Quirky Jones Soda steps into mainstream

$34 million brand expands into candy, lip balm

By Published on .

Peter van stolk has broken virtually every rule in beverage marketing. Now, as he plots to take his Jones Soda Co. cult brand to the masses, he's planning on bending a few more.

Mr. van Stolk has challenged convention with quirky, neon-colored drinks with offbeat flavors like Blue Bubblegum, Bugjuice and Happy. With his patented packaging system that allows customers to personalize their own cases with custom photos and sayings, he elevated the brand to represent self-expression through taste. He later added limited-edition drinks like Turkey and Gravy and Candy Corn that raised Jones' hip quotient into a new stratosphere.

Early on, Mr. van Stolk wormed the brand into board shops, tattoo parlors and music retailers. Squeezed out by the big guys, Jones began inking distribution deals directly with the likes of Panera Bread, Starbucks Corp., and Barnes and Noble. In 2004, the company set a two-year licensing deal with Target, in which the retailer pays for concentrate and bottles and distributes the soda.

beyond beverages

Now, he's intent on building the $34 million brand by breaking out of the beverage aisle. The company has licensed the Jones name for products from lip balms to popsicles. It will launch Jones Soda Flavor Boosters candy in June under a licensing agreement with Big Sky Brands. The carbonated candy can be eaten as is, or dropped into a Jones drink to create an extreme fizz.

"We're changing the game playing by different rules," said Mr. van Stolk. "Why play like a beverage company when I can play like a candy company and why play like a candy company when I can play like a fashion company?"

But going more mainstream may also mean growing up. "You're looking at a brand that had a media budget last year of basically zero with no media purchases whatsoever," said Mr. van Stolk. "I don't think we can do that forever."

In fact, the company received a commercial produced by a Jones aficionado and Mr. van Stolk said he wants to distribute it beyond the jonessoda.com Web site, where consumers already post their own commercials, quotes and photos. Jones zealots also use the site to chat about music and share their Jones experiences.

"Jones Soda isn't about soda, it's about self expression," said Larry Wu, VP-consumer strategist, food and beverage at research consultant Iconoculture. The question, he said, is "How do you go mainstream without losing that connection to the subculture?"
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