Sample Essay Topic -- Sparkling Water is the New Soda
Sparkling Water is the New Soda
The hottest drink in America is water with bubbles.
Long a kitchen table staple in European households, sparkling water is making inroads in the U.S. thanks largely to Americans’ waning interest in soda. Between 2009 and 2014, the volume of carbonated bottled water sold in the U.S. has increased by 56.4 percent, according to data from Euromonitor International, a market research firm. Soda drinking declined sharply during the same period.
Still, sparkling water sales are a fraction of soda sales. The U.S. soda market is worth about $39 billion, according to Euromonitor. The market for unflavored sparkling water, flavored sparkling water and "functional" water -- a category that includes flavored still water and enhanced still water like Smartwater -- is just $4 billion.
It has a way to go before it catches up to soda, but sparkling water is indeed having a moment.
The growth in millions of liters of sparkling water sold in the U.S.
According to Euromonitor International, Sparkling Water sales grew from 400 million liters per year to 667 million liters per year in 2015, and are projected to grow to almost 800 million liters per year in 2019.
The decline in millions of liters of soda sold in the U.S. (Note that the scale is very different from the chart above, with soda sales still dwarfing sparkling water sales.)
According to Euromonitor International, soda sales fell from 40 billion liters per year to about 32 billion liters per year in 2015, and are projected to fall to just over 30 billion liters per year in 2019.
Americans’ growing obsession with health is the biggest reason for the shift, according to Jonas Feliciano, a global beverage analyst at Euromonitor. Coke and Pepsi have resorted to hawking products like energy drinks and even milk to boost sales as Americans become increasingly wary of the high levels of sugar in soda.
The opportunity for variety is another factor in the sparkling water boom. These beverages are available in a range of flavors, from orange-pineapple to kiwi-strawberry. Feliciano noted that most mainstream soda comes in just cola and lemon-lime flavors. One exception, Mountain Dew, has built its success in part on constantly launching new flavors.
“[Americans] are turning away from things that identify with soda and instead are turning toward things that identify with water,” Feliciano said. “If I’m looking for health and I’m looking for variety, sparkling water with different flavors seems to provide that.”
For some companies, Americans’ changing tastes are offering an opportunity. The growth in sales at Washington-based Talking Rain Beverage Company, which makes flavored sparkling water, has pretty much directly mirrored the rise of the beverage's popularity. The company brought in more than $384 million in sales in 2014 compared to just $2.7 million in 2009. Sparkling Ice, a Talking Rain line of zero-calorie sparkling water in flavors like pink grapefruit and peach nectarine, is responsible for most of that growth.
Kevin Klock, Talking Rain’s CEO, says the company doesn’t try to make health claims about its drinks because shoppers recognize on their own that sparkling water is probably healthier than soda.
“It’s great that it’s zero calories, but it’s probably not the number one thing the consumer is looking for,” Klock said. “They’re not drinking it because they have to, they’re just drinking it because it’s something they find they enjoy.”
Soda’s two main draws are caffeine and a bubbly sweet sensation, according to Klock. As concerns about soda’s health consequences mount, drinkers are turning to coffee and energy drinks for their caffeine fix, and flavored sparkling waters for that throat-tickling combination of bubbles and sweetness.
“I don’t see it as a fad,” Klock said of flavored sparkling water, noting that the trend in all beverages, including liquor and beer, is toward more variety and flavor.
SodaStream is betting big that interest in sparkling water continues to grow. The at-home carbonation machine company has shifted its marketing in recent months to focus more on the product's ability to make sparkling water and less on its ability to make soda. SodaStream rebranded its devices as sparkling-water makers instead of soda makers, and it has changed its slogan from “set the bubbles free” to “water made exciting.”
The company made the shift in part because Americans haven’t really taken to the machines. In the U.S., SodaStream is probably better known for its Scarlett Johansson commercials than for its carbonation device. So far, just 1.5 percent of households in the U.S. have a SodaStream, compared to about 20 percent of households in Finland or Sweden, according to Daniel Birnbaum, SodaStream’s CEO.
