March 23, 2011
Putting the ‘Pop’ back into soda pop
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Convenience, cost, health, environmentalism, fun
The CEO likes to talk about five benefits of SodaStream: convenience (“You don’t have to carry bottles; you simply turn tap water into soda.”), cost (“A soft drink produced by SodaStream is much cheaper than the traditional beverage.”), health (“More people are switching to low-calorie, low-sugar, low-sodium food and drinks, and the company’s beverages answer that need.”), environmentalism (“Our products don’t require storage and don’t damage the environment like plastic bottles.”) and fun (“We call it a ‘happy’ product.”).
Not all these angles were evident at first.
“The environmental aspect was something I didn’t see right away,” he admitted, “but it is one of our most important marketing elements. Our reusable bottles eliminate the need for all the packaging used for soda bottles and cans.”
Every year, some 311 billion bottles and cans enter the waste stream — 140 billion in the United States alone.
SodaStream bottles are safe to use for up to 50,000 liters, and the flavor concentrate containers — 100 varieties, all produced at an Ashkelon factory — are recyclable. The machine itself is entirely mechanical and doesn’t need electricity or batteries.
Municipalities including Vienna; Dresden; Munich; Venice; and Trento, Italy; enclose SodaStream coupons in utility bills and sell the machines as a way of promoting municipal water and conservation.
A diverse labor force
Although just 3 percent of the company’s sales are made in Israel, the Ashkelon factory and another in the industrial park at Mishor Adumim in the West Bank are an integral part of SodaStream’s 14 manufacturing facilities. The others are in Germany, Australia, South Africa and China.
Due to the controversial location of the soda-making machine plant in Mishor, some European retailers prefer to receive their products from other countries or (unsuccessfully) pressure Birnbaum to print “Made in Palestine” on packaging.
In response, he has opened the Mishor factory to “social audits” four times. Representatives of European retailers are invited to tour the facility and speak with its 650 employees — Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, Bedouins, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants as well as Darfurian refugees — all protected by Israeli labor law and receiving social benefits and a hot meal daily.
Each spring, Birnbaum invites the public to a festival showcasing the diversity in the facility, complete with employee-created booths displaying aspects of different cultures from dance to art.
“The minimum wage here is four times higher than the Palestinian minimum wage, and the Palestinian Authority offers no social benefits,” Birnbaum said. “These people are delighted to work for us. It’s ironic when our European friends ask for us to shut down.”
The luxe Crystal model, featuring a glass carafe, received a 2010 Green Good Design Award from the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. The Pure model got a 2008 Red Dot Design Award at an international competition held in Singapore. Pop designer Karim Rashid even fashioned a limited-edition SodaStream machine in what he calls a “future retro” style.
In-store demos, celebrity endorsements, television and Internet advertising are all part of Birnbaum’s management vision “to make our brand hot, desirable and understood.”
“Israel is used to bringing technology to the world, but usually that’s something ‘hidden,’ like a software application or a microprocessor, while we’re sitting out on the kitchen counter in 4 million homes. I’m very proud to bring innovation to the world from Israel,” he said.
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