A few years ago, hard seltzers burst onto the ready-to-drink scene, gaining popularity for their flavor options, low calorie content, and sessionable ABV. As the malt liquor drinks flew off store shelves, many notable beverage brands threw their hats into the ring, quickly saturating the market with the bubbly beverage.
The ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage market has seen growth and innovation over the last several years. According to a recent report by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the RTD segment, which includes malt-based, wine-based and spirit-based beverages, has been the fastest growing portion of the market and is expected to grow by an additional 8% by 2025. Now, forward-thinking entrepreneurs are working on the next big thing – vitamin enhanced and hard aguas frescas.
Aguas frescas are traditional Mexican drinks made from fresh fruit (or even vegetables like cucumber and spinach), water and cane sugar, sometimes flavored with fresh herbs such as mint or parsley. Aguas frescas vary depending on whatever fruit is in season and the recipes are simple and versatile, always refreshing and brimming with flavor.
A healthier alternative
Since she moved to Austin, Texas, from her home country of Mexico, Fernanda Sampson-Gómez missed aguas frescas but couldn’t find anything commercially available that was an upgrade from water but healthier and less sweet than soda. Not finding what she wanted she decided to make it herself.
After months of research and recipe tasting she launched Celzo in 2022 with her partner and co-founder Cat Sampson-Gómez. Available in three flavors – Lemon Basil Ginger, Hibiscus Strawberry Mint, and Spicy Tamarind – Celzo are lightly sparkling, low calorie drinks, sweetened with agave and containing beneficial ingredients for recovery, relaxation, and energy such as L-Theanine, B-12, Vitamin C, green tea, and 10 mg of broad-spectrum hemp (0% THC, non-psychoactive).
“The flavors were born in my kitchen. I bought ingredients and began to make combinations that I liked and that satisfied three types of palates: citrus, sweet and spicy. Through the flavors I wanted to make the consumer feel important, that this moment of hydration should also be a moment of joy, and mostly that you don’t need to choose between health and flavor.” Fernanda Sampson-Gómez, co-founder of Celzo.
With the CPG space long been dominated by men, the women behind Celzo are proud to have been successful, especially as a Latina and LGBTQ-owned brand.
“10 years ago, those labels would have played against me. Today those same labels are what makes me unique and stronger. Being and thinking differently will lead you to face many challenges, and in my case, it has not been the exception,” says Fernanda, adding that not all providers are used to dealing with women, nor with Latinas who do not speak perfect English.
“The good news is that times are changing, markets are opening and the relevance of women leading these categories is fundamental.” Fernanda Sampson-Gómez, co-founder of Celzo.
Just add alcohol = Hard aguas frescas
As hard seltzer multipacks and canned cocktails took over party bar tables, Hugo Martinez, an entrepreneur from Monterrey, Mexico, noticed something was missing.
“During my time at Stanford Business School, I began trying all kinds of hard seltzers. While I liked them, I was missing the bold flavors I grew up with in Mexico. It made me realize that what I really wanted was a hard agua fresca.” Hugo Martinez founder of Picadas.
Like Sampson-Gómez, he searched but could not find a drink that would fit this description so he too started making his own. Following a traditional family recipe, he fermented Mexican fruit in small, jarred batches at home, added cane sugar alcohol and shared the first version with family and friends. After tweaking the flavors to be just right, Martinez released Picadas – the first Mexican-made, ready-to-drink hard agua fresca.
The brand’s name comes from the term “con piquete,” colloquial Mexican slang meaning “spiked” or “with alcohol.” Hence, aguas frescas with piquete would be called aguas picadas, and while it is not a term often used, Martinez hopes that soon aguas picadas will be commonly used in the U.S. when referencing hard agua frescas.
“I saw a gap in the market that only a Mexican-made hard agua fresca could fill, because Mexicans never sacrifice flavor. As I was making the first batches of what would become Picadas, I kept that in mind. The flavors needed to be bold and resonate with those who grew up drinking agua frescas.” Hugo Martinez founder and president of Picadas.
Picadas come in three distinctive flavors – Mango, Guava, and Limonada. All are made with a base of real fruit juice (unlike hard seltzers which use a water base) and have 130 calories or less, a 4.5% ABV content and come with an individually-portioned packet of spicy chili salt to dress the rim and enjoy with each sip.
“Investing in Picadas was a no-brainer,” says John Ferrari, partner at Redbud Brands. “We love the product and we believe there is a massive opportunity for Mexican consumer packaged goods in the U.S.”
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