For decades, parents have given their children juice boxes as a perceived better-for-you alternative to sodas, but in recent years concern about sugar has prompted more consumers to turn away from the category, Matt Swanson, co-founder of RETHINK Brands told FoodNavigator-USA.
This shift left a hole in the market that Swanson and his co-founder Chris O’Donovan are hoping to help fill with RETHINK Kids Water, which Swanson says is the first zero-calorie, sugar-free, organic flavored-flavored water to be packaged in 200 milliliter box with a straw that makes it an easy snap in for aseptic juice boxes.
The water is sourced from local markets and filtered through a seven-step purification process to create a “perfect 7.5 pH without any chemicals or impurities,” according to the company. The kids’ line is then flavored with fruit essence, including Apple Water, Berry, Fruit Punch and Orange Mango.
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Uncovering an unmet need
The idea for the innovation came to Swanson when he saw a photo of a five-year-old going to school with his lunch box in one hand and a half liter of RETHINK’s since discontinued line of boxed water targeting adults.
“The 500 milliliter box was bigger than the kid’s head, and bigger than his lunch box, and it made me wonder if there was a water for kids” on the market that was the right size for their hands and could be more easily packed without unduly weighing down children, Swanson said.
And while there are a few options, such as Tickle Water and AquaBall, Swanson saw room for innovation by adopting the carton used by juice box manufacturers, which is a format adults and children already understand and like.
Working with Target, RETHINK launched its kid’s line of four flavored waters in 2016 and saw “instant success with very little support,” Swanson said.
Betting it all on the children as the future
With the children’s business off to a strong start, Swanson quickly realized that managing lines aimed at adults and at children was “essentially like running two startups, and we didn’t have the capacity or capital to do both,” Swanson said.
He explained, “I realized if we pursued both, we were not going to be good at either, so last summer we decided to fully focus on the kid’s side of the business, and essentially discontinue our adult SKUs.”
The decision was tough given the success of the larger sized boxed waters aimed at adults, but Swanson said he saw more potential in the kid’s line.
To support the change, the company “totally reconfigured our leadership team and went through a total rebrand before we hit the road and met with essentially every major retailer to sell RETHINK Kids Water,” he said.
With help from industry veterans who joined RETHINK’s leadership team, the startup secured distribution in more than 11,000 stores, including at Walmart nationwide, Target, Kroger and many natural food stores – which is “super exciting,” but also requires significant capital, Swanson said.
“The majority of the dollars we just raised is all about driving awareness, driving trial, educating consumers and convincing them to buy our brand again,” and to do this “we are spending heavily with the four walls of retail … with demos, coupons” and other in-store marketing, Swanson said.
To start, the company will focus most on stores in key markets, including Washington, DC, New York City, Boston, Southern Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The money also will help develop a “big media plan with influencers and bloggers,” Swanson added.
Some of the funds also will go towards product innovation, some of which will launch at Expo East in Baltimore in September, Swanson said, noting the innovation will also focus on “healthy kids’ hydration.”
He explained: “There are a lot of ways kids can consume healthier products through beverage outside of the juice box, and there are a lot of other things that we are focused on – so innovation is one thing we will continue to drive year over year.”
Ultimately, Swanson said, “the capital we raised gives us the ability to deliver on our mission of healthy kids’ hydration and ultimately be the leaders in this space and to offer mon and dad and kids an option that is better than what is out there today. And we couldn’t be more excited.”
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