Alumni-owned Sparkling Water Brand Rambler Bubbles Up on Texas Shelves

Thirty years ago, Dave Mead, BS ’93, was an advertising freshman living in Jester, just beginning his journey on the Forty Acres after moving from Houston. Now, the 48-year-old is the co-founder of Austin’s homegrown sparkling water brand, Rambler, and cans of the limestone-filtered beverage can be found in the dining hall Mead used to frequent as a student.

On his next visit to campus, Mead plans to return to his old dormitory.

“I’ve been a Longhorn my whole life,” Mead says, “so it’s really cool to think that when I walk into Jester I could find a can of Rambler stocked in the fridge.”

After graduating from UT, Mead worked at a local advertising agency before he and his friend James Moody got the idea to start a business of their own. Both of them were trying to wean themselves off of soda and had turned to sparkling waters like La Croix and Topo Chico to get their carbonated fix. They wondered why Austin didn’t have any sparkling waters of its own to offer, and they decided to fill the void. They partnered up with fellow Austinite Jeff Trucksess, MBA ’01, and in 2015, they created Rambler.

Now the brand is carried in 270 retailers, including several H-E-Bs, Central Markets, and a number of iconic dining institutions across the state, like Franklin Barbecue, Tacodeli, and the Houston restaurants of James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd.

“When we first started drinking sparkling water, we thought it was crazy that there wasn’t a local option,” Mead says. “ We wanted to be more than just another sparkling water on the shelf, so we tried to come up with something that Texans could be proud of.”

Over the past few years, the sparkling water market has exploded in popularity. In a television recent appearance, Mead and Moody discussed the burgeoning multibillion dollar industry and the competition in the market.

“It’s a busy category, a noisy one,” Mead said on CBS This Morning. “But we’re not afraid of the competition. When we were creating Rambler, we saw the competition coming, but we took the time to go through 20 rounds of formulas to find the right mineral profile and flavor. It was important to us that we had something that stood out.”

In an effort to give back to their home state, the founders of Rambler partnered with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation to make an annual contribution to the organization.

“We wanted to have a cause to get behind with Rambler,” Mead says. “For us, one of our biggest priorities was creating a sustainable brand, so we do everything here from filtering to canning here in Austin because we wanted to be able to give back to Texas.”

The pivot to sparkling water was unexpected for Mead. But as the brand continues to grow, he’s happy to see it added to the shelves in the cities he grew up in.

“When we got started with this, all of us were busy with other jobs, but we were passionate enough to dedicate ourselves to it and see where it went,” Mead says. “But I could’ve never envisioned this.”

 
 
 

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