HE'S KNOWN as a
savvy marketer, but even Jones Soda founder and CEO Peter van Stolk has a hard
time talking up one of his products. "It's disgusting," he says of
Perspiration soda, a recent addition to the Jones lineup. "It tastes like
win taste tests, but it's proof that the tiny, Seattle-based Jones is suddenly
a player in the competitive soft-drink and sports-sponsorship fields. The salty
brew is one of five novelty flavors—the others are Dirt, Natural Field Turf,
Sports Cream and Sweet Victory—in a line of Seattle Seahawks--themed Jones
sodas, part of the sponsorship deal the company and team struck last May. The
five-year agreement gives Jones nonalcoholic beverage rights at Qwest Field,
the only NFL stadium where soda products other than Coke or Pepsi are sold.
( Coke, which had been the Seahawks' soda for nearly 30 years, and Pepsi had
$56.7 billion in combined revenues last year. Jones took in $39 million.) Last
month Van Stolk broke into the NBA market: Jones will become the New Jersey
Nets' provider when the team moves to Brooklyn in 2009.
Terms of both
deals were undisclosed, but Nets CEO Brett Yormark says the Jones sponsorship
is "more lucrative" than what more established brands were offering.
"We were talking to Coke and Pepsi," he says, "but we felt it was
important to be the centerpiece of any marketing portfolio we were part
of"—meaning the Nets can enjoy Jones's undivided NBA promotional attention.
Indeed, Van Stolk has stressed tailored marketing since he branched into the
soda business in 1996. A former ski instructor who ran a fruit stand and juice
distributorship in hisnative Edmonton, Van Stolk started producing customized
labels for his microbrewed sodas: customers mailed in pictures, and the company
designed vanity bottles. Says Van Stolk, "I wanted to start a brand that
had some fun in what had always been a conservative arena."
In addition to the
football flavors, Jones sells Seahawks labels featuring QB Matt Hasselbeck and
receiver Deion Branch and will do the same for the Nets. The approach has been
a hit. Van Stolk says soda sales at Qwest are up more than 30% this year;
Yormark was so impressed that he sought out Van Stolk and asked the company to
sponsor the Nets. Does that mean he's tried Perspiration? "I have not,"
Yormark says. "I've been sticking with black cherry."