Move Over Seltzer – Fortified and hard fresh Aguas are the next big thing

A few years ago, hard salters burst onto the ready-to-drink scene, gaining popularity for their flavor options, low calorie content, and sessionable ABV. As malt beverages flew off store shelves, many notable liquor brands threw their hats into the ring, quickly flooding the market with the bubbly beverage.

The ready-to-drink (RTD) soft drink market has seen growth and innovation in recent years. According to a recent report by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the R&D segment, which includes malt-based beverages, wine and spirits, was the fastest growing segment 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 – fortified vitamins and tough agave murals.

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 like mint or parsley. Aguas frescoes vary according to the fruit of the season and the recipes are simple and versatile, always refreshing and full of flavor.

A healthier alternative

Since moving to Austin, Texas, from her native Mexico, Fernanda Sampson-Gómez missed aguas frescoes, but couldn’t find anything commercially available that was an upgrade from water but healthier and less sweet than the soda. Not finding what she wanted, she decided to make it herself.

After months of research and tasting recipes, 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 slightly fizzy, 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 cannabis (0% THC, non-psychoactive).

“The flavors were born in my kitchen,” says Fernanda. “I bought ingredients and started making combinations that I liked and satisfied three kinds 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 above all that you don’t have to choose between health and taste.”

With the CPG space long dominated by men, the women behind Celzo ​​are proud to have been successful, especially as a Latina and LGBTQ brand.

“Ten years ago these companies would have played against me,” says Fernanda. “Today those same labels are what make me unique and stronger. Being and thinking differently will lead you to face many challenges and in my case it was no exception,” she says, adding that not all providers are used to dealing with women, or Latinas who don’t speak perfect English.

“The good news is that times are changing, markets are opening up and the relevance of women leading these categories is fundamental.”

The Celzo ​​is currently available in Texas, Aspen, and nationwide through their e-commerce platform, with people reaching out to places like Miami, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles asking when it will arrive Celzo ​​in their cities.

“So we’re working hard to make that happen very soon,” says Fernanda. “We want to get into every household in the U.S. Why can’t everyone have a taste of happiness?”

Just add alcohol

As hard multipacks of seltzer and canned cocktails took over the party tables, Hugo Martinez, a businessman from Monterrey, Mexico, noticed something was missing.

“During my time at Stanford Business School, I started trying all kinds of hard seltzers,” Martinez said. “While I liked them, I missed the bold flavors I grew up with in Mexico. It made me realize that what I really wanted was a hard agave mural.”

Like Sampson-Gómez, he searched but couldn’t find a drink that fit that description, so he started making his own. Following a traditional family recipe, he fermented Mexican fruit in small batches in a jar at home, added sugar cane alcohol and shared the first version with family and friends. After refining the flavors to be just right, Martinez released Picadas—the first Mexican-made, ready-to-drink hard fresca agua.

The brand name comes from the term “con piquete”, in colloquial Mexican slang meaning “spicy” or “with alcohol”. Therefore, piqued aguas frescoes 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 US when referring to hard frescoes.

“I saw a gap in the market that only a Mexican-made hard agua fresco could fill, because Mexicans never sacrifice taste,” Martinez said. “As I was making the first batches of what would become Picada, I kept that in mind. The flavors had to be bold and resonate with those who grew up drinking fresh agua.”

Martinez began selling Picadas to Monterey stores and farmers in 2020, and the drink skyrocketed in popularity. The brand quickly expanded into other markets in Mexico as Martinez secured strategic partnerships with some of the country’s largest retailers and grocers such as Vinoteca, HEB, 7-Eleven, Soriana and Chedraui.

Now, thanks to a partnership with Austin-based Redbud Brands, Picadas are already available in 200 HEB stores across Texas, and Martinez hopes to expand from there to other US states.

“There are so many Latinos and people of Mexican descent in the U.S.,” Martinez says. “I knew they were looking for a drink with familiar flavors like me. Now, instead of making it themselves, they can pick Picada off the shelf and know it will taste like home.”

Picadas come in three signature flavors – Mango, Guava and Limonada. All are made with a real fruit juice base (as opposed to hard sauces that use a water base) and are 130 calories or less, 4.5% ABV, and come with a separate serving packet of spicy chili salt to dress the lip and enjoy with every sip.

As the first Mexican hard agave mural to be distributed in the Lone Star State, the brand is poised to take the ready-to-drink market in a new direction.

“Investing in Picadas was a no-brainer,” says John Ferrari, partner at Redbud Brands. “We love the product and believe there is a huge opportunity for Mexican packaged goods in the US.”

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