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When Talking Rain’s Sparkling Ice brand hit the billion-dollar mark, it wasn’t just a sweet reward for a job well done.
The beverage business behind the Sparkling Ice brand has long been committed to promoting sustainability, renewable energy and gender equality, so Talking Rain’s success exemplifies a market that demands something new.
“People want zero sugar, low calorie, better-for-you beverages,” says Nina Morrison, Talking Rain’s Senior Vice President of Community Experience. “With consumer demands the way they are now, we have to continue to innovate and bring new products to market, so our innovation team is always busy.”
In fact, the entire Talking Rain team is passionate about their mission to make a positive impact in communities and strive to create purposeful change through various give-back initiatives, along with their already impressive achievements.
“Thanks to the team’s hard work and dedication, Talking Rain has set its sights on increasing its Sparkling Ice +Caffeine sales from US$50 million to US$100 million, which demonstrates the commitment to continual growth and improvement,” Morrison says.
Ambitious as it sounds, Talking Rain has already proven that it can take a simple concept – flavored sparkling water – and turn it into a success story. Founded in 1987 on the back of that very idea, Talking Rain quickly carved out a niche in a busy sector.
Morrison joined the ‘Rain Makers’ in 1992 as part of the marketing department, bringing with her years of experience owning a food brokerage company. “They were looking for help doing events,” she recalls. “I have to be honest with you, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But I figured it out.”
The company went from two events per annum to around 400 over the next few years, but at the forefront of the company’s campaign was the building of awareness that Talking Rain liked to give back. “Giving back has always been in our DNA,” she says.
And as Talking Rain’s profile has grown, so has its benevolence. “About seven years ago, we started the Cheers to Heroes initiative,” she recalls. “We worked with a non-profit called Honor Flight, which takes elderly war veterans to Washington DC to visit the memorials.”
Talking Rain began the journey with a goal of raising US$1 million for the cause, and last year that figure was achieved. “From there, we branched out to help the smaller communities we are a part of, ones that always get left out,” Morrison says.
The result was Cheers to You, a beautification project in which small towns are asked about their needs. “It might have been a basketball court or a pickleball court, but we’d go into the towns and build them,” she says. “Then we’d have a town party for everyone to celebrate.”
In 2023, that campaign became Flavorful Giving, which provides funding to a different non-profit every month. “Joy is what we’re looking for, and our product is all about having fun,” Morrison says. “It’s flavorful, so it’s been a delightful journey for us to give that fun back to the community.”
After a decade on the market, Talking Rain’s Sparkling Ice became an early adopter in the United States to use sucralose as a sweetener, cementing the company’s commitment to a finer product. In 2011, after years as a regional exclusive, the drink went national in response to public demand for better-for-you alternatives to soft drinks.
Just two years later, Talking Rain was named the fastest-growing non-alcoholic brand in the country. To bring any drink to the crowded beverage market is one thing; to make it succeed is another entirely.
To achieve this, Talking Rain has leaned on its powerful network of partnerships to guarantee the supply chain can keep its Sparkling Waters flowing. “We’re constantly working to improve our supply chain’s operational excellence,” Morrison says.
These partners have been instrumental in responding to market demands for a more sustainable product, not just inside the bottle but also the bottle itself.
“We’ve always prioritized sustainability and reducing our environmental impact, but it’s something our retailers focus on as well,” Morrison says.
“They want to make sure we’re sourcing responsibly, that we’re energy efficient, that our production processes are the best they can be, and that our packaging is sustainable.”
For Talking Rain, this has meant lowering the ground weight of its bottles, transitioning some stock-keeping units to trayless packaging and increasing its network of packers across the United States so that the journey to market is as short as possible.
“The value in doing so is that it actively futureproofs the world,” she says. “We’ve recently welcomed a Senior Vice President, Sustainability and Beverage Technologies to the team, and he’s been able to take our ESG vision to outside companies to a whole new level.”
That vision to craft products and embrace practices that build a better future for the business, the community and the planet has come into sharp focus recently for an industry keen to clean up and green up.
“Every team in this company, be it my team, the marketing team, the sales team or whoever, we all work together on our ESG and our sustainability in particular,” Morrison says. “When you’re a water company, sustainability is very important.”
The majority of Talking Rain’s hard work goes into creating a product that stands apart from the competition. Morrison says the formula is simple. “It’s better for you. It’s zero sugar and now, thanks to our Sparkling Ice +Caffeine, it has energy, which is something people want,” she says.
With Sparkling Ice and its stablemates available at major retailers throughout the United States, and a global expansion plan in place, Talking Rain seems to have hit maximum saturation. But Morrison says there’s much more rain to come.
“When you know your purpose, you can build your culture around it and attract new customers and talent as a result,” she says.
“We live our purpose every day, we were purpose-driven before there was a name for it. And we’ll continue to do that because we create connections with every sip.”