As part of visiting Atlanta Coffee Shops, something that I have been developing is the power of observation. As I traverse and spend hours in Atlanta-area coffee shops, I am paying attention to the atmosphere, the customers, the food and drink offerings, and many other elements.
Recently, in combination with physical observation, I observed the following: people raving about Topo Chico mineral water, and coffee shops eagerly wanting to partner with Topo Chico for brand awareness or to just stock the beverage in the coffee shop establishment. Which led me to the fundamental question: what is behind the “Topo Chico Effect”? Is it a fad or some kind of cult? Or is Topo Chico legitimately a wonderful brand and a great/tasty sparkling beverage?
To help me parse what is going on, I created a poll on Instagram Stories titled “Wednesday Wonder: The Topo Chico Effect.” I asked the following:
Why is Topo Chico so popular and why do coffee shops want to partner with them so much? Or is this a case of selection bias from limited observations? And why do you like to drink Topo Chico?
First, from where did my initial observation stem with respect to noticing that coffee shops want to partner with Topo Chico? I first noticed the push with one of the coffee shops I have profiled in the Atlanta area, Gilly Brew Bar. They have been posting on their Instagram several posts and stories with Topo Chico being used in some of their elixirs. At one point, Gilly Brew Bar created a fun Instagram poll: “Do you sense a partnership developing with Topo Chico?” with two choices for the viewers to select from: “TOPO” and “NOPO.” It looked like the push has worked and now Topo Chico appears to be partnered with Gilly Brew Bar.
Furthermore, I also noticed people visiting Atlanta coffee shops tagging Topo Chico in their Instagram stories and posts. One barista even has proclaimed his love for Topo Chico in his Instagram bio:
So the dual observation of coffee shops wanting to partner with Topo Chico, and people proclaiming their love/fascination with Topo Chico (whether working in the coffee industry or not) spurred the Instagram poll cited above.
Personal Tastes & Preferences
The Instagram poll was viewed by approximately 500 people and there were about a dozen responses. It was very interesting to see how people responded, both from a personal perspective as well as from insiders working at coffee shops.
Here is the summary for people’s general appreciation for Topo Chico:
“It has a cool bottle!”
“It has one of the best bite of the sparkling waters” (compared to San Pellegrino and Perrier, for example)
“I’m addicted to sparkling water and for me nothing else (Le Croix, Perrier, San Pellegrino) tastes better”
“The branding is appealing to the Gen Z’ers. Gen Z Yellow is the new Millennium Pink”
“Topo Chico was purchased by Coca-Cola, so I think their marketing $ are helping”
“I like it because it has sustainable packaging, but it’s not a huge taste factor for me.”
So a cool glass bottle, great taste profile, and perhaps alluring color/branding. That sort of makes sense. The most compelling reason to me would be one of taste: how does it actually compare to the other sparkling waters out there (think La Croix, Perrier, San Pellegrino, Montane)? If Topo Chico legitimately tastes better than the sparkling beverage alternatives, then the Topo Chico effect is warranted. It seems a few passionate responders did confirm that the taste profile of Topo Chico is better than the other sparkling waters. NOTE: this author conducted a taste test and could not come to the same overwhelming conclusion—although the bubbling effect was significantly more pronounced than with other sparkling waters. Note the photo and video below.
A six-second video of the bubbles from the Topo Chico drink in a glass:
Naturally, there were a few dissenters in the mix about the “Topo Chico Effect.” Here is a partial list of responses:
“It’s a good drink with espresso as it enhances a lot of flavors but Montane does the same.”
“It’s an aesthetic everyone wants to pursue, even though it’s literally just sparkling water.”
“Slightly above average hipster water with a vibrant yellow graphic motif… sold for $3.99!”
So in conclusion, for people’s personal tastes & preferences, it seems that Topo Chico stands above the other sparkling waters (some people find the taste “cleaner” or that Topo Chico carries “more bite”). For some, the sustainable glass bottle is an important consideration, which is laudable. Some claim that the taste of Topo Chico is better compared to other sparkling drinks because of the glass bottle: there is no “plastic-y” taste after-effects, for example. And from a personal observation: Topo Chico is extraordinarily bubbly. But impressive bubbliness isn’t a legitimate reason to fall head over heels with a beverage.
In further conversation by Instagram DM, I learned another element which makes Topo Chico (the brand) attractive to some people: the company gives out swag/merchandise/souvenirs at some pop-ups and events that couldn’t be found elsewhere. So the collectable element of Topo swag drives some people to become fans/enthusiasts/lovers of the brand.
