Okay, so I'm watching television one night, completely immersed in an old episode of Law & Order, or was it a newer episode? I can never tell since the show seems to be on around the clock.
Anyway, I see this interesting commercial about a machine that turns regular tap water into delicious soda.
For some reason those cable stations that play old shows also play a lot of brand-new-product-commercials. You know the type, some idiot with a hands-free microphone wrapped around his head, going on and on about how his newly invented product will revolutionize the world and make all of our consumer dreams come true.
I can just hear one of them now: "And if you act now, we'll also throw in a set of these beautiful paisley-colored-plungers." I never choose to act now.
In an effort to see if these products really perform as promised, ConsumerAffairs asks the all too important question: Does It Really Do That?
We'll make this a continuing series that focuses on whether products really perform like companies say they do. Think "Fight Back! with David Horowitz," but way, way cooler.
For the first product go-around it was all about checking out the SodaStream, which if it worked as promised, would be a pretty useful product.
We first conducted one of our pretty awesome consumer sentiment studies, and found 44,000 people commenting on SodaStream during the last 12 months on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
We found Sodastream fizzing along quite nicely, with net positive ratings bubbling up around 80% for most of the year.
For those not familiar with the SodaStream, it’s a carbonation machine that turns plain old water into carbonated water.
The product also comes with a variety of syrup flavors that are poured into a bottle, creating a bubbly beverage that's supposed to rival the best brand name sodas.
To SodaStream's benefit the product really is more "natural," which might mean healthier, as it lacks a lot of the chemicals and hard-to-pronounce additives that many popular soda brands have. As for the 44,000 people whose comments we churned through, we're not quite sure what they liked about the SodaStream, since "go positive" was the most frequently-cited attribute. We're not sure what that means, but it must be good.
I decided this product had to be tested for two reasons. First, I've been an ardent soda drinker since way back when, so I figured it would be hard for SodaStream to pull a fast one on me.
Secondly, I have had just about enough of these advertisements and infomercials claiming to have the best product around, so I had to call their bluff.
Part of the SodaStream TV commercial seems to be set inside a mall, as random passersby are stopped and asked to taste a cup of soda that was produced by the machine.
One satisfied person said, "It tastes exactly like what I pay a lot of money for." Hmmm, Really? That's a big claim. I was kind of skeptical.
I thought to myself, obviously this person speaking is merely a casual soda drinker. You know the type, the one who says to the waiter, "bring me a Coke or Pepsi it doesn't really matter." Or the type of beverage drinker that gets their flatter version of soda in a two-liter bottle, instead of in a can like us hard-core soda types.
So with that level of soda elitism being established, I was off to get one of these SodaStream contraptions to see if it really made Coke taste like Coke, Mountain Dew taste like Dew, and so on.
And now I have one in my hot little hands.
The vertical box contains a six syrup sample pack with assorted flavors, a Co2 canister, a bottle to hold the finished product, and the machine itself. Total price was $84.79 with tax, which I figured to be a little pricey after purchasing.
First the company's claims
SodaStream is supposed to turn tap water into sparkling water in seconds. The company says once used, it will be the end of carrying heavy soda cans and bottles, and the end of having to recycle them.
This claim suggests SodaStream tastes so close to brand name versions that consumers will never go back to their favorite sodas.
According the company's claim a family can save 2,000 bottles and cans from landfills each year by using the machine, not to mention the costs one can save from cutting back on increasing soda prices.
Once you throw in the benefit of not needing storage space for bottles and cans, and the added plus of the product being environmentally friendly, it would almost be a shame not to informally test this machine out.
Upon opening the box I noticed the drink-maker was pretty sleek-looking. It could easily double for a high-tech coffee machine or some ultra-healthy water purifier.
Its overall appearance is polished enough so it can sit in plain view in your kitchen, while blending nicely with the toaster, microwave and other counter-top appliances.
I'm always worried when a new product has to be assembled since all I can really put together is a decent sandwich. But luckily the SodaStream was pretty easy to put together once I followed the instructions, which only contained seven steps.
You pretty much just unwrap the CO2 cylinder, screw it into the drink-maker, fill the plastic bottle up with water, then screw the bottle to the drink-maker. From there you're all set to make your tiny bubbles.
The whole assembly process took me about 10 minutes, which means it'll probably take someone who is better at these things around five. So the machine gets a score for being easy to put together.
But the company didn't brag about the machine's easy assembly.
The SodaStream is supposed to be good enough and taste authentic enough to replace your usual brand. Obviously the whole level of usefulness and money saving potential will rely solely on the taste of the SodaStream product.
50 flavors, really?
