Will Texans Still Love Topo Chico If Coca-Cola Owns It?
For those who need bubbles in their belly but who are trying to cut down on the soda, sparkling water is becoming the carbonated beverage of choice.
But in Texas, not just any sparkling water will do. Last year, Texas Standard reported on how the rest of the world had finally tapped into something Texans have been big on for years: a little something from south of the border called Topo Chico.
Here’s what a few Texans from our show last year had to say about their beloved beverage:
"I enjoy it because ... it's more bubbly. It gets you at the back of the throat sometimes."
"It just tastes like Austin summer to me."
"It's the fizz, it really is just the fizz."
But now, the water has become so popular that the big guys are stepping in. And by big, this is the real thing. The Coca-Cola Company announced it’s buying Topo Chico for a cool $220 million.
Topo Chico is based in Mexico, and Coke is headquartered in Atlanta. But the water company does have some Texas roots according to Jill Cowan, who is following this story for the Dallas Morning News.
“Topo Chico’s American presence is actually based in Fort Worth. And I say “American presence” – they’ve got a pretty small team, and some of the folks work in other markets, marketing Topo Chico to get it into stores in California,” Cowan says.
Apparently these efforts are working to popularize the beverage on this side of the border.
“I’ve spoken to the general manger of the company that basically serves as Topo Chico’s U.S. president and they’ve sort of grown their sales here over the last decade,” Cowan says.
But it’s hard to tell how much of the marketing is intentional. For example, rarely if ever does Topo Chico advertise on television or billboards. So much of the drink’s success here seems to be organic, in the way that quintessentially “Texas” things take on a life and a reputation of their own.
“I think that’s certainly part of it,” Cowan says. “Gerardo Galván, the general manager of Interex Corp. who I’ve spoken to, has kind of managed this growth… The quality of the product for him, he thought, just sort of did the selling for it.”
Coca-Cola released a statement about their purchase of Topo Chico on the Coke website. Coke’s Venturing & Emerging Brands (VEB) unit is responsible for the acquisition.
“Basically they are trying to get into the sparking water business in a big way. I think that they’ve seen the writing on the wall about soda: fewer and fewer people are drinking that everyday,” she says.
The number one question for Topo Chico fans is, of course: does this spell change for their favorite beverage? Cowan says probably not.
“They, I think, recognized the appeal of a product like this,” she says. “So, I’m guessing, they have an incentive to keep it from changing too much because people will be real mad about it.”
A big part of the appeal of Topo Chico is its authenticity: “a taste of Mexico,” Cowan calls it. Will knowing Coke owns the brand water the authenticity down, so to speak?
“I think that everybody involved made a point of saying ‘we’re going to continue to bottle at our plant in Monterrey, Mexico,’” she says. “I don’t know how they plan to scale up. I don’t know enough about, sort of, the environment there, or the natural spring water they use. Those are all questions that we plan to ask and keep an eye on.”
Written by Kate Groetzinger.