Over the past few years, the phrases calorie free, gluten free, and sugar free have gone from an afterthought to a priority. In today’s health conscious world, it’s hard for an eatery to offer a carbonated soft drink that isn’t awful for you. Seattle based company Talking Rain is making sure restaurants can serve something delicious while minding calories and sugar with their hit product Sparkling Ice.
Total Food Service had the pleasure of chatting with Clay Lichterman, Director of Sales, Immediate Consumption, of Sparkling Ice to learn more about how Talking Rain has made this fruity calorie free drink a success.
Could you share what your history is in the food service industry?
My career in foodservice began at a young age working in restaurants in Memphis, New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta, and Destin FL. After graduating Culinary School from Johnson and Wales University, I had a very successful career as a chef where I ultimately wound up landing as the Executive Chef of a Boutique hotel in Memphis. I loved the restaurant business but ultimately desired a more “normal” lifestyle. I had some friends who were having success in the food distribution side of the business so I wound up taking a job with Sysco Memphis.
I found some great mentors after working for Sysco in two OPCOs and learned the ins and outs of the distribution side of the business. While having success at Sysco, I had several manufacturers approach me about a position, and ultimately decided that learning the third piece to the puzzle made sense. I went to work for The Switch beverage (which was later purchased by Apple & Eve) as a Regional Manager. After working for The Switch, Apple & Eve, and Spindrift Beverage all as Regional Managers of Foodservice, I was presented the opportunity to come to work for Talking Rain and of course jumped at the opportunity.
How did the idea for Sparkling Ice come to be?
Sparkling Ice was founded in Seattle in 1992. The company noticed there was a gap in the market and consumers were turning away from soda in search of something new, something different. Sparkling Ice’s zero calorie composition, carbonation and flavor filled this consumer need.
With such an overcrowded marketplace, how was Sparkling Ice able to differentiate from its competitors?
With the decline in sales of diet sodas, foodservice operators need the products that customers are searching for. Sparkling water is certainly a hot category at retail and one that traditional diet soda consumers have really gravitated towards. With Sparkling Ice being the most popular brand in that category, it makes perfect sense for the company to look beyond retail and develop the goal of always being within arm’s reach of our consumers. The refreshment aspect makes Sparkling Ice an all-day beverage, and the variety of bold flavors makes it something that is easy to pair with a meal.
Foodservice distributors need a product that they can sell in all channels of their business. Sparkling Ice is perfect for that because of its broad customer appeal. Our products do well in everything from schools, corporate campuses, healthcare, vending, colleges etc.
As a beverage manufacturer in foodservice, the goal is to have a large enough offering for a distributor to be able to service all of their customers from one product line. This ultimately helps distributors with efficiency and gets the customers a better price point.
What is the extent of the Sparkling Ice product line?
Sparkling Ice is available in thirteen refreshing flavors: Black Raspberry, Orange Mango, Pink Grapefruit, Kiwi Strawberry, Coconut Pineapple, Pomegranate Blueberry, Peach Nectarine, Lemon Lime, Crisp Apple, Cherry Limeade, Strawberry Watermelon, Black Cherry and new in 2016 Grape Raspberry. Sparkling Ice Lemonades, launched in 2013, are available in two refreshing flavors: Classic Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade. Sparkling Ice Teas launched nationally in 2015 and include Peach Tea, Raspberry Tea, Lemon Tea and Half & Half flavors. In 2016, the brand introduced the Sparkling Ice essence of sparkling water collection, which features four natural varieties free of sweeteners, artificial colors or preservatives. The essence of sparkling water collection includes Lemon Lime, Peach, Tangerine and a non-flavored variety.
What is Sparking Ice’s most recent product drop?
In 2016, Sparkling Ice introduced the 16th flavor to join the Sparkling Ice base brand portfolio, Grape Raspberry. The flavor was developed in direct response to consumer demand following a social media vote in 2015, in which Black Cherry was voted the fan favorite. Sparkling Ice also introduced Essence of, a sparkling water collection consisting of four natural varieties free of sweeteners, artificial colors or preservatives. The collection includes four flavors: Lemon Lime, Peach, Tangerine and a non-flavored variety.
What does Sparking Ice offer for food service professionals?
Sparkling Ice offers the variety of refreshingly bold sparkling waters that their customers are searching for. When selling Sparkling Ice, It tells the customers that the establishment where they are dining is on trend, and cares about the customer’s beverage preferences. For the operator, bottled beverages are easier to sell, and are preferred by customers over traditional soda dispensers. The establishment doesn’t have to worry about all of the spills or trash that goes with soda machines, and the product is easy to carry with you.
What is Sparkling Ice’s place in restaurant and eateries?
Grab N Go: We excel in a grab and go environment as today’s customer is always on the move, and that’s what we have built our package around. There is nothing more attractive than a lineup of our tall slender bottles, with their bright colors, in an open air cooler.
Poured In Glasses: Some restaurants choose to pour us over ice or even use our products to make a healthier fruit beverage.
In such a retail oriented brand, it’s hard to think of Sparkling Ice anywhere that’s not retail. How do you and your team change this perception?
The success at retail has created a brand awareness that makes us a good fit. Customers, especially on the go, do not often look for trial. They are wanting that beverage that they know will deliver the refreshment and flavor they are seeking. No one wants to get to their office and pull out their lunch that they just picked up and discover they have a dud beverage to go along with their meal. So customers see Sparkling Ice on the shelf and they know they are getting something that is better for you, and something that tastes great.
We have worked very hard in the education channel and seen a tremendous amount of success because we have developed a strong young following. Today’s high school and college age student is more educated about what is good for you. They seek brands that they can relate to and adopt into their lifestyle. This is helping us build lifelong customers.
What is Sparkling Ice’s place within the mixology world?
Being able to offer a “skinny cocktail” or low calorie option at a bar is important if you want to capture a broad customer base. If a customer can get something when they want to dine “healthier”, they are more likely to come back often, which is every establishment’s goal. We are seeing more and more that Sparkling Ice and Essence are being turned into some amazing cocktails and mocktails. One coffee chain uses our Essence to make the most fantastic Italian Sodas you’ve ever seen.
What does the future look like for Sparkling Ice?
The future could not be brighter! We will continue to introduce innovation and creative offerings that the customers love and want. I see Sparkling Ice in foodservice as a major player for years to come. With the pipeline we have built, we can introduce new items very quickly.
To learn more about Talking Rain and Sparkling Ice, visit their website.