SodaStream boss Birnbaum gets 'busy with the fizzy'

By Louise Coletta
BBC News

Image caption,
SodaStream's virtual Cage Challenge aims to raise awareness of the environmental damage caused by soda consumption

The iconic SodaStream brand of the 1970s and 80s is making a comeback, claiming to be both environmentally-friendly and kinder to our ever-expanding waistlines.

Ask anyone over the age of 35 if they remember SodaStream and the odds are they do - maybe they remember being extremely jealous of a friend who had one.

The machine allowed people to make their own carbonated drinks at home - television adverts for it encouraged us to "get busy with the fizzy".

But as dated as this may seem, Chief Executive of SodaStream Daniel Birnbaum - who has headed-up the company since 2007 - thinks it could play an important role for the consumer in today's market too.

He explains that in the 1970s and 1980s consumers "didn't care" about issues such as the environment or obesity, but that now those things are a "big deal".

SodaStream, he says, "empowers the consumer" and gives them tools to live a healthier life.

For those worried about the taste, Birnbaum concedes that the SodaStream of today "is not what you tasted when you were a kid".

'Neglected for decades'

The past five years have seen a remarkable turnabout under his leadership.

Media caption,
Daniel Birnbaum: The business is incredibly succesful

Today the company boasts annual revenues of more than £250m, a Nasdaq listing and is carried by more than 50,000 stores around the world, with 10,000 - including those of Walmart - in the US.

"The business is incredibly successful, we've quadrupled our sales in the last four years."

According to Birnbaum, there was no reason for consumers to have a SodaStream until a few years ago.

The first SodaStream was invented as far back as 1903 by gin distiller Guy Hugh Gilbey, but the first home machine was not produced until 1955.

Image caption,
SodaStream was a household name in the 70s and 80s

And, like designer jeans and big hair, it might have remained locked in the 1980s. It might have become a short-lived novelty to forever grace the bottom shelf of a dusty cupboard.

Birnbaum himself acknowledges that the brand has been "neglected for decades".

He explained that it was abandoned by Cadbury-Schweppes, the owners of the brand at the time, who were more interested in promoting their own drinks.

But Birnbaum now believes that every country is an opportunity for SodaStream and says he is not afraid of the euro crisis impacting sales.

With a country such as Greece, he explains, "I think there is an opportunity to provide value to the Greek consumer, who is seeking solutions to save money."

The French product designer Yves Behar has been brought in to restyle the machine for a new generation.

And, after being dropped in 1996, the mantra "get busy with the fizzy" was reintroduced in 2010.

Daniel Birnbaum was interviewed for Friday Boss by Radio 4 Today programme's Simon Jack.