Topo Chico at Coffee Shops
The second part of the poll was in consideration of why coffee shops want to stock Topo Chico, or beyond that, to partner with them in creative marketing efforts. The answer here was helpfully elucidated by Justin, manager at Read Shop.
Distribution and Access. Topo Chico can be easily sourced/accessed by coffee shops since it is owned by the parent company Coca-Cola. There isn’t a supply shortage of the product, as compared, to say, the oat milk brand Oatly.
High Profit Margin. A single Topo Chico 12 oz. beverage retails at around $1.50 in Whole Foods or select grocery stores. But a coffee shop can sell this beverage for between $2.50 and $4 a pop, while acquiring the drink at less than $1 when purchasing in bulk. So that’s a 300% profit margin for a product that is easy to stock! As Justin wrote, “Topo has somehow created a more premium alternative [to sparkling beverages] that becomes a bringer of profit rather than a slasher of margins” for coffee shops.
A Premium Coffee Experience. For some people, a sparkling beverage and an espresso go well together and they consume them by mixing Topo Chico and espresso together. This seems to be a taste/preference demand to satisfy these coffee enthusiasts, and Topo Chico is filling this demand.
A Passive Order Item at Coffee Shops. Topo Chico is a passive item that one can order in a coffee shop if he or she has been lingering in a cafe for a while. Think, for example, of people using the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi for an extended period of time, and it’s late afternoon. You’ve already had lunch but it’s not quite dinner, and perhaps it’s too late for that extra caffeine boost. So what do you do? You order a Topo Chico.
Alternative to Coffee. Topo Chico is a go-to item for those people that want to frequent a coffee shop but don’t want to purchase a coffee. For some of these customers, Topo Chico is a natural go-to order.
Complementary to Certain Food Items. A Topo Chico pairs well with some food offerings that coffee shops carry. At some coffee shops, for example, a Topo Chico is a natural “go-to” item for people who are grabbing lunch/small plates (either in the shop or to-go).
From the above considerations, it makes sense that coffee shops want to stock Topo Chico: it’s a high-margin product, easily accessible, and coffee enthusiasts appreciate its taste.
Topo Chico on Social Media
One other notable consideration to make is Topo Chico’s approach and accessibility on social media (specifically, on Instagram). From a review of their account, there isn’t a particular aesthetic or color palette that the brand is building or developing on Instagram (compare, for example, to a carefully curated page by Perrier, where the oranges and greens dominate). One gets the sense that Topo Chico is more laid back and carefree on Instagram, without trying too hard to meet a certain quality or design standard. [Editor’s Note: a fascinating article that came out earlier this year in The Atlantic titled “The Instagram Aesthetic is Over” describes how influencers are abandoning a certain Instagram look and are making their photos purposefully unprocessed/unstaged in favor of authenticity—this approach on Instagram can be likened to Topo Chico’s presence on Instagram].
Importantly, the Topo Chico brand/account is highly engaged on Instagram with its fans/followers, often reposting fans’/followers’ images on Topo Chico’s Instagram Stories. There’s even an Instagram highlight called “Fans.” Fans of Topo Chico feel connected with the brand when there’s a high level of interaction and engagement.
Compared to other major sparkling water brands, the Topo Chico Instagram account follows more regular people / fans (i.e., not other brands, celebrities, or influencers), which can be broadly gauged with the Instagram followers/following metrics. Below is a snapshot of six popular sparkling water brands and their metrics on Instagram as of September 1, 2019:
Topo Chico has the lowest Followers/Following ratio among the six sparkling water brands—one indication they are following and engaging with their fan base more so than the other sparkling water brands. In general, people do want to be heard and feel connected to a brand, and Topo Chico is doing a tremendous job engaging with its fan base. Nothing against the other sparkling beverage brands, it just seems that Topo Chico is more approachable, accessible, and engaging with its audience/fan base than the other sparkling waters. With this approach, Topo Chico is building very strong brand loyalty.
So is the Topo Chico Effect real? Based on the evidence provided above, the answer is yes on two fronts: 1) many people love the Topo Chico taste and how the brand engages with them online/on social media and 2) coffee shops want to stock Topo Chico because it is easy to source, it’s a high margin product, and it sells well.
Which brings us to the final consideration: why are coffee shops eager to partner with Topo Chico in official or unofficial capacity? This is still an observation in the making, but perhaps it’s the combination of a very fun brand that taps into our collective fascination with coffee, culture, social media, fashion, and more.
What are your thoughts about Topo Chico? Feel free to respond in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This post was is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with Topo Chico. I did not communicate or reach out to Topo Chico about writing/publishing this post.