Beverage startup SZENT to enter physical retail: 'SZENT is changing what it means to be a flavored beverage'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: SZENT
Photo: SZENT

Related tags Bottled water

Beverage startup SZENT is using the power of smell to its advantage in its line of 'flavored' bottled waters that will be entering California grocers later this year backed by a $2.2m round of financing from a group of independent investors.

SZENT previously raised a $1.5m round of financing from the same group of investors in 2017. The brand then launched exclusively on Amazon in October 2018 and is tackling traditional retail next, according to SZENT CEO Shawn Griffis.

"This new influx of capital will allow us to expand our footprint into traditional retail, continue to bring awareness to the brand and invest in the next generation of SZENT products,”​ said Griffis.

Upon entering brick-and-mortar, SZENT will be sold for $2.25 per 20-ounce bottle, with plans to introduce a sparkling water line later this year.

"Given the brand’s significant progress in launching its initial line of products and strong market response, we’re pleased to provide additional capital to support the company’s growth,”​ said lead investor, Gerald Poch, former FirstMark Capital co-chairman.


Inventing a new beverage experience

So how can a bottled water made using plain water treated through a reverse osmosis purification process without the addition of any other ingredients call itself a "flavored"​ beverage?

"SZENT is changing what it means to be a flavored beverage. Turns out your sense of smell is responsible for as much as 80% of what you taste," ​Madeleine Grandbois, chief creative officer at SZENT, told FoodNavigator-USA. 

The food science community has long said that aromas and scent are strongly tied to what an individual interprets as taste. Some research suggests that as much as 90%​ of what we perceive as taste is actually scent-driven. The connection between scent and flavor has taken hold of the gastronomic culinary world as well where chefs serve their meals incorporating multi sensory experiences amplifying the scent of a dish such as rosemary-air filled pillow served with a course at Chicago's Alinea restaurant. 


"Once we unearthed that simple truth, SZENT began to take shape," ​Grandbois said.

Secured to the neck of the bottle, the brand uses a thin patented scent ring infused with natural oils in various scents to give consumers a a whiff of aroma channeling the flavor experience as they drink the bottle of water.

Its flavors include passionfruit, tangerine, tropical, pineapple, and mint.

The market need 

"SZENT tends to be a conversation piece and we’re using social influencers to amplify our message,"​ Grandbois said. 

However, SZENT was created out of a real market need, not just as a stylish water bottle for fitness and wellness Instagrammers to feature on their accounts, Grandbois explained. 

According to the the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), Americans are drinking more bottled water than ever before. Bottled water volume grew to 13.7 billion gallons in 2017, a 7% increase over the previous year and totaling $18.5bn in sales, making it the No. 1 beverage product in the US, by volume, for a second year in a row.

However, despite a rising consumer spend on bottled water, brands have struggled to differentiate themselves from a flavor standpoint without having to adding calories through flavors and sweeteners back into the beverage.

"It was less a need and more an imperative. For too long consumers have been saddled with artificial ingredients and empty calories as a means to realizing flavor. So we started looking at the problem from a human perspective. What is it that makes for a great flavor experience?"​ said Grandbois.

"SZENT embraces consumers from both sides of the spectrum, whether you're someone who knows they need to drink healthier or simply wants a more enjoyable bottled water experience,"​ added Grandbois.

Entering traditional retail will allow SZENT to reach more consumers where sampling will be a major initiative to drive growth.

"There’s no substitute for putting this product in a would-be consumer’s hand. It’s a beverage you have to experience to believe,"​ she said. 

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