July's Industry Insights: Heather McDowell, Tickle Water
We sat down with Heather McDowell, co-founder and CEO of Tickle Water, one of our newest exhibitors from the 2017 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York to learn more about this product marketed for kids but great for all ages.
How did the idea for Tickle Water come to be?
Tickle Water was inspired by my son, Jayger. I call him my “co-founder”. He was always grabbing my sparkling water when he was just 2 years old. One day, I said to myself, “why not?” and gave him a little of my sparkling water. I told him it would “tickle” his tongue with the little bubbles. He took his first sip of carbonation and giggled and from that moment on began asking me for “Tickle Water”. So, the name stuck. I had many conversations with other parents who said their children also loved bubbles, but we couldn’t find on the shelf anything that was made with kids in mind. So I decided I should do it! I wanted to create an alternative to the sugary juices and sodas that are currently offered for kids. Hence, Tickle Water was born!
What was your process like bringing your product to market?
It has been one year since we launched in the NY metro area. There are some challenges – simply because stores have limited shelf space, with a lot of products fighting for it. However in just 12 months we have grown to over 400 stores, Amazon.com, Jet.com and taldepot.com. We are seeing a lot of interest and excitement around our water and the brand in general. Many parents are thrilled and relieved to have found a bubbly water for their kids. Consumers are instantly drawn to our package. We have found that people enjoy that our bubble is a little softer than most seltzers on the market. Our carbonation is lighter on the pallet, but our flavors are very distinct. We are seeing an organic adoption of Tickle Water by Millennials and adults – they love our bubbles straight out of the can or as a zero calorie cocktail mixer.
How did you come up with the first flavors for Tickle Water?
I wanted “kid-friendly” and simple, discernable flavors for our first line up. I did taste tests with kids and adults at playgrounds, birthday parties and play-dates. We tried many variations. And the winning flavors were: watermelon, green apple and grape. We are coming out with a new flavor later this summer – which is a surprise but will be our first dual flavor combination! It is really good, probably my favorite! We are excited to bring that to the market soon.
You have some pretty wonderful product art. How did these designs come to fruition?
We worked with a design firm here in NY who came up with our logo and animal illustrations. But I was very involved in the design process. To be honest, working closely with the designers was one of my favorite parts of the process of creating our brand. I knew I wanted metallic gold, a premium feel, a pop of color and animals – because who doesn’t love animals? It was very important that our brand was not too juvenile as it needed to be marketed to all ages. I call our design “sophico-cool”.
What makes your product stand apart from the other sparkling waters on the market?
Our package. We are the only beverage in America to come in an 8.0oz clear PET can. I love the transparency of our can as well as the size. It’s the right amount of water for really anyone. It fits in a lunch box, a back pack, your purse, and it’s also a great size for a cocktail mixer for adults.
Why did you decide to bring your product to the NY Restaurant Show?
I believe that our product is a great item to have on-premise, not just on grocery store shelves. I knew Tickle Water could do great in office cafeterias, poolside, country clubs, bars and restaurants. I really wanted to see if the market agreed. And they did!
What did you leave this year's show having gained?
We gained a lot! We secured a few new accounts such as: office buildings, JPMorgan Chase is ordering our water, a country club in Long Island, Stew Leonard’s and others. I also learned a lot about food service distribution, which we are in the process of securing. It was an excellent show for us and we look forward to coming back next year!
What would you say to someone considering exhibiting at the NY Restaurant Show?
I would say do it! It’s a great value and networking. I felt like there was a nice mix of vendors, a very good showing of customers, and a smooth app to help maintain all your contacts in one place.
Where can people find Tickle Water today?
Kings, Fairway, Best Market, Stew Leonard’s, IGA, Key Food, Brooklyn Fare, Zabar’s, Westside Market, Garden of Eden, King Kullen, Amazon, Jet.com., Taldepot.com – to name a few. Soon you will find us in many stores in Florida, including Total Wine and Earth Origins Market.