How thinking smaller led to big growth for a Maryland boxed water startup - Baltimore


Aug. 10, 2018 5:05 pm

How thinking smaller led to big growth for a Maryland boxed water startup

After focusing on a beverage line for kids, Columbia-based RETHINK raised $6.7 million and is looking to grow distribution.

Rethink Kids Water is reinventing the juice box.

(Photo via Rethink Brands)

Washington College alums Matt Swanson and Chris O’Donovan started RETHINK Water in 2015, they set out to bring change to the beverage industry. That’s remained the same, even as they tweaked the product to reach a new audience.

In recent weeks, it closed on $6.7 million in funding from AccelFoods, a New York–based firm, as it looks to expand distribution in big grocery chains.

The Columbia, Md.–based cofounders created an unsweetened water product that wasn’t carbonated and aimed to be healthy – “zero calories, zero sodium zero sugar,” Swanson said – and came in a paper box instead of a plastic bottle.

In seeking to create different kinds of products, they created one line catered toward kids. It was a market that was already used to boxes. In the industry, it’s known as the aseptic container category, but we know them as juice boxes. When RETHINK looked at the market, they didn’t see many new kinds of offerings. Mostly, Swanson said, “The beverages that people consume today are different than the beverages consumed 25 years ago.” But in kids’ offerings, that wasn’t happening as much.

About a year ago, the company’s leaders decided it was promising enough to focus. In part, Swanson said, they wanted to stand for something. They also saw an opportunity to bring change to the category with the smaller 200 mL package and five organic fruit essence flavors.

“We decided to de-emphasize the adult side of our business and go all-in on kids,” said Swanson, who previously worked at Procter & Gamble and Google.

Initial interest from Target helped, and over the last three months Swanson said the company has been inking deals to expand distribution in Walmart, Target, Kroger, and CVS – more than 10,000 stores in all.  The company is looking to add field teams in key markets to add to its team of 10 full-time employees, and it has partnerships in place for contract manufacturing and marketing.

The cofounders see water products moving into the space once occupied by soft drinks. For the older set, sparkling water has brought new offerings.

“If water’s exploding then it should be exploding for kids, as well,” Swanson said.

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