Posted on

Marketer of the Year Owala, Trove Brands

Owala is like the friendliest kid in the school — the one who radiates sunshine, gives smiles freely and makes every person feel important.    
   “So much of what we want Owala to stand for is inclusivity and self-expression,” says Michael Sorensen, CEO. “We want to be the brand that says, ‘Come join the party!’”  

Three years strong and skyrocketing in a highly-saturated market, Owala is redefining the concept of water bottles. Perhaps this is why TIME listed Owala’s FreeSip bottle as one of the 2023 Best Inventions, or why New York Times predicted the brand as the new water-bottle king on the horizon, or why, according to Circana’s retail sales reports, Owala is now the No. 1 water bottle brand in the nation.  
   The brand message is resonating, and the bottles are selling.
   “Owala’s aim is to amplify and celebrate all that makes you you,” Michael says. “We wanted our brand to be focused on color and self-expression, and not taking ourselves or life too seriously. That has ended up being a core reason for Owala’s meteoric success.”
   We’ll FreeSip to that.


   Owala is a brand under Trove Brands, which also includes BlenderBottle, Whiskware, EcoBrite, Avana and two new brands that will launch this spring: Oath Nutrition, a sports performance brand, and Canoo, a new line of kids’ nutrition products.

   But let’s start at the beginning in 2000 with BlenderBottle, founded by Kim and Steve Sorensen. Under their leadership, BlenderBottle quickly became the best-selling shaker cup in the market, and they started asking, “Where do we go next?”

   Looking at the hydration market, they saw room for innovation and disruption.

   “Steve identified that there were straw drinkers and chug drinkers, and started exploring how we could come up with a bottle that makes a great experience for both,” Michael says. “He prototyped the FreeSip® spout — a now-patented design with a built-in straw and a wide-mouth opening that gives you the freedom to drink however you want. The team implemented it into the now-iconic bottle design.”

   This was an exciting innovation, but the sales weren’t an immediate success. After much debate around whether to leverage the BlenderBottle name, or launch under an entirely new brand, the product hit shelves at a few major retailers in 2019 as BlenderBottle Hydration. 

   “It flopped,” Michael says. “Steve was at a store one weekend and watched people look at the BlenderBottle Hydration end cap and walk right past it to go buy a competitor. He and Kim agreed we needed to take a different path. Steve texted me that night and said, ‘This isn’t going to work under BlenderBottle. It needs to be a new brand — and we need to re-launch ASAP.’”

   The team was given eight months. At the time, Michael was the VP of marketing, and the whole company hopped on board to craft what would become an iconic brand.

   “We knew being ordinary wasn’t going to cut it; we needed to truly disrupt the market,” Michael says. “We found a space in the market for something that was fun, interesting and different — something for people who didn’t necessarily identify with existing brands, but were buying them because that’s all there was.”

   Only three years from launch, the Owala FreeSip is quickly headed to the front of the pack — innovative, leak-proof and oh-so-stylish.


   When asked about the target audience for BlenderBottle throughout the years, Steve would joke, “We’re not marketing to everyone — only people who need to drink water.”

   Time came to launch the new brand, and the Owala marketing team decided to lean into that. 

   “We rolled out with it — ‘water bottles designed exclusively for people who drink water’ as our launch campaign — and it invited all kinds of trolls, which was the best thing possible for social media,” Michael says. 

   Commenters would loudly complain about how vague and silly the campaign was. 

   “Doesn’t everyone need to drink water?” 

   “I think that’s the point…” 

   “Aren’t all water bottles designed to hold water?”

   “Our social media team’s tongue-in-cheek responses just fueled the fire: ‘You’re right. We just fired our marketing team.’ The brand voice started to come out, and that early campaign is what helped us further refine the brand,” Michael recalls.

   Their re-targeting ads, showing simple, colorful bottles simply read, “Hey, it’s me again. Just hanging out in your feed. #buyme”

   The playful voice stuck and gained a bestie cult following.


   Owala plays with color in a way unique to the industry, and it works — blending colors like hot pink and pastel green. People have even created their own “Frankenbottles,” mix-and-matching bottle lids, bodies, buttons and handles for even funkier color combos.

   “When we released it as BlenderBottle Hydration, we stuck with safe colors like forest green and black,” Michael says. “When we launched Owala, we pushed the limits with really funky colorways — and not-too-serious names like Hyper Flamingo and Shy Marshmallow.”

   The unorthodox colorways made the whole squad nervous.

   “But that’s how we knew we had it right,” Michael says. “When we tried to play it safe, it didn’t work. We had to be different enough to make people a little uncomfortable.”

   A two-edged sword has been Owala’s Color Drops. Color Drops launch around every two weeks, dropping a one-time, exclusive design sold from a limited inventory. The 2024 “I <3 U” Valentine’s bottle sold out in seconds. 

   The point of the Color Drop is to create a unique bottle that customers only have one chance to purchase, and Owala besties are obsessed, to the point that they digitally camp out and set their alarms for a chance to purchase an envied bottle. And if they’re too late, they start a social media riot — as the limited editions often sell for over $200 on eBay.

   “We’ve grown so rapidly that forecasting demand accurately for Color Drops is next to impossible. We order eight months in advance and always think we’re being optimistic, then they sell out in seconds,” Michael says. “We’re working on this, and we have some solutions in mind. We want everybody to have a chance at these bottles.”

   Owala cares about their customers, so it re-launched the “I <3 U” Valentine’s bottle in February once more with a backorder purchasing option.

   What’s causing the hype? 

   “Water bottles are becoming a fashion accessory more than just a way to get water,” Michael says.

   Owala’s retail strategies align with this concept. In 2023, it partnered with Urban Outfitters to curate three unique UO FreeSip bottles. With retailers knocking on Owala’s door, the team stays true to their strategy, asking questions like, “Would it make sense for Owala to be in a gas station? A hardware store? For other water bottle brands, maybe, but not for Owala.”


  From I-15 billboards, to social media mastery, to strategic retail partnerships, to outside-the-box color schemes, Owala is doing more than one thing right. It continues to double or triple in sales every year. And Utah is its number one supporter, which makes the Lehi-based company thrilled.

   “Utah over-indexes every other state on website traffic and purchases,” Michael says. “It does our hearts good. Thank you, fellow Utahns, for supporting us.”

   As Michael was recently walking through the Traverse Mountain Harmons, he saw their Owala display with a chalk sign that read, “Owala is better than Stanley. Buy local.”

   “That’s what I’m talking about with the local pride!” Michael smiles.

   The team is under no illusion that the brand’s rise to popularity means guaranteed continued wins; they’re just getting started.

   “Now we just need to step up to the opportunity,” Michael says. “We’re doubling down and asking what we can do that no one else can — and that’s what makes it fun.”