Sapsucker builds the market for water from maple trees

The health-focused sparkling water brand is using meal kits to drive targeted trial and household penetration.


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Sapsucker is literally tapping the maple tree market, releasing a first-in-its-category sparkling tree water.

Last year, Sapsucker engaged Toronto creative agency Vanderbrand to rebrand and reposition it within the broader sparkling water category after it had originally entered the wellness beverage market as a “flat” water tapped from maple trees. It has now got a lineup of three lightly carbonated tree beverages, in original, lime and lemon flavour.

“We see ourselves as building a beverage category, disrupting the sparkling beverage space,” according to Sapsucker CEO Tim Lute, who says the brand is a premium up-trade to the growing, conventional sparkling water segment. He also describes it as “a better-for-you functional beverage,” a low-sugar and low-calorie refresher for those living active lifestyles.

When it comes to branding, “tree water” is the phrase that is used on pack, so consumers are not swayed by something that could be perceived as sweet, as brands like La Croix are. Lute says Sapsucker built a marketing narrative around not only an intriguing name, but the notion of notion of unexpected refreshment.

“When people try it and learn it is tree water harvested in maple trees, they are expecting indulgence, but it’s lighter and more refreshing,” Lute says.

The “pairs well with life” tagline the brand has been using on social is an occasion-based sentiment that matches with both mocktails and cocktails, Lute says – the brand is “proudly” non-alcoholic and plays in that category too.

The packaging uses simple typography, vibrant colours, no graphics and avoids the easy route of incorporating images of trees. But because the packaging is so simple, the brand needed complementary communication to help educate at point of sale.

VanderbrandSapsucker_039_Opt2_V1When Sapsucker first launched, it used shelf danglers and tent cards that would go into the lineup to pull out more of the benefits and reinforcing the unexpected refreshment messaging. Secondary packaging on eight-packs is impactful and looks great on end-caps, Lute says, and stands out on shelf in a competitive environment. Case stackers are going into market as more stores reopen.

Prior to COVID-19, Sapsucker partnered with downtown Toronto-based hip hop dance studio The Underground Dance Centre for an “instructor appreciation night” experiential marketing event. This was to reach out to its primary target of diverse 25- to 34-year-old females, a consumer segment that “values living well” and cares about supporting sustainability and local brands.

“It’s for those that don’t want to jeopardize their morning workout,” but he stresses that its demo values living well but is not militant about exercise. Sapsucker also went after the boutique fitness segment, partnering with high intensity interval workout chain Barry’s Bootcamp in Toronto.

As the pandemic has impacted both stores and events, Sapsucker has been able to take a highly segmented, direct route to drive trial and household penetration, focusing on providing “surprise and delight” moments. It worked with Toronto grocer Fresh City Farms to seed Sapsucker with Fresh City Farm VIP recipe kit customers, targeted at deliveries in specific Toronto neighbourhoods it wanted to reach. It is replicating this approach with plant-based meal kit Bio Raw and nutrition-focused meal kit Cook It.

Sapsucker has also partnered with Greenhouse Juice on direct-to-store distribution in Vancouver and is featured in its Plant Pantry, Greenhouse’s shoppable collection of healthy, locally sourced and sustainable products.

In Whole Foods, Sapsucker is in the main beverage aisle, adjacent to competitors like coconut water and sparkling water. It’s fairly consistent in its shelf approach across the natural specialty segment, at stores like Organic Garage, Summerhill Market, Choices Markets and Pusateri’s. Next month, there will be a Sobeys and Metro roll out in Ontario, which was delayed due to the pandemic.