Sugar-free soft drinks may not be a new idea, but the market is well and truly there, as consumers (and particularly parents) look for healthier alternatives to the sugar-laden liquids that currently make up so much of the consumer beverage market.
It’s an opportunity irresistible to Vista, a startup founded by three Auckland schoolmates-turned-business-partners, who are looking to make a positive social impact - and just maybe a profit in the process.
In essence, Vista is a flavoured sparkling water produced with just carbonated water and natural flavour derived from fruit. Unlike other flavoured waters on the market, it has no sugar or artificial sweeteners and less than one calorie per can – and they say that’s a first in New Zealand.
Not bad for a couple of school chums without any experience in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.
“We’re just three guys who went to school together,” says 26-year-old Scott Day, who, along with Russell Hopper (27) and Adam Sorensen (26) are looking to break into the Kiwi drinks market. “We were fans of soda water - just plain soda water with a bit of fruit in it. We loved it ourselves, but it seemed like it was something that just wasn't on the market.”
“The three of us were all living in different parts of the globe and were all from different backgrounds, but we still kept in touch – via a Facebook Messenger chat – and, from where we stood there was just nothing in the market that was anything like what we wanted to produce.”
Getting everything developed, knowing the legal stuff - what you can and can't say - design, distribution, the whole FMCG industry is very tight knit and everyone seems to know each other, so it’s definitely daunting at some stages. You manufacture 300,000 cans and when they are coming into the factory you're like ‘Oh my God, we actually have to sell all this’, but when you see people, especially kids, enjoying the healthy product you’ve produced, well, the rewards are tremendous.
Not content to simply bemoan the issue, the trio started formulating ‘home-cooked meal’ versions of what they would ideally like to see on shelves – ie “the most basic recipe there is”, a process Seth Goldman also went through when creating his hugely successful low-sugar brand Honest Tea – and from there, things began to take off.
Launching just ten months ago, Vista is now “flying off the shelves”. It is available for purchase at cafes and stores in 355ml cans (RRP $3.00) and 8-packs of each flavour (RRP $11.49) are available at select Countdown and FreshChoice stores. And, in a recent coup, has just been approved as a vendor for Foodstuffs, putting them in more than 45 New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square stores around the country, with more being added every week.
“The way we look at it is we’re basically looking to grow the healthy beverage category,” says Day, “and trying to build a brand people can trust. We want to create a brand where people feel as if they don't even have to look at the label to know that what’s inside will be good for them.”
And considering that sugary drinks are the number one source of sugar for New Zealand youth, there’s a strong focus on the social good that could be accomplished by getting Vista drinks into the hands (and mouths) of young people.
“We’re on a bit of a mission to stock the fridges of as many school canteens as possible,” says Day. “We’re trying to get schools on board with what we’re doing and we’re in talks to do that now. The way we look at it is 'hey, let kids have a bit of a treat, but not that sugary treat they get from one of the mainstream soft drinks.'”
“I think the hardest thing is gaining traction and getting people to try your product. You're offering something that hasn’t been done in New Zealand, so overcoming that initial hesitation is hard. That’s why we feel so lucky with Countdown taking us on, and Foodstuffs following suit after that.”
Next up, the trio are looking to take Vista global: the company, which has not received any outside investment, is currently working with a distributor in Australia and hoping to secure a place in some of the 900 supermarkets which operate under that banner.
“And after Australia it’s the Asian and European markets. Plus we’re developing two new flavours coming out this summer. Plus we’ve got a new product playing on the whole environmentally-friendly aspect, hopefully launching around November ... Getting everything developed, knowing the legal stuff – what you can and can't say – design, distribution, the whole FMCG industry is very tight knit and everyone seems to know each other, so it’s definitely daunting at some stages. You manufacture 300,000 cans and when they are coming into the factory you're like ‘Oh my God, we actually have to sell all this’, but when you see people, especially kids, enjoying the healthy product you’ve produced, well, the rewards are tremendous.”
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