This month we sat down with Kayla Castañeda, Founder and CEO of Agua Bonita, a beverage company that makes healthy-for-you versions of agua frescas.
Kayla talked to us about the origins of Agua Bonita, her experience as a Latina founder, her dream celeb collaboration and her advice for fellow founders. The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Trackmind: Hi Kayla! Thanks for being here. To start off, we have a fun question: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
Kayla: I’ve thought about this a lot actually, and it would either be to read people’s minds, or to teleport, because I would just be everywhere on time, anywhere I want to be. Teleporting seems way less stressful, but the curiosity in me says mind reading.
Trackmind: How did Agua Bonita get its start? What gave you the idea to create a canned healthy version of an agua fresca?
Kayla: I was consulting for a start-up and the pandemic came into town and took away that business all at once. I started thinking about what I would do if I had the opportunity to start my own company and agua fresca fit the bill in just so many different ways. Agua fresca has been around for a long time, so we didn’t come up with that idea, but I think because they have always been such a staple in Mexican culture and in a lot of Latino households, they are overlooked sometimes. The things that are always there are easy to forget about.
I wanted to create something that was reflective of me and my family and our culture, but also something that I knew consumers would gravitate towards. With the idea of a canned agua fresca, we could do fun flavors and have a good business model from a cost of goods standpoint. It was one of those things that just checked all the boxes and that no one else was doing, so that’s how inspiration struck.
Trackmind: That’s amazing. When you decided to run with this idea, what was the next step?
Kayla: I had enough experience with making agua fresca in my life, so I had an idea of what I wanted our drinks to taste like. The challenging part was all of the technical things, like how do I find the right co-packer?
We wanted it to be shelf stable. That was a whole other layer of complexity. That was the big challenge up front. I think still in some respects, it still is. We’ve gotten a lot better. We have great partners now. We keep evolving, but when you’re doing something that’s so different from what everybody else in the industry is doing, there’s no turn-key solution.
Trackmind: That’s what drew us to your story in the beginning – you were doing something totally different. Now, canned beverages are huge and there is so much competition in the canned beverage space, but Agua Bonita’s popularity is exploding. What do you think sets Agua Bonita apart?
Kayla: One, just on a technical side, is that we’re a canned beverage but we’re not carbonated. That was an intentional choice because we wanted the most eco-friendly packaging options, even if we weren’t going to be carbonated. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and is much more likely to be recycled by consumers than plastic so we really wanted that to be our choice of packaging, even if we weren’t carbonated.
Our packaging choices are just one part of the eco commitments of our business and I think that is truly the thing that sets us apart. Not only are we doing something steeped in our heritage, that tastes good and is good for you, but we also want it to be good for the planet.
Trackmind: That’s great. We are seeing Latinas create space for themselves and break down barriers a lot recently. The first Mexican-born woman went to space recently. Anitta was the first Brazilian artist to win a VMA. Becky G’s killing it. How do you feel, not just seeing them, but also being one of the Latinas creating space for herself in an industry?
Kayla: It is a very humbling space to be in and a very humbling position to be in, because I am so grateful and so excited every time someone comes up to me and says, “Oh, your story has inspired us.” I was at this big conference over the last few days, and there were women coming up to me saying things like, “I recorded your speech and sent it to my daughters to let them know, ‘Hey, you can do this too.'”
So, on one hand, I’m just very grateful for all of that and on the other hand, I do feel an immense obligation to my community to continue pushing our culture forward and to help other people, other women, other Latinas, accomplish whatever it is that they’re trying to accomplish. It’s just a very humbling position to be in.
Trackmind: Wow, yeah that must be so powerful hearing from people that you have impacted. Are there any people in your life that you draw inspiration from?
Kayla: Oh, yeah, I am very loved and very supported by my family, my significant other, everyone. My parents, I think, have been proud of me since I was like three years old. I do draw a lot of inspiration from them because [Agua Bonita’s] origin story draws so much on my grandpa and our family roots that it’s hard to not think that, one, I am doing this for my family and sharing our story, and two, that same story is the story of so many other people and other families that are just like mine.
Trackmind: That’s very special. For Agua Bonita, what would be your dream celebrity collaboration?
Kayla: I knew this question was coming. That’s hard to say. I think everyone would just die to do something with Bad Bunny, so that would be a big one. I’d also love to work with Jenna Ortega. She just got cast as Wednesday Addams in the new TV series. She’s an up and coming Latina actress and I think that she’s killing it. I think she’s the next “it” girl so I would love to do something with her.
Trackmind: I would love to see both of those collaborations! I know you are direct-to-consumer. Are you in-stores as well?
Kayla: We have a robust direct to consumer pipeline. We ship everywhere, but you’ll also see us in a lot of new stores this spring. We’ll be in stores like Target, Whole Foods, and 7-Eleven and we’ll be adding about 1500 new stores in the next six months.
Trackmind: That’s so exciting. What is the most rewarding success you’ve had so far with Agua Bonita? Big or small.
Kayla: I think a rewarding success has been being able to build a team. I think the idea that our company can support the livelihood of other really talented professionals is a huge feat in and of itself.
Trackmind: That’s amazing. Where do you see Agua Bonita going in the future?
Kayla: I think right now, we are focused on expanding into new retailers, and that will be our focus for a while. Eventually, we would love to become the premier portfolio of premium Latino goods. I think that means expanding beverage categories – maybe it’s functional beverages, maybe it’s alcoholic beverages. I think that we have an opportunity to build a premium beverage portfolio in the Latino space that just hasn’t really been done before.
Trackmind: Amazing. Very exciting. Do you have any advice for other founders?
Kayla: I think my advice, and something that I had to learn, is that there’s a time for patience, and then there’s a time for working really quickly. Not everything happens overnight, but sometimes things do happen overnight and you do have to work very quickly. Don’t be discouraged during the times when you just need to exercise patience, just keep at it day after day.