“We've spent a lot of time trying to find things our kids want to eat and drink,” said Erin Fasano, who launched Starryside direct-to-consumer (DTC) with fellow brand strategist Liz Seelye in late January following extensive testing with kids and parents (who hold the purse strings, but aren’t always on the same page as their children when it comes to food shopping).
“Our kids are always saying I want juice," said Fasano. "They like Honest Juice [Honest Kids combines water and juice with 8-9g sugar] but there's still sugar in it, and I'm not super excited to give them something that's not recyclable [Honest Kids pouches can be upcycled into other products but are not collected by curbside recycling schemes; while Honest Kids TetraPak cartons can be recycled, but are not always accepted by curbside recycling schemes].
“So in the kids’ beverage aisle, there are all the sugar laden options, and then a few new brands such as Creative Roots [from Kraft Heinz], but our kids were not interested in that. We tried Hint Water for kids, but they wouldn't finish that either, so we felt there had to be a better way, something kids can aspire to without the sugar that is also in packaging that is infinitely recyclable.”
Enter Star Water a still flavored water targeting 5-12 year olds, which comes in three flavors (Beachy peachy strawberry, Magical mango pineapple, and Rockin’ root beer) and contains filtered Rocky Mountain water, organic natural flavors, citric acid, monk fruit extract, zinc, and vitamins C and D for immune support.
Sweetening system: 'There’s just enough monk fruit to enhance the flavor, but you really get none of that aftertaste...'
While there is no shortage of flavored waters on the market, from Hint and Flow (still) to La Croix and Bubly, and A-ha (sparkling), kids generally prefer drinks with some sweetness, which meant working with high intensity sweeteners since they didn’t want to add sugar, said Fasano, who has worked at firms including Dole Packaged Foods, Sagely Naturals, and Brandable and serves as managing editor of Startup CPG.
“Having formulated a lot of food products with stevia and monk fruit, I was very resistant to having either because I have always struggled with the aftertaste that you often get.
“But we called a friend of ours that’s done some work with us on other projects before - he's a former Ben and Jerry's flavor guru - and he helped us come up with something that tastes really good.
“There’s just enough monk fruit to enhance the flavor, but you really get none of that aftertaste.”
Targeting tweens: Always age-up
When it comes to branding, Fasano and Seelye deliberately avoided cartoon characters, 'kid-friendly' fonts, and overt references to ‘kids’ (or 'kidz') on pack, strategies that might appeal to very young children, but not the 5-12 year-olds Starryside is targeting.
Echoing comments from David Lemley at brand consultant Retail Voodoo (“from first grade on, kids want brands that keep them from looking like babies to their peers”) Fasano noted that kids, especially tweens, do not want to be patronized, and often prefer ‘adult’ brands rather than products overtly targeting children.
“What parents have told us over and over again is that kids will take their parents’ drinks [La Croix, etc], and then they'll drink half the can and waste the rest,” she added. “So we kept the cans, which in and of themselves also feel older, but went down to 8oz [instead of the standard 12oz].”
‘Younger kids aspire to feel older’
Once you get beyond the cartoon character phase, she said, “Kids are wanting Diet Coke as their next option.”
“Younger kids aspire to feel older,” added Seelye, who worked at brand consultancy and advertising agency Sterling-Rice Group for 12 years before teaming up with Fasano on Starryside.
“Our sweet spot is five to 12 year olds, but the brand sort of expands on either end… College kids are saying they would drink this.”
Fasano added: “Early on we had a bunch of visual representations [of the brand] and we asked parents and kids what looks the most yummy? What looks the most interesting? We did see that parents liked different things than kids so we tried to find a way to make Mom feel comfortable and have kids feel like it's fun and engaging.
“We also have a sparkling Star Water in the pipeline and things like Sporty Star Water with electrolytes, and Smarty Star Water [with ingredients that support the brain].”
The go-to-market strategy
So what’s the go-to-market strategy for Star Water, which is co-packed in Colorado?
While beverages are heavy and expensive to ship, like most new CPG brands, Starryside has launched direct to consumer but is actively targeting bricks & mortar retail accounts, said Fasano.
"Our goal is not to be a DTC business. We know that scale, particularly for beverage, is going to come from retail distribution, which we're working hard to close.
“Liz has a great network on foodservice as well, so there are a lot of opportunities to not only reinvent the lunchbox but also the kids’ meal, so when you're at your local quick service or fast casual restaurant, there’s something other than milk or apple juice.”
Seelye added: “You've seen how those two categories for kids [milk, juice] have plummeted and parents have walked away from both, so we’re providing a more relevant option.”
‘CPMs are crazy right now’
As for getting the word out online, “CPMs are crazy right now,” said Fasano. “So we really haven't placed any bets there [paid social media] yet. I think probably the first spend we'll make is in paid search.”
Seelye added: “We will team up with other up and coming brands, and our official launch will be mid-April during World Creativity & Innovation Week and we have a special collaboration and giveaway plan for that. We also spend a lot of time on Instagram reaching out to mommy bloggers, talking to them about our products, sending them products so they can share them with their communities.
“And then, getting into the summer, there are sampling opportunities at events in Colorado [where Seelye is based] and L.A. [where Fasano is based].”
‘For retail, multi packs probably make the most sense’
Asked about retail pricing for the brand, which launched DTC at the end of January for $28/12cans ($22.40 for subscribers], she said: “So for retail, we're thinking multi packs probably make the most sense as we're targeting the juice set and everything in the juice set is in multi packs, so we're thinking a $5.99-6.99 for four, so it would definitely be a premium to some of the other options that are there now.
“But our operating hypothesis is that we're bringing moms back to a set that they've left.
“So these are moms who are buying [functional soda brands] Olipop and Poppi and those types of brands for themselves, but they're just not buying anything for their kids; they're offering milk or tap water, so we're our hypothesis is that there’s an opportunity for a premium priced option in the juice section for kids.”