Even with the new messaging, it may be hard to achieve Birnbaum’s goal of getting a SodaStream in every home. Feliciano notes that low-income shoppers aren’t likely to make the switch from soda to sparkling water anytime soon. Even those who don't shell out for a SodaStream machine -- the cheapest option on the company's website is $79.99 -- will probably find better deals on soda than sparkling water.
While there's not that much difference in the average price per liter ($1.10 per liter for soda versus $1.30 per liter for sparkling water, according to Euromonitor), the supermarkets, discount outlets and convenience stores where most low-income Americans shop offer promotional deals on soda that often make it much cheaper than sparkling water, according to Feliciano.
“This is still not for the masses,” Feliciano said.
But Birnbaum is confident that Americans' shift away from soda is more than just a whim.
“We feel like we are now at the early stages of a revolution in the beverage industry in America,” Birnbaum said, noting that about 70 percent of SodaStream’s customers globally use the machine only for carbonating water.
“The death of soda comes with the life of something else,” Birnbaum said.
PROMPT: Sparkling Water is the New Soda
Write a well-developed essay in which you address the topic as it is raised in the reading.
In your first paragraph, briefly summarize the main points of the reading and then:
- Draw on your own knowledge, observations, and experiences to explore your thoughts on the topic. You may incorporate your own relevant points or offer an alternative interpretation of the reading by discussing any cultural and/or social issues that impact the topic;
- Question, challenge, defend and/or assess the overall quality and adequacy of the quantitative evidence the article uses in support of the claims and conclusions; and
- Discuss what research strategies you would use to find additional sources of information on this topic to evaluate the claims.
UDWPE Scoring Guide
Each essay is read and evaluated by at least two faculty members in a carefully planned and supervised reading. Each reader scores an essay on a scale of 1 to 6, and the two scores are combined. 12 is the highest possible total score. A score of 8 or above is passing. (See sample scoring guide and sample essays below.)
It is the intention of CSUN to report test results that accurately reflect each student's performance. Test administration and test security standards are designed to assure that all test takers are given the same opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and to prevent anyone from having an unfair advantage over others because of testing irregularities. With this in mind, in rare cases in which there is a question about the validity of a student's essay, the UDWPE Advisory Board reserves the right to request that a student take a retest at no cost to the student. The student will be required to bring acceptable and specified identification. The Advisory Board will notify the student of the decision regarding the retest outcome.
Written Expression - WPE
Superior (6) – Addresses the topic and remains highly-focused on the complexity of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety and sophistication in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits an excellent command of written English.
Strong (5) – Addresses the topic and maintains its focus on many of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits a strong command of written English.
Meets Expectations (4) – Addresses the topic, and though it may waver in its focus, it has engaged the primary issue raised in the reading passage; exhibits proficiency in written English through the use of vocabulary as expressed in coherent sentences and paragraphs; while the essay may contain some grammatical flaws (including common ESL-related locutions), they do not detract from the overall effect or clarity of the writing.
Inadequate (3) – Fails to address the topic in a satisfactory way because it loses focus or only marginally addresses the issues in the reading passage; contains numerous sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs – due to frequent misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors – as to exhibit an inadequate proficiency in written English.
Incompetent (2) – Fails to address the topic; contains an excessive number of sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs—including misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors—as to exhibit a lack of proficiency in written English.
*Incomplete (1) – Presents too little writing for evaluation. May be a blank exam or one containing only a few sentences.