The box says the drink maker has over 50 different flavors to choose from. All 50 I didn't quite need, so I got a handful of the flavors that were supposed to actually mimic the real things,
I bought Cola, Diet Cola, Orange, Lemon-Lime, and Fountain Mist. I also purchased cans of regular and diet Coca-Cola, Sunkist, Sprite and Mountain Dew. The battle was on.
You can purchase the SodaStream syrup in various forms, including 16.9 ounce bottles that make 50 servings, or a box of 1.7 ounce packets that make 1 liter of soda each.
Once the bottle was screwed into place, I just had to push a button for the machine to start carbonating water. You’re able to control just how fizzy you want your beverage by the amount of times you push the button.
What was strange however is the instruction manual suggested the button be pressed three times for normal fizzing, but the syrup bottle said five times. Like I said, I'm a hard-core soda dude so I went for the five presses.
Now the moment of truth ... It was time to compare SodaStreams' soda to the popular guys, to gauge any difference in taste.
The first sodas up were Mountain Dew vs. SodaStream's Fountain Mist. Right off the bat I noticed the tastes were very similar, but Dew's taste was a little bit more citrus-ey. Anyone who likes Dew knows its tangy after-taste is one of the green soda's best features.
As far as the level of fizz, Mountain Dew was clearly more carbonated, but this was after I used five button pumps on the SodaStream. After trying Fountain Mist again after 7 pumps, the level of fizz was a lot closer.
When it came to taste and the level of carbonation, SodaStream just about matched up to Mountain Dew. Although it didn't perfectly match the lemon-limey taste of Dew, it still came pretty close.
Next up in the beverage ring was Sprite vs. the lemon-lime flavor. Unlike Fountain Mist, this particular flavor was spot on to Sprite in terms of taste. Sip after sip I tried to detect the slightest difference between the two, but couldn't really taste any.
In the fizz category Sprite was the victor. Active little bubbles were leaping out of the can when I sipped it, compared to lemon-lime's level of fizz that seemed to settle much quicker. More than five pumps on the carbonation button is recommended for all the SodaStream flavors.
Close to Coke
SodaStream's diet cola was very close to Diet Coke. After having the Diet Coke poured into a glass and I tested each with my eyes closed, I could only tell the difference between the two by the level of effervescence in each glass.
Just like the previous two sodas, the diet cola didn't match Coke's product in the area of bubbly texture, however its taste was spot on.
As far as the regular flavored cola it was pretty much the same deal. Nearly identical in taste, but not in fizz. The taste of the SodaStream cola was that of Coke in a two liter bottle left opened for an hour or so.
Again, this was with only five pumps of the carbonation button. When pressed seven times the texture was almost equal, but not exactly.
The reason I say almost is because I let both colas sit around for an hour to see which one had more fizz-life. Coca-Cola's carbonation was reduced just a small bit, but the SodaStream cola seemed to be dying a slow bubbly death.
In regards to the orange soda, it tasted just like Sunkist, and I actually couldn't tell the difference.
Since I started out with 7 carbonation pumps instead of five, the beverage was a perfect match to the Sunkist brand. Between the soda's taste and texture it would be really hard to tell the difference between the two if blindfolded.
I wasn't blindfolded, but after closing my eyes it was very difficult to tell the difference within the first five minutes of drinking. After letting both sodas sit for a while the Sunkist remained more carbonated.
Worth the price
Overall, the SodaStream is a pretty good product and worth the $79.99 price tag. But as far as answering the question of Does It Really Do That? The answer would have to be a no, but that shouldn't sway you from buying it and here's why:
The SodaStream is still a decent money saver, as the sodas are very, very close to the real thing and the differences are barely noticeable.
However, keep in mind the customer will have to spend extra amounts of money replacing the CO2 canister, along with the flavored syrups once it runs out.
The 16-ounce bottles of the syrup go for about $4.99, and the 12-flavor variety box goes for nearly six bucks. Carbonator replacements cost $29.99 and $49.99 depending on the size.
The reason we have to say it didn't perform just as the commercial promised, is because the SodaStream beverage went flat a lot faster than the brand name sodas.
The commercial leads consumers to believe there's no detectable difference between its soda and the brand name sodas, but there is a difference.
If you choose to let SodaStream's beverage sit in the fridge for a while it loses a bulk of its fizz. The brand name sodas won't lose fizz.
That very difference between the two sodas keeps us from saying SodaStream works quite as well as it does on TV. But if the beverages are consumed within an hour after being made, SodaStream is a pretty darn good product.
So the decision is really yours to make. Is having soda that's healthier with fewer additives, but with a shorter fizz-life, worth it to you? Or would you rather spend the money, have the additives, and continue to lug the cans instead?
Me? I would choose the former. After all, think of all the exercise I get lugging the cans into the apartment.