The seed funding round comes from early-stage funds, angel investors, industry veterans, and celebrities including actor Scott Eastwood and follows Aura Bora's airing on ABC's Shark Tank where co-founders, Paul and Madeleine Voge secured a deal with Robert Herjavec for $200,000 and 15% equity in the company.
For the Voges, the buy-in they've received from consumers, retailers, and now investors for their "delightful yet peculiar sparkling water company" is "really affirming," Paul Voge told FoodNavigator-USA.
With flavors such as Cactus Rose, Lavender Cucumber, Peppermint Watermelon, Basil Berry, and Lemongrass Coconut (SRP $1.99 per 12-ounce can), Aura Bora has taken a flavor-first approach to setting itself apart in the competitive sparkling water set.
"Our whimsical cans are as interesting and peculiar as the flavors inside them. Sparkling water drinkers all across the country are connecting with our unique flavors, and we would love to get them to more people," he said.
Instead of using natural flavors in its products, Aura Bora uses herbal, fruit, and floral extracts to flavor its water, which according to the company, provides a more vivid and bold flavor and aroma experience for consumers.
"The quick way of thinking of it from a manufacturing perspective is you have to be ultra-diligent because a 1,000th of a percentage of an extract makes an enormous difference [in the final product]. The process is much more expensive, so you end up paying a lot more for these ingredients," said Voge.
Where's the white space?
The sparkling water category has seen its fair share of new entrants in recent years, so how much opportunity is there for a new player?
A lot, says Voge, who believes that the past few years have proven the almost limitless growth and white space in the category.
"I think there’s room for many winners in this category," Voge told FoodNavigator-USA, who notes that consumers are constantly searching for the next iteration of the beverage.
"Sparkling water has been having double-digit growth years every year for more than a decade. It’s by far the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage."
The fan craze may have started with La Croix, but it's now branched into several hybrid segments from Recess to Spindrift, notes Voge.
"It feels like each year we have a new version of it. Now if you have ask someone their favorite, sparkling water they may ask you to clarify," said Voge.
"And our hope is that when someone asks you, 'What’s your favorite craft or artisanal sparkling water?', your answer would be Aura Bora."
For Aura Bora, the brand is differentiating itself in three ways (in order of importance): developing one-of-a-kind flavors, providing natural taste and more natural ingredients, and lastly, creating a brand and packaging (featuring that consumers can connect with.
Sparkling water and social identity
That kind of consumer allegiance and connection to a sparkling water brand is not just the stuff of brand marketers' dreams. According to research from a YCCI (Yale Center for Consumers Insights) Discovery Project led by Yale School of Management students, sparkling water holds social significance for consumers, and isn't just seen as a healthier alternative to soda.
In speaking with consumers, Yale students found that many of the study participants viewed sparkling water not only as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, but also as a way to avoid the judgement of others and fit in socially.
"Sparkling water was also spoken about as a way to fit into a niche group, through discovering their unique identity. One person mentioned drinking sparkling water because artists she was surrounded with at work drank it. Another mentioned that her artistic friends at school drank it, carrying with it a certain status," student researchers noted
"Finally, there was also an excitement of discovering new flavors that consumers reported in product reviews and in interviews, particularly with certain brands."
How will the funding be used?
Aside from the vote of confidence the seed funding has provided Aura Bora, Voge says, "It allows us to grow in a way we have not been able to in the last few months."
The funds will be allocated to building out the brand's team, increasing its distribution to new retailers and to new regions of existing retailers.
The third area, said Voge, will be expanding the company's manufacturing capabilities.
"We’re going to be bringing on a second contract manufacturer, which will support our upcoming limited edition flavors. We’re coming out with more and more limited edition flavors for the rest of this year and all of this year," he said.