Sample UDWPE "6" Essay
Student Response - Score: 6
This article discusses the phenomenon of sparkling water and its popularity, focusing on the drink's potential to drive soda out of our supermarkets. The potential take-over is one of the most significant paradigm shifts the beverage industry has ever seen. Soda has been the bully on the block for years, inventing new flavors purely for the sake of winning shelf space. Now, for the first time, soda consumption has declined by nearly twenty-five percent, while sparkling water consumption has gone up to balance the change. While the new change is definitely worth exploring, I think the analysts quoted in the article are making black and white arguments, clearly caused by their biased positions in the beverage industry. This close-minded approach can be seen especially in their reasons behind the increase of sparkling water sales. They argue that the change is being caused by health concerns, the public's desire for variety, and economic factors like low income. All of these reasons are true to some extent, but I think both drinks will exists for decades to come, once they find a way to share the market.
Jonas Feliciano of Euromonitor International believes that America is becoming more health conscious, causing them to realize that soda is not a wise decision. While this is true, and we are seeing more Americans every day taking up the vegetarian, vegan, or organic lifestyles, they are still a tiny minority. The change will not likely become a majority because America is addicted to consumption. It is part of a national mentality of excess from fast food to caffeine addiction, and no addiction is easy to kick. The world saw a similar phenomenon when cigarettes were invented. They were believed to be healthy, then proven to be lethal, and everyone thought the cigarette industry would die as a result. Look around. Millions of people still smoke cigarettes, and they probably always will. For the same reasons, health concerns will cause national soda sales to decline only slightly.
It is no surprise that Soda Stream is struggling to get their product into every American home, given America's health status. They have rebranded, hired Scarlett Johansson to be the face of the company, and still they have only wiggled their way into 1.5 percent of American households. This is because we are one of the unhealthiest countries. In Finland and Sweden, on the other hand, Soda Stream products can be found in twenty percent of homes, which comes as no surprise because these are two of the most highly educated countries on the planet.
Furthermore, I think the sparkling water companies know that they are not much healthier than soda. Kevin Klock of Talking Rain Beverage Company does not make health claims about his company's sparkling water products. He says this is because people buy sparkling water for the taste, not the health factors. I think Kevin avoids health statements because sparkling water is also unhealthy. The flavoring comes from sugar, just like soda. Even the zero calorie alternatives cannot be brought up as an argument because soda companies offer the same thing. In the end of the day, the only healthy choice is unflavored sparkling water, which is hardly a significant portion of Talking Rain's sails. Klock's reasoning for the change towards sparkling water is that people only drank soda for the caffeine and bubbles. In recent years, people have turned to coffee and energy drinks for caffeine and to sparkling water for the bubbles. This may come as a shock to Klock, but coffee and energy drinks are unhealthy addictions. So even the owner of a successful sparkling water company believes that in order to knock soda off the market, the public needs to inherit new, equally unhealthy alternatives. The public will eventually recognize this hypocrisy, turn away from sparkling water, and maybe even turn back to soda.
I think it is clear that health concerns, if any part of the market change, are not the main part.
Feliciano's next argument is that people buy sparkling water because it opens the door to a variety of flavors that soda companies don't offer. He claims that most sodas come in cola or lemon-lime flavors. Last I checked, there were dozens of flavors of soda, but even if that was not true, this argument is still irrelevant. Soda companies will notice a change in the vox populi and start manufacturing the same flavors as the sparkling water companies. Long before their shelf space is overtaken, the soda companies will find a way to capitalize on the pioneer work of the sparkling water companies.
Finally, there is the issue of income. Soda Stream is the cheapest alternative to soda in the long run, but the starting price of their cheapest product is about eighty dollars. This is not a price low-income households are willing to pay. Feliciano points out that in addition to the slight difference in production costs, soda has an advantage because of promotional deals that are rarely offered for sparkling water in supermarkets and convenience stores. Again, this is a very true statement, but it is only temporary. If sparkling water sales continue to increase at the rates we are currently witnessing, stores will offer the same promotions for sparkling water as they do for soda. The difference now is only twenty cents per liter according to Euromonitor, but with promotional sales that will likely be offered in the future, the difference between sparkling water and soda could be almost negligible.
