As consumer interest in clean eating and drinking grows and flavored seltzer waters take off, in home appliances such as SodaStream have become kitchen staples.
By eliminating the need for plastic bottles, such appliances hope to be more environmentally friendly. But Spärkel says it can take this a step further by removing the need for CO2 tanks, instead using carbonator sachets than generate CO2.
Carbonating with consistent quality
Darren Hatherell used to buy cans of sparkling water from his local Costco, but then decided to cut back after thinking about how wasteful it was to have the fizzy mineral water shipped around the world when he could carbonate his own water at home. But neither did he like a system that requires purchasing CO2 can refills (as well as requiring cans to contain the CO2, cans are normally purchased directly from the supplier as the high-pressure nature of the cans makes them unsafe to ship with everyday e-commerce methods).
Nor was Hatherell happy with at home carbonation: "We found that as the tank emptied, it tended to change how it carbonated, so we couldn’t even get consistent quality out of the device," he said.
So Hatherell set out to expand versatility and carbonation quality in a new appliance. Most existing systems carbonate the water first and then flavor it or add infusions afterwards. It's not normally recommended to carbonate other beverages with at-home machines.
He set out to develop a new machine that allowed for customization, and sought out to fix the e-commerce problem with co-founder Roy Sawyer. Their Spärkel device officially launches this month after the team went through a few product generations, starting back in 2011.
If you can imagine it, you can 'Spärkel' it
The Spärkel system is a "totally different technology basis" from existing systems, according to Hatherell. It uses ‘Carbonator sachets’ that naturally generate CO2 gas, made from citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.
To use Spärkel, consumers can fill the 25oz bottle with any combination of ingredients. Water is the obvious choice, but Hatherell emphasized that it is easy to add fresh fruits and herbs, or different liquids like tea, wine, spirits and juice. Once the filled bottle is loaded on the dock, the Carbonator is poured into a chamber and sealed with a handle.
In the chamber the gas is generated, which then travels into the bottle. When the gas goes into the bottle, the pressure in the bottle goes up, which is what infuses the flavors into the bottle contents and allows it to absorb the gas.
Hatherell said that instead of having a CO2 tank, which jets in high-pressure gas, Spärkel goes in the other direction. It generates gas in the chamber and then travels into the bottle. The bottle is then sealed, so it gives off the same sound and sensation as traditionally carbonated drinks when opened.
“You could put anything into that bottle and infuse real ingredients with bubbles,” Hatherell said. “If you can imagine it and get it into the bottle, you can Spärkel it.”
Users can also choose their desired fizzy level with buttons on the device, with setting one being the least carbonated and five being the most. Hatherell said the top setting is best used with thicker liquids like orange juice or wine.
A market with room to grow
Spärkel follows similar ethical principles to other at-home carbonation systems. The reusable bottles are good for 3,000 cycles, saving many single-use plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the waste stream. It also helps cut back on the negative effects that come from transporting water around the world, as it is very heavy to carry and ship.
Spärkel sells the fully electric and automated system in nine colors on its website for $99. But as a special launch promotion, it’s being sold 50% off for $49 to those who sign up online.
It will also sell the Carbonator sachet packs and extra bottles, but does not have plans to develop any branded flavor drops or syrups. Hatherell thinks that market has declined, and finds that his early customers are using Spärkel mainly for fruit-infused sparkling water concoctions.
“It’s allowing people to do what they really want to do, which is get healthy, but still have it taste good. But at the same time, make it real,” he said.
He believes that the at-home carbonation market has plenty of room to grow, and hopes to see more competitors fill it in the future.
“People have been limited to what sparkling beverages they can make up until now, to just sparkling water. This will open it up and allow for more creativity.”