SodaStream: Getting on the Walmart shelves

story by Julie Bagley
jbagley@thecitywire.com

Making your own soda may date back more than 100 years but entering into the world’s largest retailer is new business.

If you’ve entered any retail store or listened to the radio, you’ve probably seen and heard about the SodaStream. It is the world leader in home carbonating systems with more than 10 million soda makers sold in more than 15 countries in the world. With years of changing hands, SodaStream started operations in Canada in 2010.

Two months ago, SodaStream finally made it on Walmart Canada shelves.

“Wal-Mart is our new baby,” SodaStream Canada President and CEO Marta Mikita said, “We are proud of it.”

Wal-Mart is the newest retailer to stock SodaStream. It is also the largest account for SodaStream in North America and probably its most complex.

Mikita said her company had to adjust to the way it does business. Right now, she said her company and its three Wal-Mart account-dedicated employees are in education and training mode. Those employees are only trained to analyze the product in Retail Link, the Wal-Mart database of sales, item file and stockholding information accessible by buyers and suppliers.

The SodaStream stands alone in its category inside stores. What kind of product is it? Drink? Health? Environmental? Entertainment? Company executives claim all of them. They call themselves pioneers.

It’s a sustainable item that creates a bubbly drink that uses 60% less sugar and kids love it because it makes funny noises. But with the fun-loving feelings comes business and how to manage Wal-Mart expectations.

“We specifically hired people so we can see what’s going on in each store and how we can help balance the merchandise better,” she said.

With 309 Walmart stores in Canada, Mikita credits good relationships and patience for getting her quirky product on the shelf.

“There are a lot of people involved with every step of the process. There are a lot things happening behind the scenes. You have to be forgiving. You are dealing with (Wal-Mart) Information Systems Division, Electronic Data Interchange and all of it needs to align.”

She said Walmart leverages suppliers to become successful because the retailer allows companies like hers into their systems.

“If something isn’t working, we know immediately. The other big banner stores, it takes longer to pass along the message. With Wal-Mart you can fix the problem immediately,” she explained.

Mikita didn’t elaborate on any specific problems but she did credit merchandising and Wal-Mart employees with helping her product along. SodaStream sits on the ever-coveted end cap in the stores and she said associates have been the best ambassadors with selling the product.

“Employees on the store-level have embraced this product,” she said.

Mikita said employees have tried this product themselves and passed their personal reviews onto customers. While she’s pleased with the merchandising in the store for making the product look “fresh and exciting” it’s the employees she said who have helped customers understand her product and ultimately buy it.

As Mikita said, “You can’t just put this on the shelf.”

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In the coming months leading to the holidays, demos in the stores will pop up. SodaStream will also collaborate with Kraft Canada on new syrups.

Mikita said she always heard being a Wal-Mart vendor partner can break or make a company, and she said she’s determined to make it.

“If you want to get on the Walmart shelves, be patient and be persistent. Nothing is perfect. There are going to be hiccups and mistakes. You have to look at the big picture,” Mikita said.

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