In the end of the day, all of these arguments hold some truth. Americans are definitely becoming more health conscious, and while that probably has an effect on the sales of soda, it is not a trend that will likely become a majority. Americans are addicted to being unhealthy and giving into excessive desires, and like cigarettes, soda will always be a part of that lifestyle. Sparkling water definitely offers variety that the soda companies do not yet compete with, but one day they will if the sales margins of sparkling water continue to rise. Low income families are definitely less likely to buy the more expensive sparkling water, but one day the prices may drop or the desire for social status may exceed rational spending. The future of the beverage industry is not so black and white. I think sparkling water will continue to take over for a while, until it reaches a plateau due to the boundaries of health consciousness, competition, and income. Still, if sparkling water manages to make a significant impact on the sales of soda - and industry that has been poisoning Americans for generations - then it will go down in history as one of the most significant events in the legacy of the beverage industry.
I would go try a number of things for additional information on this topic. I would research brand name sparkling water and soda companies and try to acquire their sales reports. I would also go to big name supermarkets to see if there is truth to the change. Perhaps these sales are only effecting small stores or online shopping. Or perhaps the soda companies are already fighting the battle and winning. Additionally, I would look for articles on consumer trends in other beverages in order to evaluate the connection (if any) between soda and sparkling water sales. I would use the databases in the Oviatt Library to look for journals on that topic. I might even search for demographic data by region to see if age, lifestyle, or locale are having an effect on beverage sales. Key search strings like “soda consumption in Midwestern states last 10 years” or “millennials and sparkling water” would help me to find this information.
Discussion of "6 - Superior" Essay:
The “6 – Superior” paper is highly-focused and uses sophisticated critical thinking, concise language, and a logical organization to lead the reader through the writer’s response to the topic. The opening paragraph demonstrates that the student not only understands the issue presented, but also that they have seen through the biased analysis of the rise in sparkling water sales presented in the article. This writer has chosen to use their own knowledge, observations, and experience to question many of the claims made in the article by offering logical reasons for viewing the issue in other ways, and they use the outside example of tobacco use as an analogy to prove their point. The writer has addressed every question in the writing prompt by exploring the economic impact on lower socio-economic groups, by making use of the quantitative data in their analysis of the issue, and by describing how they would find additional reliable information on this topic, including key words and search strings. This student has demonstrated strong upper division level writing through the use of varied sentence structure, a sophisticated vocabulary, and a strong command of written English. It is a superior response in timed-writing conditions.
Sample UDWPE "5" Essay
Student Response - Score: 5
Marketing research firms, such as Euromonitor, have determined that consumption of sparkling water has increased 56.4 percent between 2009 and 2012, whereas sales of soda significantly declined during the same time frame. Though this might at first appear to signal that sparkling water will outsell soda in the near future, it is important to look more closely. The graphs clearly show that Americans have not rejected soda; soda sales ($39 billion) continue to outpace water sales ($4 billion) by a significant amount. Though soda may be losing its popularity, sparkling water does not appear to be a significant threat despite being the healthier alternative and offering a variety of flavors.
Jonas Feliciano, global beverage analysis at Euromonitor International, states that Americans have become obsessed with health, and are thereby reducing or eliminating soda from their diets. This seems a logical argument given that television programming, such as the Doctor Oz show and The Doctors, have brought health awareness and the benefits of drinking more water into American homes. The mantra “Hydrate! Hydrate!” is now something many Americans adhere to diligently. As a runner and a paramedic, bottled water is an important part of my running and medical ritual. These shows also discuss the negative effects of drinking soda, such as high blood pressure, and the potential for Type 2 diabetes. Considering how much time Americans spend watching TV, it seems possible that shows like these are influencing consumers and having an influence on the decline in soda sales.
