Sparkling water (both regular and spiked) is having a moment. In the few years since LaCroix opened the floodgates, there’s been a rush of upstart brands, acquisitions, and advertising dollars flooding the market. Now, Coca-Cola faces an interesting test: can they capitalize on the opportunity to take a beloved brand nationwide without losing its soul in the process?
That’s the challenge the multinational beverage company faces with Tex-Mex cult classic Topo Chico, which it acquired for $220 million two years ago. Bottled in Monterrey, Mexico, but beloved in hip enclaves like Austin, Topo Chico was built on a legend that the thermal waters of the Cerro del Topo Chico once cured an Aztec princess’ illness. Though that’s likely a myth, Topo Chico acolytes swear by its restorative (anti-hangover) properties and general ability to beat the heat of a harsh Texan or Mexican summer.
The brand is so closely tied to those regions that spots in Austin threatened to boycott Topo Chico after Coca-Cola’s acquisition, but that hasn’t slowed its growth amidst a cautious nationwide rollout. According to data from market research firm IRI cited by Bloomberg Topo Chico sales shot up to $130 million over a one-year period after the acquisition, representing 39% growth over the prior period. Still, that’s far below the sales of Bubly, Pepsi’s foray into the sparkling water category, which raked in $171 million in sales between June 2018 and June 2019 according to IRI.
Given that Pepsi created its Bubly line out of thin air, it seems like Coca-Cola is comparatively hamstrung given that it needs to balance growth in corners of the country as far-flung as New Jersey and Hawaii while maintaining the integrity of a brand that turns 125 in 2020. For what it’s worth, Arca Continental SAB, the original parent company and continuing bottler of Topo Chico, seem to think it’s is in good hands. “Coca-Cola is aware they’re buying a brand that needs to be taken care of,” Ramon Maraboto, who manages the Topo Chico bottling plant for Arca, told Bloomberg. “This brand has its own fingerprint.”
With Maraboto estimating that U.S. sales might surpass Mexican sales as early as next year, it’s clear that Topo Chico is on the march. So if you see it on store shelves sometime soon (if you haven’t already), just know that it’s not some upstart to the seltzer game, but a fiercely-loved favorite whose legacy crosses borders. And maybe it manages to cure whatever ails you.
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