TalkingRain Beverage Company
There’s something brewing at TalkingRain, the Seattle-based maker of Sparkling ICE, a naturally flavored, zero calorie sparkling beverage. While TalkingRain has been an iconic brand in the Northwest, the company is experiencing renewed success and gaining more market share across the U.S. with the rebirth of Sparkling ICE.
As part of the TalkingRain portfolio for more than 20 years, the once-overlooked Sparkling ICE has been a key player in a major organizational shift that commenced in 2010. New leadership has refocused the company’s efforts on the product, spearheaded by Kevin Klock, now president and CEO of TalkingRain, who originally came onboard as vice president of operations in 2006.
With a strong marketing, sales and manufacturing team behind it, Sparkling ICE is now one of the fastest growing beverage brands in the country. However, this bubbling success hasn’t come without trial and error.
“TalkingRain was founded in 1987 as a sparkling water company, in fact, TalkingRain sparkling water is still available on a regional basis in the Northwest,” recounts Klock. “After three months in operation, the founders ran out of money and the current owners stepped in. In 1992, Sparkling ICE was developed, and in the late 1990s, TalkingRain was one of the first beverage companies in the U.S. to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and use sucralose.”
In 2007, as Vitaminwater sold for $4.1 billion, TalkingRain began to hit some serious roadblocks. “We tried to go national with twist and actiVwater to keep up, and four years later in 2010, retailers and distributors were pulling out, and over a six-week period, our president, CEO and vice president of sales all left for other jobs,” reveals Klock.
Building a better brand experience
It was time to do something, and fast. “We were trying to be something for everyone and it was at that point we realized we needed to become a branded beverage company and the best path to success was to create a better brand experience,” recalls Klock.
Considering all factors that go into that experience – visual appearance, packaging, consistency in color relative to flavor, smell and depth of flavor – the company used Orange Mango as a model since it was the most successful flavor first. “We focused on Black Raspberry, and in less than four months, we started to see organic growth,” shares Klock.
TalkingRain entered a test market with Kroger grocery stores in fall 2010 to relaunch Sparkling ICE. “After rallying for a $273,000 investment for a fully integrated marketing program, we recreated the brand in the Northwest where it was already known and, as a result, saw a huge increase in growth,” adds Klock. “Sparkling ICE went from Kroger to Publix and Winn-Dixie stores.”
Klock explains this transition is something many companies go through in a normal lifecycle. “We tightened our focus, but didn’t lose a sense of entrepreneurialism and most importantly, we proved ourselves to consumers,” he insists.
Reaching high and branching out
Sparkling ICE jumped from retail sales of $10 million in 2010 to $350 million in 2013. “We’re on pace to reach half a billion in retail sales by the end of 2014,” adds Klock.
Based out of Preston, Wash., Sparkling ICE now has seven production facilities and nine warehouses. “We are in almost every major retailer in the U.S., and those that don’t carry the product will shortly,” assures Klock. “We have also developed the first independent network to deliver to every county in the U.S. TalkingRain now has 280 employees and that number is expanding rapidly.”
According to Klock, Sparkling ICE is also expanding the category, pumping out a new line of sparkling lemonades. “Six months after introducing the Sparkling ICE Lemonade line with flavors, such as classic lemonade, strawberry lemonade and raspberry lemonade, we became the largest shelf-stable supplier, surpassing Minute Maid,” he unveils.
“People worry about being pigeon holed with a brand, but the success with the lemonade line has reassured us that we’re on the right track,” continues Klock. “We’re comfortable that our brand is capable of line extending successfully – the demographic is extremely large and it sells anywhere, no matter the retailer.”
Connected to customers
But no matter the product line, Klock says it all comes back to a sensory experience. “We are meticulous about how our product appeals to your senses; it needs to be intuitive,” he says. “The visuals and the aroma matter, but it all comes back to taste and our brand promise is to deliver great tasting refreshment.”
“It seems like anyone could do that, but it’s not as easy as it seems,” adds Klock. “It takes us approximately two years to develop a new flavor. We work with existing customers and talk directly with them through the development process. There’s a strong correlation between what our customers tell us and what we produce.”
While Sparkling ICE has taken off as a national and soon to be international brand, Klock says the company still faces challenges. “There are always challenges, as with any business,” he ensures. “One is market penetration, because it’s one thing to service popular grocery and drug stores with large footprints, but it’s another to be competitive enough to get into gyms, hardware stores and smaller specialty retailers when giants like Pepsi and Coke defend these small markets heavily.”
TalkingRain’s Sparkling ICE continues to gain more market share with a revitalized strategy behind a product that’s bubbling over with promise.