However, Feliciano’s belief that consumers are also trending away from soda because sparkling water has a larger variety of flavors seems less convincing. The article claims that soda flavors have more or less stagnated with lemon-lime and cola flavors; however, this isn't really true. Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Sprite all come in flavor variations such as Cherry and Vanilla, and stores like Rocket Fizz carry an infinite number of soda flavors. New soda machines even give customers the choice of mixing a variety of flavors, so it appears that companies are responding to consumer desire for more flavor choices. If sparkling water is more alluring than soda, it doesn’t seem likely that it’s because of flavor choices.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi are trying to recapture the loss of their market share by selling more energy drinks. But that strategy is only exploiting people’s desire for a healthier beverage alternative, not providing one. Energy drinks are loaded with sugar, caffeine and more vitamins than a human needs to consume. Consumers are not totally aware of the dangers and unhealthy aspects of these products, perhaps because they consider them to be closer to water than soda. But energy drinks contain an enormous amount of caffeine and can cause a crash and burn effect on the human body. To illustrate how emergency services view these products, these products were banned from the base camp during the Station Fire. The marketing of these products is in many instances deceptive. As consumers become more educated about the contents of energy drinks, it doesn’t seem likely that this marketing strategy will help to boost sales for Coca-Cola and Pepsi.,
Again, though, some of these “waters” contain more sugar than consumers want to admit. Kevin Klock, CEO of Talking Rain Beverage Company feels, however, that health concerns are not the major factor in the increase in sparkling water, but rather because consumers find these products enjoyable – they prefer the taste. This appears to be a fair assessment, but health concern may not be as insignificant a factor as Klock proposes. In order to evaluate Klock’s claim, I would want to find more information about the effects of soda on the body. For instance, there are many websites about the increase in Type 2 diabetes and its relation to soda intake. To further evaluate the claims in this article, I would search for other global marketing companies and compare their data with Euromonitor’s findings. Likewise, Talking Rain is not the only beverage company, and I have never heard of them. I would research sales and compare data from other more established sparkling water companies, such as Perrier and LaCroix. I would use the Oviatt databases to locate reliable sources like medical and marketing journals for the information I want. Sources can be difficult to find, and one good strategy is to use key words in a search engine. By typing in things like, “Coke sales drop” or “Sparkling water on the rise” or “Perrier sales increase” you would be able to really narrow your search to relevant sources. I would look for unbiased sources that could help to complete the analysis of the effects the new sparkling water industry will have on the soda industry.
In conclusion, is sparkling water the new soda? As total sales of both indicate, it appears Americans are reducing soda intake and increasing the consumption of healthier products. Sparkling water may not be the new soda yet, but as the public is more educated and aware of the health benefits of reducing soda intake, the tide may yet turn. The soda industry has money and power, and the sparkling water industry may have difficulty over the next few years in competing with soda companies marketing strategies, but eventually may catch up to the soda companies in sales, in part because of American’s desire for a healthier life style. Sparkling water will be the new soda someday.
Discussion of the "5 - Strong" Essay:
The “5 – Strong” paper, though shorter than the “6," also demonstrates a strong purpose and uses logical reasoning to respond to the main claim in the article. The opening paragraph demonstrates a good understanding of the issue, and the student offers insight from the graphs to rebut the claim that soda is being replaced by sparkling water. The writer focuses mostly on the health claims presented in the article, using some personal observations and experience to add to the discussion, but they miss the opportunity to explore the discussion about the cost differences or the impact on low-income shoppers. Nevertheless, they end with strong suggestions for finding more information on this topic, demonstrating strong information literacy. This “5” paper has offered a coherent response using variety in sentence structure, strong diction, and a good vocabulary, demonstrating a good command of written English. It is a strong response in timed-writing conditions.
Sample UDWPE "4" Essay
Student Response - Score: 4
Is sparkling water the new soda? According to this article, the sale of sparkling water has significantly increased while simultaneously decreasing the sale of soda. The article states that “Sparkling water sales grew from 400 million liters per year to 667 million liters per year” and “Soda sales fell from 40 billion liters per year to about 32 billion liter liters per year.” Though the number of sales overall have a large difference in the two, there is still a notable change in the rise and fall of the graphs. There could be a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most obvious one would be America’s increasing interest in creating a healthier lifestyle. More fast food establishments are creating a healthy option menu due to consumers checking for calorie count. Gyms are now busier than ever, and not just after New Year’s Day. Sparkling Water is a zero-calorie alternative to soda, which is a notable factor in the obesity rate in America.
