As a consumer, there are countless options when it comes to choosing bottled water: glacial, spring, mineral, sparkling, flavored, etc. In recent years, however, a new bottled water category has emerged: alkaline water, and it’s a segment within the market that Bothell-based Essentia currently dominates.
Alkaline water consumption in the United States has begun to grow only recently, but Essentia’s story of success is one the company’s founder and CEO, Ken Uptain, said has been 20 years in the making.
Before Uptain started a career in the beverage industry, he made a successful living working in construction and real estate.
The son of a contractor and a graduate of Bothell High School, Uptain chose to bypass college, knowing that a career in construction would be part of his future. By age 22, he had saved up enough money to start his own construction company, and less than 15 years later found himself as the CEO of a successful, international, publicly traded real estate firm. Not surprisingly, Uptain was exhausted. “All the wining and dining I did, and traveling,” he said. “My health wasn’t good.”
Uptain was only in his mid-40s when he retired. “I felt burnt out,” he said. However, during this time, he had been introduced to something that was helping him regain some of that lost energy — alkaline water.
A type of treated, purified water that uses an electric current to separate acidic ions from alkaline ions, it is believed to provide a variety of health benefits.
“I couldn’t believe how good it made me feel,” Uptain said. As he explored the science used in making alkaline water, he learned it could be produced virtually anywhere in proximity to distribution. He saw an opportunity and quickly developed the brand Essentia.
However, within about one year, he realized the U.S. market wasn’t ready for his product. Alkaline water was gaining popularity in Japan and a handful of other countries around the globe, but it had not yet been introduced to the United States.
“Back then, everything was mountain, glacier, and spring-sourced waters,” Uptain said.
He decided to let the company incubate until the market was ready. Over the next 10 years, a small team of employees took orders and provided customer support. It wasn’t until August 2008 that Uptain found himself thinking, “It’s time.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Essentia is the leading alkaline water brand in the country. “We’re twice as big as the nearest competitor,” Uptain said. “We have about 56 percent market share of alkaline water in the country.”
The success of Essentia is in the science. Uptain has conducted clinical studies to help prove the benefits alkaline water provides to consumers, specifically in terms of blood viscosity.
A marker used in evaluating a person’s hydration — or dehydration — level, blood viscosity changes depending on how hydrated a person is. For example, a dehydrated person’s blood viscosity may appear similar to that of ketchup, whereas the blood of a hydrated person is more like wine.
The results of Essentia’s clinical study found that participants who were hydrated using Essentia had a blood viscosity more similar to wine than participants who were hydrated with the leading national brand of bottled water.
“We haven’t found anybody in the world who has a study like we’ve done,” Uptain said. “But it’s kind of what we do. We like to walk the talk. We don’t overpromise and underdeliver as a company. And we don’t want to say we feel like it hydrates you better unless we can prove it, which we did.”
Essentia water is currently available in every state in the United States. “Every county in the country is covered by someone selling Essentia,” Uptain said.
As the company looks to the future, Uptain said, he sees Essentia expanding outside of the United States — when the time is right.
Timing — and more generally, making good decisions — is one of many lessons Uptain said he’s learned over the span of his career. Although he likely could write a book on the subject, we asked him to share just three important lessons he’s learned as an entrepreneur:
Hire Good People
“When I was younger, I was able to somehow realize that hiring good people actually was one thing I did correctly that was able to make me be successful in my career in real estate … I learned that if I felt they were actually really good people with integrity and I could trust them, that was the decision you make — as opposed to somebody who has a better deal or is saying they can do bigger and better things.”
“A lot of people who go into business have visions of grandeur … A lot of folks just need to manage those expectations and look at things from a little bit longer point of view. The people I see go out of business, never manage their expectations. The ones I see stay in business and be successful, manage them.
Make Good Decisions
“I make decisions all day long, and my team knows — for example — that I’d make no decision without all the facts. I’m not quick to make a decision until I really digest and think it through.”
About the CEO
Between traveling and business, when I’m not doing those two things, it’s golf or fishing.
Biggest Role Model
The type of people that inspire me are overachievers — people that have built something on their own and have done well at it.
I like sci-fi, like Star Wars.
Favorite type of food
Favorite Vacation Destination
My wife’s and my lake home on Moses Lake