a conditional value

One of the few commercials that stuck with me after the Super Bowl was this one by SodaStream, if only because it tweaked my WTF meter:

Apparently they had an even more in-your-face ad prepared that CBS did not allow them to run (you might need to click through to see it):

I have to give them credit for throwing down that gauntlet hard. But, as an engineer, an interesting concept and ballsy advertising scheme will only get you so far with me; does it actually make sense to go this route? Well, let us take a look at how much it all costs.

Sodastream Fountain Jet Soda Maker Starter Kit – $79.99, includes one 60L Carbonator and 6 flavor packs (72L)

Fountain Mist Soda Mix – $14.99, makes 12 liters. (Oddly, it is $4.99 through SodaStream’s site, though you have to balance shipping costs. Supposedly local retail stores carry these, though.)

Sodastream Spare 130-liter Carbonator – $74.48. ($49.99 through SodaStream, but again with the shipping problem, and again with the retail store option.)

Sodastream 2-Pack 1 Liter Carbonating Bottles – $29.99, good for 2500L each. ($19.99 through SodaStream.)

So, with all of those various prices for all of the various equipment necessary to run this little doohicky logged, what do 2L sodas actually cost me? If I am lucky, my local Kroger runs name-brand Mountain Dew for $0.89 a 2L, and if I am not lucky, their generic brand Mountain-Dew-knock-off is always that price (I do so love not living in Kalifornistan any more), so we will use that as our baseline for cost comparisons.

One carbonator will make 66 (we are fudging a little) 2L bottles worth of soda, which, in turn, will require 11 flavor packets, with the total cost being $239.37 for the Amazon route, $104.88 for the local store / SodaStream online store route. 66 2L bottles of name-brand, on-sale Mountain Dew will cost me $58.74.

Whoops. And that does not even count the initial cost of the Fountain device. That said, a standard bottle of 2L soda would only have to cost you $1.60 (not hard in Kalifornistan with its inflated prices and asinine CRV) for you to come out (slightly) ahead.

So how about something different? Monster energy drinks run about $2 for 16 ounce cans, regular price. There are about 68 ounces in a 2L bottle, so 4.25 cans, which means a 2L bottle of Monster would cost about $8.50. Wow. The Red Bull-equivalent flavor pack for SodaStream costs $6.99 for 12 liters, so running the numbers using SodaStream’s site’s prices gives us $126.88 for 66 2L bottles, or $0.45 a 16 ounce can. Well that is a hell of a difference. Unfortunately, I do not drink that much Monster.

Then there is the craziness that is cane sugar soda – around $2 gets you a 12 ounce bottle, so $11.33 for a 2L. Cane sugar cola for the SodaStream runs $9.99 for 6L (an important distinction), so 66 2L bottles will cost $269.77, or $0.72 a 12-ounce bottle. Why, that is almost rational. Not really.

The upshot of all this is that unless you live somewhere where 2L sodas are obscenely expensive, or you are a health nut who only drinks "natural" sodas, or you consume way too many energy drinks than are good for you, or you are way too hung up on the whole "green" thing and want to seriously diminish your empty bottle output, SodaStreams just do not make financial sense. Which is kind of a shame – the concept of building your own soda flavor profile does have a certain degree of appeal. Obviously your prices can improve if you can figure out how to hook up a restaurant CO2 bottle to the device (just remember you are dealing with pressurized gases which can asphyxiate you), and if you take advantage of the CO2 cartridge exchange service (not sure how much that saves you), but just the flavor packets alone almost cost as much as the 2L sodas would, for me (I understand the flavor packets can likewise be replaced with DIY options, but then the math gets really fuzzy).

See? We do not do just firearms here…

(Note: I do not own a SodaStream gadget nor did the company contact me in any way to write the article. I was simply going to do the math regardless and thought I would share.)

13 thoughts on “a conditional value”

  1. Seen those gimmicks in the stores… and walked right past them, saying to myself, “what a scam.” Considering I only need the occasional coca cola for a Rum and Coke, I think I’d be doing worse for the environment by buying a new consumer appliance and ingredients with all the packaging and shipping than I would just picking up an occasional aluminum-can six-pack.

  2. Buddy of mine has that gadget, and the little coffee flavor packets gadget. They’re neat, but I put them both in the Luxury Gadget file and left them there.

    Also, I’m not blocked again! Yay!

