The Los Angeles-based brand has not divulged the size of the latest funding round, backed by actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and athletes including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Zoe Saldana, 2 Chainz, Ellie Goulding, Juicy J, Lil Jon, Julio Jones, Tristan Thompson, Khloé Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Erin and Sara Foster. However, it brings ZenWTR’s cumulative funding to $25m, CEO Bryan Crowley told FoodNavigator-USA.
The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Lance Collins - who struck CPG gold with brands including CORE, NOS, FUZE and Body Armor – ZenWTR launched last spring and is now in several thousand stores including Target, Whole Foods, and Safeway/Albertsons.
The plan is to reach around 50,000 locations by the end of 2021, said Crowley, with new accounts including Kroger, Sprouts, CVS and Walgreens set to come on board this year.
‘We had people coming to us because they were really excited about the mission’
“We did a lot of outreach [to attract investors],” said Crowley, a beverage industry veteran who co-founded hard kombucha brand Flying Embers, was a former CEO at Soylent, and chief strategy officer at KeVita.
But he added: “We didn’t say hey, let's go get a bunch of celebrities, it was just really organic, in terms of how it happened. Obviously this approach [investing in emerging CPG brands rather than doing traditional endorsement deals] has become much more popular within the VIP celebrity world [rival Flow alkaline water recently attracted singer Shawn Mendes and NBA star Russell Westbrook].
“I think people have seen brands like Aviation Gin [backed by actor Ryan Reynolds] and other success stories out there and so we had people coming to us because they were really excited about the mission, which has drawn quite a bit of attention, so people were asking questions and wanting to get involved in wanting to lend their voice and, and obviously their pocketbook as well.”
This isn’t a traditional kind of arrangement involving endorsements and appearances, and we “don’t have a specific formula,” around promotions, he said. “But our investors collectively have roughly 266 million followers on social media, so there are plenty of organic opportunities where ZenWTR will fit within what they're doing, so it'll be some, some formal, some informal.”
‘By 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish’
Bottled in southern California, ZenWTR uses plastic certified by OceanCycle and turned into rPET by partner CarbonLITE that is ‘ocean-bound’ as it is not pulled out of the ocean, but recovered from within 30 miles of a coastline, or collected from beaches, waterways, and coastal areas, from a range of locations including Thailand, and turned into flakes, said Crowley.
“Once plastic gets into the ocean, it starts to degrade, so it’s too late to recover it for use in food grade recycling for example,” explained Crowley, who said ZenWTR was on track to achieve its mission of rescuing more than 50 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic by 2025.
COVID-19 and bottled water
While COVID-19 depressed bottled water sales in on-the-go channels, traffic in convenience retail and foodservice channels is picking up again, said Crowley, while there may also be opportunities to partner on events from the fall, assuming the vaccination rollout goes to plan.
“Off shelf display continues to be the number one driver of our business, and we think our packaging is best in class.”
The company has also developed a direct to consumer business, which encourages subscriptions, and helps the firm gain feedback from consumers, he said: “Plus we’ve also pushed really hard to get onto all the [online] delivery platforms such as Instacart.”
Sustainability and bottled water
ZenWTR goes through a reverse osmosis process before being ‘vapor distilled’ [ie. the water is boiled to create steam and then cooled to return it to its liquid state] and UV treated. Electrolytes are added for taste.
Although boiling water uses energy, ZenWTR claims that the use of the ocean plastic in the bottles, coupled with the fact that ZenWTR uses locally sourced municipal water as a water source rather than “trucking water half way around the globe,” makes it a better choice than some other premium bottled water brands.
While it’s arguably more sustainable – and certainly a lot cheaper - to drink tap water, especially when you’re at home, “The reality is that the bottled water market is meeting a consumer need, especially for hydration on the go, and bottled water is replacing sugary carbonated beverage occasions,” claimed Crowley, who notes that ZenWTR bottles are 100% recyclable, including the label and cap.
High click through rates
“We’re still very much in the trial phase, but if you’re asking why people are buying ZenWTR [vs other bottled water brands]," said Crowley, "it’s two things: the taste, and now we’re selling direct to consumer we're getting great reviews which is helping us as well, but also the mission, the 100% recycled ocean bound plastic, is really resonating with consumers.
“We see that in our click through digital data, we get a very high click through rate. It’s a lifestyle brand that you can feel good about. People also really like the wide-mouth bottle.”
Lance Collins added in a statement: “Through building this complex supply chain around rescuing and reusing ocean-bound plastic to create ZenWTR, we’ve changed the way food and beverage brands think about plastic. We’re shaking up the industry. The interest in the brand and our mission is off the charts.”
According to data from SPINS, US retail sales* of shelf-stable bottled water (which includes enhanced and flavored products, both still and sparkling) rose +11.19% to $15.8bn in the 52 weeks to Feb 21, 2021.
- Enhanced water +10.53%
- Sparkling water +20.4%
- Sparkling flavored water +30.6%
*Includes natural enhanced channel and conventional multi-outlet channel, excludes c-stores.
“Plastic-free is best when possible, but there are times when it's not an option. It's something that keeps me up at night so I'm excited that I have decided to invest in ZenWTR. In our world where plastic water bottles are seemingly inevitable — and a very important necessity for some — I’m so relieved there is now a more sustainable option that, over time, will keep a tremendous amount of plastic from reaching and polluting the ocean.” Actress and ZenWTR investor Anne Hathaway