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,” says Fernanda. “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.”
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,” says Fernanda. “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,” she says, 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.”
Celzo is currently available in Texas, Aspen and nationally through their e-commerce platform, with people reaching out from places like Miami, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles asking when Celzo will arrive in their cities.
“So we’re working hard to make this happen pretty soon,” says Fernanda. “We want to get into every single household in the U.S. because why shouldn’t everyone have a taste of happiness?”
Just add alcohol
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,” said Martinez. “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.”
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” said Martinez. “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.”
Martinez began selling Picadas in Monterrey shops and farmers markets in 2020, and the drink skyrocketed in popularity. The brand quickly expanded to other markets in Mexico, as Martinez secured strategic partnerships with some of the country’s largest retail and grocery stores like Vinoteca, H-E-B, 7-Eleven, Soriana, and Chedraui.
Now, thanks to a partnership with Austin-based Redbud Brands, Picadas are already available in 200 H-E-B stores throughout Texas, and Martinez hopes to expand from there into other U.S. states.
“There are so many Latin Americans and people of Mexican descent in the U.S.,” says Martinez. “I knew they were searching for a drink with familiar flavors like I was. Now, instead of making it themselves, they can grab Picadas off the shelf and know it will taste just like homemade.”
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.
As the first Mexican hard agua fresca to be distributed in the Lone Star State, the brand is positioned to lead 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 we believe there is a massive opportunity for Mexican consumer packaged goods in the U.S.”