Essentia CMO: ‘Quite frankly, this brand is on fire’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Essentia CMO: ‘Quite frankly, this brand is on fire’
Essentia positions itself as a “supercharged ionized alkaline water that’s better at rehydrating,” but its recent meteoric growth 20 years after launch (sales surged 84% to $136m in measured channels in the year to March 25, 2018*) reflects a shift in focus beyond product attributes to “something far more aspirational and lifestyle oriented,” says CMO Karyn Abrahamson.

Back in 2015, when Abrahamson joined Essentia after stints at Adidas, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Starbucks, she recalls, “the way the brand was positioned was all about product, product, product.”

But the average consumer – overwhelmed by a sea of blue tinged bottles making claims about pH, electrolytes and hydration, as well as an array of claims over sourcing (volcanos, springs, aquifers…) “really couldn't understand what the true product point of difference was,” ​she told FoodNavigator-USA.

“There was a sea of blue bottles and everyone was saying the same things and the way they were saying them was very ingredients-focused,” ​added Abrahamson. But what kind of voice and personality did the brand have?

“Like most consumers, I didn’t major in science or technology, so some of those things didn’t mean a lot to me, so coming into this, I said yes, Essentia has a great product with a true point of difference, but how do we tell that story?”

essentia picture

According to CEO Ken Uptain, who founded Essentia in 1998: “At Essentia, we purify the water first ​​[using microfilters, reverse osmosis and UV light], then we add electrolytes ​​[trace amounts of magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium bicarbonate], and then we use a proprietary ionization process to remove bitter-tasting acidic water ions – which raises the pH, so we just happen to be alkaline as a result of the ionization process. Our product just re-hydrates you better, it’s better absorbed and it’s because of ionization.”​​

Our target audience is 18-34 year old millennials that skew male

She explained: “My first year was all about building the marketing infrastructure to support the brand, but we also did a lot of consumer and brand research and competitive research. I hired a branding firm out of Seattle named Retail Voodoo​ to help evolve the brand identity into something far more aspirational and lifestyle oriented.”

The research revealed that, “First and foremost this brand is about celebrating overachievement, and our target audience is 18-34 year old millennials that skew male and skew African American and Hispanic, ethnicities that over-index on premium water consumption. We’ve also got a product that has been shown to rehydrate better ​[than purified water].**

“So the way we have positioned this product is around the concept of being an over achieving water. What our target consumers are passionate about is about being the best that they can.”


Consumers have really emotionally attached themselves to this brand

In the first year (2016), Abrahamson tested the new approach - ‘Overachieving H20’ – in Portland, Oregon, saw encouraging results, and then expanded the program in 2017 to three markets, Los Angeles, New York and Portland, backed by a 2.5x increase in budget.

This year, things will ramp up exponentially, “because the campaign has 100% resonated with consumers,” ​said Abrahamson, who was promoted to the role of chief marketing officer in early April of this year (she joined as VP of marketing and brand innovation).

“Quite frankly this brand is on fire,” ​added Abrahamson,​ who claimed that Essentia is the #1 alkaline water brand and the #1 selling bottled water brand in the natural channel.

“Consumers have really emotionally attached themselves to this brand. All of us need to drink more water and better water.”


Better water?

While cynics might query whether the average consumer – as opposed to serious athletes seeking to replace electrolytes lost through sustained strenuous exercise – really needs to splash out on ‘better’ water, brand loyalty is high because Essentia fans are true believers, claimed Abrahamson.  

“We’re in over 60,000 stores, and the reason we are doing so well in terms of velocity is that consumers are extremely loyal so we getting those repeat purchases. We’re the highest velocity premium water in the food and drug channels.

“This brand is so hot, we have retailers that want us to build iconic floor displays and they are allowing us to come in and create them without a dime being asked for.”

* Latest 52 weeks ending 3/25/18, source: IRI MULO+C  

** A 2014 double blinded crossover trial (Weidman et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2016) ​with 100 adults showed that Essentia was more effective at re-hydrating people ​after strenuous exercise than regular purified bottled water, with blood viscosity returning to normal levels faster with Essentia, although the study does not explain how clinically significant this is.

What's happening in the US bottled water category at retail?

  • Total water +6%
  • Premium water +16%
  • Flavored water +13%
  • Sparkling water +13%
  • Non premium water +1%

Source​: IRI MULO+C (multi-outlet and convenience) 52 weeks to March 25, 2018

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