Startup Spotlight

Crunchy Hydration finds sweet success by skipping sugar and its low-, no-calorie counterparts, underscoring consumer demand for flavorful but not sweet options

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

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The early retail success of functional beverage startup Crunchy Hydration shows sugar – or its low- and no-calorie counterparts – are not a necessary ingredient for success in a category that is laden with sweeteners used to mask the sometimes bitter or off-notes of many nootropics, adaptogens or other herbs, vitamins and minerals.

“A really big standup for us is no sugar, no fake sugars,” including “no monk fruit, no stevia. You are not going to get any of that” in Crunchy Hydration’s slightly carbonated hydration and functional beverages, said Chief Operating Officer Heather Herring, who spoke to FoodNavigator-USA at an event hosted by CPG Startup in Washington.

She explained that no sweeteners does not mean no flavor. Rather, the startup relies on fruity and floral flavors that help convey the benefits touted by each of the brand’s six SKUs – all of which feature 200 milligrams of L-theanine to support mental focus and calmness.

The lineup includes three options that promote peacefulness – Bliss, which blends lavender and lemon with CBD; Om, which also includes CBD and grapefruit flavoring; and Calm – a watermelon flavor without CBD. Crunchy Hydration offers two caffeinated options – lime flavored Elevate with CBD and mango flavored Energize without CBD. The last SKU, Stabilize, blends raspberry flavor with licorice and dandelion for gut support.

By bucking the sweet status quo that dominates many beverage categories and delivering functional benefits consumers want helped Crunchy Hydration secure distribution in retailers that are well-respected and frequented by wellness and natural consumers, including select Wegman’s and Whole Foods Markets, as well as “quite a few local and independent operations that span everything from a yoga studio to an organic grocer to the corner store,” Herring said.

Bootstrapping 101: Where to save and where to spend

As a bootstrapped business, Crunchy Hydration is loath to spend money unnecessarily, but Herring says there are three areas that she deems worthy of investment – two of which directly support the company’s expansion into retail.

“We are the epitome of bootstrapped,” said Herring, noting the company did not raise capital until about five years after its 2019 launch.

She explains she and the company founder were able to save money and stretch their budgets by DIYing as much as they could, including delivering product to retailers out of the backs of their personal cars and developing personal relationships with local buyers to waive slotting fees.

But there were three “buckets” where Herring said the company was willing to spend resources.

The first was on branding and marketing to ensure the company’s look was fresh and resonated with consumers and the packaging was able to communicate to consumers the value of the product – a point that became more important as the brand expanded to the point where the team could not be at each location to educate shoppers.

The second area where Crunchy Hydration invested was in sampling and demoing their beverage to make sure the beverages had maximum exposure.

The last area where Crunchy Hydration is willing to spend extra is on human capital to ensure the team can grow along with the brand to efficiently support partners.

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