See Yourself Inside: A can of bubly

Illustration of can of bubly llustration of can of bubly
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Launched in 2018, bubly is the newest PepsiCo product to take the country by storm. Learn how multifaceted teams worked together to bring this dynamic brand to life. Let’s dive in.

In February 2017, Greg Lyons was barely a month into his new role as PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer when he saw an extraordinary opportunity: Sales of domestic sparkling water had doubled between 2015 and 2017. Yes, there were already a lot of choices for consumers, and PepsiCo could have just bought an existing brand. But Lyons believed his teams could develop a new sparkling water brand and do it better.

The Launch of Project X

Executives were worried they were almost too far behind the competition to catch up, so a sparkling water product had to be executed with lightning speed. That is where Project X (the original name for bubly) began.

Lyons convened a team and gave them just 60 days to come back with an idea for a new product that would compete in the space — and win. And one more thing: Whatever idea they sparked had to launch in 2018.

Step #1: Research and Insight

The push to develop new products in-house from the ground up had recently taken hold at PepsiCo. The starting point for any new product is consumer research, and the company has an entire department devoted to conducting research, acquiring data and analyzing all that research and data to know exactly what consumers are looking for.

Soon, something jumped out at Project X’s consumer research team: Most sparkling water brands on the market were somewhat stagnant heritage brands like Schweppes, S.Pellegrino and Canada Dry.

“We learned there was no one brand that truly owned fun,” says Joe McHugh, senior director, insights and analytics. PepsiCo had found its true north: Fun.

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bubly began in February 2017 as Project X. The goal: Develop a new sparkling water beverage and get it on shelves in just 18 months.

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Developing the drink took the full power of PepsiCo, with a team that included researchers, scientists, flavorists, designers and marketers.

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As of 2020, all bubly is packaged in 100% recyclable cans as part of a push for maximum sustainability along the supply chain.

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The biggest challenge for food scientists: creating maximum impact with minimal ingredients, and absolutely no carbs or calories.

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For each variety of bubly, flavorists created up to 30 recipes to perfect the taste.

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The sweetness that you taste in the pineapple flavor comes from fruity esters that help enhance the subtle cotton candy notes of a fresh pineapple.

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It’s a sustainable practice to ship just flavor ingredients to bottling plants where they’re combined with locally sourced water.

At every plant, the water has to meet identical standards for purity, carbonation and pH level.

It just felt like everything that we were going to do had to be centered around bringing smiles. And that’s kind of how bubly was born.

Joe McHugh

senior director, insights and analytics

But even insights professionals can have doubts. McHugh recalls that his faith was shaken near the end. “We’d done our final research step, sending products to consumers’ homes and having them evaluate it. Our research partner came back and told us that it was going to be a risky proposition and I was like, ‘Hey, what do you mean by that?’”

It turned out many consumers weren’t fans. But then McHugh’s strategy instincts kicked in. He had the researchers split up the responses between general market consumers and sparkling water consumers. “And for sparkling water consumers, this was a home run. People loved it.”

Career Insight

Commercial Advanced Analytics & Insight Senior Manager: The senior manager worked on bubly “morning, noon and night” to fast track insight and get the product into development. That position gets to work with packaging designers and brand marketers to turn data and analysis into a successful product.

Step #2: Development

Once you know what consumers want, you have to create it. Project X was officially underway, with an aggressive launch date of August 2018. The next challenge: Could PepsiCo create the perfect fun flavors? Where does fun meet science?

Enter Deirdre Forrester, associate principal scientist. A certified member of the Society of Flavor Chemists, who memorized more than 4,000 flavor ingredients by smell and can sketch out their chemical structure.

“Before you can even get on the bench and start making flavors, you really have to understand who your consumer is and what they want. Who is your target audience? What’s the age range? Is it millennial moms?” says Forrester. “It’s one thing to say, I want a peach flavor. The next question is, What type of peach?

When fine-tuning a peach flavor, PepsiCo flavorists can use lactones (which occur naturally in fruit and dairy products) to build a creamy body or fruity esters (which come out in fruits during fermentation) for a strong aroma. Then they can see if the flavors are along the lines of what the product development team is shooting for.

By the end, 30 flavors were created that were then whittled down to the final eight. “In my experience, that’s never been done for PepsiCo beverages before they even launch,” she says.

I could go on and on about the challenges that we faced. But I would just say that it was a big challenge and a big accomplishment.

Deirdre Forrester

associate principal scientist

Career Insight

Associate Scientist, Flavorist Trainee: So you want to be a Flavor Chemist? The best way to learn is to work for a company like PepsiCo that trains flavorists internally. (Most trainees have a degree in chemistry or a similar field.) You apprentice under a master or senior flavor chemist and learn about the basics of raw materials, essential oils, botanical extracts and aroma chemicals. Then, after five years, you take your apprentice certification to become a certified Junior Flavor Chemist. Then, after two additional years, you take a more rigorous full certification to become a certified Flavor Chemist.

Step #3: Design

Now that the team had eight flavors, they needed eight designs.