  3. A good friend of mine has a fizzy-water habit. He kicked sugary soda, but loves carbonation. He spent about a hundred bucks at the local welding supply store, bought a carbonating top, and makes his own club soda for about $0.02/liter. He does add flavor from time to time, taking it to a whopping $0.06-08/L.

  4. I actually have one of those. I did the same math you did and came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to really save me any money, but figured I was willing to try their flavors and see whether they would be an improvement over the fizzy drinks I currently drink flavor-wise.

    Answer: Mixed bag. Some were a little better, some were a little worse. Some were undrinkable. It wasn’t enough of an improvement to stick with, but it IS a neat gadget.

    Find a friend who has one and try some samples before you buy.

  5. I saw the Sodastream thingies at Target about a year ago and likewise did a bit of scratch math in the back of my head. When it came down to it, increasing my carbonated beverage intake enough to justify something like that would involve me alone drinking several bottles PER DAY.

    I rarely drink the equivalent of one can of soda PER WEEK.

    Even at a gratuitous rate of consumption for me, buying full brand Coke is cheaper than just using the thing to carbonate my water. It’s also cheaper than buying a bottle of carbonated water and mixing the flavorants into it.(I looked at this as a way to bypass the steep cost of the machine. Didn’t add up. Or did, depending…)

  6. We have one. Considering how little soda we bought in the first place I’d be shocked if we even came as close as your math works out. But I can do my own mint soda, and various fruit flavored sodas, without having to pay extra for fancy soda’s, so I’ll take it.

  7. We had one of these back in the 80’s and i see problems with your reasoning. The first is you are making 1L bottles in the soda stream so you should have priced those and not 2L.
    In the 80’s version they were glass bottles of presumably 10 or 12 oz, so you would have had to compare that version to regular pop bottle/can prices back then.
    As a kid, the ability to have any flavor soda anytime was awesome. Sure some flavors were not so great but everyone has different tastes.
    If you believe the soda stream folks, you have also saved a boat load of environmental pixies by not having trucks hauling tons of pop to the store.
    If they made the old 12oz version i would consider it, and i drink about 6 sody pops a year, so i am glad they don’t.
    Also there is the saved plastic to consider.
    We had ours for a number of years until we kids out grew pop and went to tea and coffee.
    I leave you with the delightful 80’s tv commercial that made everyone buy one.

  8. After seeing the sodastream gadget and doing the math, I looked up the ‘old way’ of doing it. A 1 liter soda siphon bottle is $40. 9 gram food-grade CO2 carts (1 per liter) are $0.395 each in tens, or $0.383 by the case ($115 for 30 boxes of 10). Cost of groceries and spices to make syrups with is near-negligible, and counter-balanced with the part of me that wants to experiment with flavors that the cola megacorps and supermarkets wouldn’t dream of, and making a few pints of a flavored syrup that you use a few tablespoons of at a time seems pretty darned economical.

    So, I’m still on the fence about it, but making flavored bubbly water comes out pretty close to the store-brand price per liter on this route, minus some of the convenience, but plus what would hopefully be some fun getting to play with my food.

  9. @ bluesun: I like the idea, especially fine tuning flavors to my particuar tastes, but, yeah, stupidly expensive.

    @ JohnW: Lucky you.

    @ Ted N: Yeah, could be a cool toy, but they have a way to go before they reach “home appliance” levels.

    @ ZerCool: Yeah, that requires a bit more knowledge of gas plumbing than I or most folks have. Plus the consequences of failure could always be entertaining :).

    @ Cowboy Blob: And then carbonate the pure rum? Heh.

    @ Fill Yer Hands: My understanding is that stuff adds back the detergents the Kroger gas may not necessarily have on account of not being name-brand. Dunno.

    @ TriggerFinger: Certainly not going to begrudge people their toys, especially if the flavors work for you.

    @ Volfram: I go through about two liters a week, but, yeah, getting to the point of making these cost-effective would be rather unhealthy for me :).

    @ Ruth:

    @ dave w: I was really pricing it on the 2-pack of 1L bottles.

    And, like I said, I can totally get the market for custom flavors… I was just looking at the general cost-effectiveness of it. Toys definitely have a place, though :).

  10. I think we have all overlooked a reason to buy one of these. It has 4 simple steps.
    1 – buy soda of your choice.
    2 – drink said soda.
    3 – use soda stream to make carbonated water and refill empty soda bottle.
    4 – shoot shaken bottle.

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