “But seltzer is the next best thing before diet soda.”
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