That true north star of fun informed every aspect of the design. From the bold colors to playful fonts, the designers wanted bubly to stand out on the supermarket shelf. They also wanted small touches that brand fans would geek out to whenever they got a new flavor. The designers tasted each flavor of bubly as a first step in developing the color palette for each one.

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When PepsiCo researchers investigated sparkling water, they found people most wanted something “fun to drink.” That became the true north for design, and the smile was born.

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Designers approached the can with four elements in mind: the smile, cheeky greetings, bubbles and the perfect color for each flavor.

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As a first step in selecting the color palette for each flavor, designers tasted each one from a small sampling cup served by the R&D team.

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An integral part of bubly branding, bubbles tee up the sparkling goodness inside each can.

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The smile is central to the design – it’s even included as part of the logo in the “u”.

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Each flavor gets its own version that includes an element of the flavor inside.

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Each tab says hello in its own way – always in five characters or fewer. And even a little tab is a big part of the supply chain: The tab for each new flavor takes 24 weeks to prepare.

“There are a ton of fun little things that make the brand personality come to life, like the greetings on the tab and the little U in the logo that hints at a smile,” says designer Desiree Tomich. Even the smiles on the back of each can give a nod to the flavor: The strawberry smile has seeds and the lime has wedges.

Near the nutrition facts, every flavor has different copy: cheeky stuff like Hold cans with me or Here’s to the next sip.

Desiree Tomich


And the fun goes beyond the can. Each flavor has three different sayings per multipack. So you might walk into the store one day and get an 8-pack of grapefruit that reads, You can’t tell, but I’m blushing, and on your next grocery trip pick a box that reads something else. “The idea behind all of that is the brand has this sense of personality and fun to it,” she says. “Some customers don’t notice, but our brand fans notice.”

Career Insight

Consumer Designer: According to designer Desiree Tomich, as a designer you need to understand your craft, but a PepsiCo designer also has to understand the business side of the brand since you’re working closely with finance, marketing and research (among others) to create the perfect product. “And I love seeing the end result,” she says. “Like when I walk into the store and I see a pack of bubly that I designed, I get super jazzed.”

Step #4: Manufacturing and Supply Chain

The supply chain includes every step from planning production and sourcing materials to getting products from bottling plants to stores. In the case of bubly, the supply chain is massively complex and even includes sourcing the white base coating on each can and the ink for each different flavor. Just sourcing the can tab in a new color for a new flavor can take up to 24 weeks.

“I’m working with marketing, with finance, with engineering, with research and design, and bringing it together to make sure we hit the launch date and get the product out there. There are a hundred million things that go on,” says Vikas Bhayana, senior manager, integration.

From the moment the bubly flavors were greenlit, Bhayana and his team started to figure out what factories could produce it, where the ingredients would come from and how many cans were needed to fill consumer demand. It didn’t stop there. Once the cans started coming off the line, he figured out where to send them and how. But then that amazing day came when the bubly was sitting in the warehouses and ready to go to stores.

And then we basically turn a switch on right before launch. And then we really start selling bubly.

Vikas Bhayana

senior manager, integration

Career Insight

PepsiCo Supply Chain Associate: This is the place to start if you’re interested in supply chain. This position lets you see the full length of the logistics through various assignments in production, warehouse operations, maintenance, quality, planning, transportation engineering, customer integration, commercialization and supply chain strategy.

Step #5: Marketing

Once the bubly was in the warehouses and ready to go to market, how would PepsiCo tell the world about it? In 2018, a new, in-house–created product was a bit of an anomaly for the company, but a great challenge for the marketers.

“Being able to create a new brand in the complex ecosystem of PepsiCo was truly amazing. Once in a lifetime for sure,” says Marisa Bartning, director of marketing.

We were trying to launch with eight flavors. How were we even going to get the shelf space for that?

Marisa Bartning

director of marketing

They started big, releasing their first ad campaign during the 2018 Oscars. Then, a year later, they decided to invite a celebrated crooner to the party.

“I think the most rewarding moment was seeing our Superbowl ad with Michael Bublé,” says Bartning. “It was an epic moment for everyone who had built this brand from the start. It was like, ‘Okay, we’ve made it. It’s real.’”

That ad reached more than 85 million viewers and, according to Comscore, raised consumer awareness by 25%. A few months later, in July 2019, PepsiCo chairman & CEO Ramon Laguarta said he believed that bubly would become “one of our next billion dollar brands.”

In just under a year, Project X went from being a bright idea to actual cans of bubly in stores and consumers’ refrigerators. The launch had been a downright sprint that put nearly every department of PepsiCo to the test. And the result was an absolute hit.

You might even say it came out of a bubble … perfectly formed

Career Insight

Brand Marketing: Giving brands a voice is the main goal of PepsiCo marketers. “Our job is ensuring that everything from the look and feel to the tonality of the brands can come to life,” Marisa Bartning, director of marketing, says. It also means you get to work on ad campaigns, sports partnerships, social media campaigns and everything it takes to keep a brand exciting and relevant to consumers.