Agua Bonita’s modern spin on Mexican aguas frescas has resulted in a refreshing drink that helps tackle food waste
Kayla Castañeda is from the first generation in her family to have not worked picking fruit in the fields of California’s Central Valley. But she does remember her grandfather making delicious aguas frescas (traditional Mexican fruit drinks) using fruits he brought back from work.
Kayla went on to work for big beverage brands for a decade. When the pandemic hit and she wanted to change direction, the answer seemed obvious: start a company producing the aguas frescas that her grandfather used to make, but with a modern twist. “I wanted to put a bit of my culture and family onto the shelves,” she explains. “Aguas frescas are simple, made of blended fruit and non-carbonated. Traditionally you add a lot of sugar, but we drastically reduced that, using agave in some flavours instead.”
Those familiar with the refreshing Latin American drinks will recognise flavours in the Agua Bonita range, such as hibiscus, or pineapple with cucumber. There are also interesting interpretations of old favourites, including spicy mango habanero. The company uses surplus fruit where possible, just as Kayla’s grandfather did.
Kayla points out that 30 per cent of food grown in the US goes to landfill – this can be for cosmetic reasons or surplus crops. “Living in a place like this, we see that first-hand,” she says. “There is fruit just sitting in the fields – unused.” Not only is putting it to use better for the planet, but farmers also benefit from the extra revenue. Agua Bonita drinks are served in eco-friendly cans and a portion of the profits goes to support migrant workers, who the US food system depends on.
From this tiny kernel, the company has grown to sell thousands of cans online and is stocked in around 2,000 stores across the US. Kayla has also raised significant venture capital. “I am the first Latina in our specific industry to raise more than a million dollars,” she says, “and I am one of only 90 Latinas across all industries to raise that amount or more. Less than half a per cent, 0.4 per cent, of all venture capital goes to women of colour.”
Next on the list is the launch of a range of cocktails, using Agua Bonita’s fruit recipes alongside tequila from Mexico. “We have been pioneers in this category,” says Kayla, “and we are happy to contribute to the beverage industry in this way.”