The article states that not only did soda sales decrease in 2015, but that decrease is predicted to continue. Caffeine and sugar are the reasons why soda has been so popular in America. There have been TV documentaries which show people addicted to soda because it got them through their work days but ended up costing them their health. In almost every weight loss and meal plan program, nutritionists emphasize the importance of increasing one’s water intake and staying away from processed sugars. Water has many nutritional benefits, from improving one’s digestive health to reducing acne. Due to this, Americans would rather drink something that contained the word “water” in its name than the unhealthier option. Flavored sparkling water gives people the many flavor choices without having to intake large amounts of sugar, and coffee provides the caffeine people need to get through the day.
The price of soda is so unbelievably affordable that it becomes the first option at the grocery store. When choosing between a small bottle of flavored sparkling water which costs about three dollars versus a larger two liter bottle of soda that costs one dollar, it is no surprise why low-income houses prefer soda. Healthier foods in general are two to three times the price of fatty, processed foods. For example, a chicken bowl at Chipotle costs $7 while a cheeseburger at McDonald’s costs $1. A smoothie at Jamba Juice costs $6 while a bottle of soda is $1.50 at a convenience store.
Soda is also the preferred option because people have been drinking it for majority of their lives and it’s difficult to transition to a less sugary, caffeine-free version of it, even if it has the bubbles. My idea is supported by the article’s claim that low-income homes are not investing in Soda Stream machines, even though the cost of soda bought throughout the year would surpass the cost of a Soda Stream machine. Soda companies make the product appealing by keeping it in our vision. Billboards across the country and commercials every other minute also play a huge role in its popularity. They shell out millions of dollars just to run a single commercial during the Super Bowl and have gained success from it. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are two companies that have benefited the most from these advertisements. It is important to emphasize the importance of doing research in what we are consuming rather than believing what is told from those who are selling the product on TV.
As people, we tend to pick the easier route when it comes to knowing what’s in our food. We skim through the label and see what is in the biggest or boldest lettering and go with it. It may be surprising but what’s on the front of the bottle may not be true and it is important to research what we are ingesting. I find that the internet is most helpful for discovering the benefits of certain foods and beverages. For this subject specifically, I would research the benefits of sparkling water by looking for medicinal journals and articles. Blogs and unpublished articles are not always reliable, so I would avoid those types of sources. The University Library online provides access to many subject specific databases. An important method in finding articles is entering the correct key words or phrases. For this, I would try “health benefits of water” “are energy drinks healthy?” It is crucial to make sure the source is reliable and specific to the question that is to be answered.
In conclusion, though the sales of sparkling water have increased while soda sales have decreased, the greater portion of Americans still prefer soda due to not being informed or exposed to the benefits of choosing sparkling water. That, and the price differences between the two. Though there is a significant price difference, the graph in this article still shows that that consumption of soda has significantly decreased due to the rise in sales of sparkling water. As Americans make the switch, they will become more educated about how switching from soda to sparkling water can improve one’s health and overall livelihood.
Discussion of the "4 - Meets Expectations" Essay:
The “4 – Meets Expectations” paper provides an adequate response to the primary issue raised in the reading passage, though it fails to maintain the focus of the previous examples. In one paragraph, the writer expands the discussion that soda seems to be losing its popularity because people are becoming more health conscious, but subsequent paragraphs suggest that soda will remain popular. Although the focus strays from the main point of the article, the writer does develop their essay around the underlying idea that soda will always remain popular despite the increase in sparkling water sales. Though the language is not as purposeful in making the writer’s points, the student does exhibit proficiency in written English through the use of appropriate vocabulary and coherent sentences. It is an adequate response in timed-writing conditions.