Latin American beverage startup featured on ‘Shark Tank’

BOULDER, COLO. — Aguas frescas are making a splash stateside, buoyed by recent launches from major brands including Chipotle Mexican Grill and The Coca-Cola Co. Consumer interest in the Latin American refreshments has grown by nearly 42% over the past year, according to Tastewise, a food and beverage industry data platform.

Several years ago, Juan Ignacio Stewart began bottling the beverage — known as refrescos, or simply frescos, in his native Guatemala — to sell at Colorado farmers markets. Formulated with water, hibiscus and a touch of sugar, the drink was a hit with the local community and marked the launch of Frescos Naturales. Today, the brand offers six sparkling options, including hibiscus, tamarind, passion fruit, pineapple, guava and mango, sold in coffee shops and grocery stores in the Boulder and Denver areas and rolling out to several Kroger divisions, including Ralphs and King Soopers.

A recent appearance on the TV show “Shark Tank” is expected to accelerate demand for the culturally inspired contraption.

“Using recipes from my upbringing back home in Guatemala, I developed Frescos Naturales, the first complete line of better-for-you sparkling aguas frescas,” said Mr. Stewart during his pitch in the episode, which aired Jan. 20. We only use three ingredients, one of which is water, then the highest quality fruits and flowers and then just a little bit of sugar to wrap them well.”

He added, “Every Latino you know in the United States drinks this and has had it their whole life … but you go to the store and you don’t find it.”

The panel of investors praised his energy and entrepreneurial spirit, but showed reluctance to back a beverage startup due to the industry’s many challenges, including competition and costs.

Ultimately, Mr. Stewart partnered with guest shark Daniel Lubetzky, founder and chief impact officer of Kind Snacks and co-founder of SOMOS Foods, to position Frescos Naturales for future growth. While an investment deal was being discussed during the shoot, Mr. Lubetzky has since committed to providing resources and mentorship to Mr. Stewart, who launched a hot sauce company before founding the beverage business.

“When I went into ‘the tank,’ he was definitely the one I wanted to work with,” said Mr. Stewart in an interview with Food Business News, citing Mr. Lubetzky’s integrity, business acumen and a shared cultural connection. Mr. Lubetzky is Mexican-American.

During the episode, Mr. Lubetzky the market opportunity for aguas frescas, telling the other Sharks, “This is really on trend. It’s one of the hottest spaces.”

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