Saratoga Water making a big splash as ‘Top Chef’ sponsor

Saratoga Water making a big splash as ‘Top Chef’ sponsor

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Spring Water, sold in sparkling and still versions in iconic cobalt-blue bottles, seems ubiquitous locally. Available in the Capital Region for a century and a half, it’s on shelves in supermarkets and convenience stores, and restaurant servers regularly inquire whether a table wants ice water from the tap or a bottle of Saratoga Water. But outside of New York and other parts of the Northeast, Saratoga Water was largely a secret or at least a cult favorite.

Until now. The beverage conglomerate BlueTriton Brands, with 14 lines of bottled water, in late 2021 bought the previously independent Saratoga Spring Water Co., which has a bottling plant on Geyser Road. The goal was to expand Saratoga Water into a national brand to coincide with its 150th anniversary last year.

The biggest push yet is a sponsorship deal with “Top Chef,” the Bravo reality series that began running its 20th season last week. Called “Top Chef: World All-Stars,” the new season’s episodes air at 9 p.m. Thursday on Bravo and are available starting the next day on the Peacock streaming service of Bravo’s parent company, NBCUniversal.

In “World All-Stars,” 16 winners or runners-up from five American and 11 international editions of past “Top Chef” seasons compete in London for the champion title and, as series host Padma Lakshmi puts it multiple times every episode, “$250,000 furnished by Saratoga Spring Water.” According to BlueTriton, the partnership also includes what’s known as “passive integration,” with competitors seen drinking, sometimes cooking with and otherwise using Saratoga Water regularly during episodes. It is also often on the series’ judges’ table during tastings.

“Everybody on the set loved it,” said Katie White, vice president of marketing and content partnerships for NBCUniversal. In addition to being seen on screen and mentioned as the prize sponsor, Saratoga Water will also receive digital promotions through Bravo and NBCUniversal’s channels, and Saratoga Water will cross-promote the “Top Chef” connection in its own marketing including store displays, White said. 

The placement gives major U.S. and international exposure to Saratoga Water, coming one season after the $250,000 grand prize was sponsored by San Pellegrino, the world’s most popular brand of bottled water, available in 135 countries. San Pellegrino says it sells a billion bottles a year. In contrast, BlueTriton bought 30 million cobalt-blue bottles to fill with Saratoga Spring Water and sell in  2023 to accommodate the brand expansion,  according to the company.

To generate awareness for the wide roll-out, BlueTriton decided to “partner with a national brand but also build that connection of Saratoga Water and fine dining,” said Brittany Lewis, senior brand manager for BlueTriton’s premium brands. She said Saratoga Spring Water is already available, or soon will be, in almost all 50 states and is carried by chains including Kroger, Publix and Target. (It also is in all Capital Region chain supermarkets, among many other local outlets.)

From Bravo’s perspective, “Saratoga Water really wowed us and showed us about their brand,” said White. Because “Top Chef” goes beyond cook-offs to tell stories about its competitors’ lives, backgrounds and food cultures, the series saw a natural fit, according to White.

“There was so much there: Saratoga, fine dining, cooking, the history and the community,” said White. “Once we saw that alignment, it was a no-brainer.”

During 20 American seasons since the 2006 premiere of “Top Chef” and its more than 20 licensed international versions that began in 2009, the show has “really changed the way people in the U.S. and around the world think of fine dining,” Lewis said.

Saratoga Water being the grand-prize sponsor one season after a behemoth like San Pellegrino was a bonus, Lewis said.

“They laid the groundwork for thinking a water brand could be a sponsor” and associated with fine dining, Lewis said, adding, “We utilized that to elevate our brand as well.”

White said “Top Chef” didn’t set out to have consecutive seasons’ grand prizes be supplied by water companies. The timing of the 20th season being shot last year happened to coincide with BlueTriton’s campaign to grow the market for Saratoga Water, White said, and the series saw how it could incorporate the new branding partner into “Top Chef” the way it does with regular sponsors including BMW, which supplies SUVs that contests drive around host cities and on errands including shopping runs to Whole Foods, another sponsor.

“Top Chef” is famously secretive in advance about most details of its seasons. Lewis said BlueTriton was aware that “World All-Stars” was set in London because it had to arrange to ship a huge amount of Saratoga Water: 22 pallets, with up to 54 cases per pallet, depending on bottle size. BlueTriton senior staff had occasional opportunities to vet small segments regarding the way Saratoga Water was being used on the show, Lewis said, but otherwise they were often as surprised as the public when the distinctive blue bottles appeared during last week’s premiere episode.

In furthering awareness of the brand, BlueTriton is developing a formal name for the bottle color that it hopes to trademark, Lewis said, with the goal of making it as iconically associated with high-quality springwater as the green bottles with a blue label and red star of San Pellegrino, a brand established with its current name 24 years after the founding of Saratoga Spring Water, Lewis said.

The company’s bottling plant is and will remain in Saratoga, she said, but as output grows, water is sourced from springs around the Northeast to ensure continuity of flavor and prevent overtaxing of resources from individual springs.

Founded in 1872, Saratoga Spring Water capitalized on the popularity of Saratoga as a spa destination where people came to drink waters from natural mineral springs for purported health benefits. In recent decades, owners included the beverage giant  Anheuser-Busch, which sold it to Evian Waters of France. In 2000, Saratoga Spring Water was sold to a Connecticut investment firm, and veteran Saratoga Water executive Adam Madkour purchased the business the following year. He sold it to BlueTriton two and a half years ago.

BlueTriton’s portfolio includes Saratoga Spring Water, Poland Spring and 12 other regional bottled-water brands. BlueTriton previously was known as Nestle Waters North America before being sold in summer 2021 to an investment group, which led to the name change.

This story originated in the weekly Table Hopping newsletter, delivered free via email on Thursday afternoons. Sign up to subscribe

 

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