By Gregory Daurer | Dec 06, 2021
Agua frescas (soft drinks)
"I make the drink that you drink when you go on vacation -- Puerto Rico, Brazil [and other Latin American countries]," says Stewart. "I make 'em in a can -- and they're available right here!"
Stewart hails from Antigua Guatemala, where flower and fruit juice-based aguas frescas are a part of everyday life. "Guatemala is a place where people prefer to drink aguas frescas over water any time," says Stewart.
But Stewart calls his Frescos Naturales line of drinks "better-for-you aguas frescas," since his canned versions contain less sugar than the ones traditionally found in most Latin American markets or homes. For example, the Tamarindo (made with tamarind, "one of the most common and beloved beverages in Latin America," according to the can's text) contains only 13 grams of total sugars, six of which come from added cane sugar. They're also carbonated, which Stewart calls "a really unique creative twist."
In addition to tamarind, pineapple (which "originated in present-day Brazil and Paraguay," according to another can), and mango, there's also Guayaba (guava, which is "native to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean"), Maracuyá (passion fruit, which is a berry "native to Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina") and the deep ruby-red Rosa de Jamaica, which his web site describes as "a sweet and tart hibiscus infusion" often served at children's birthday parties.
The latter is the beverage Stewart first began bottling in 2018, selling it at farmers' markets alongside his Green Belly Foods line of hot sauces -- the cilantro-forward Green Belly, the smoky Red Belly, and the citrusy, mango and tamarind-flavored Yellow Belly. He describes the sauces as having a "cult-like following."
Stewart developed the Green Belly Foods line from recipes he'd learned in Guatemala from his mother, Maria del Carmen. His father, Stephen Stewart, is an American linguist and anthropologist, and Juan's renowned grandfather, Omer Stewart, was the first chairman of the University of Colorado's Anthropology Department, according to his obituary in the Deseret News.
Like his father, Juan attended the University of Colorado,as well, after moving to the United States at age 17. In 2015, he began Green Belly Foods alongside his cousin, Charlie Stewart. And it was ultimately his son, Joaquin, who first suggested that Juan begin selling his Rosa de Jamaica at the farmers' markets, alongside the Green Belly Foods hot sauces.
In early 2020, Stewart had his Rosa de Jamaica carbonated and canned, vending it as a Green Belly Foods product. At the end of the year, Frescos Naturales was incorporated as its own entity, before launching in 2021. "Everybody was already asking for more flavors," says Stewart, adding how he often heard, "Make Maracuyá!"
This past October, Frescos Naturales won Naturally Boulder's Pitch Slam, coming out on top of some other businesses which have been incorporated for a longer time. "Give me five years and you'll see where I'm going to be at!" he says, anticipating the addition of five more flavors in 2022, possibly including a Peruvian-style Chicha Morada.
The beverages are produced by Stewart's contract manufacturer Teakoe (which makes its own line of canned teas). Stewart obtains fruit puree and concentrate from Spectrum Fruits, a Minnesota company which sources fruit from all over the world; he prizes their tamarind from Thailand, mango from India.
When CompanyWeek interviewed Stewart, he was in the process of picking up 1,800 pounds of inventory, which, until recently, he's been solely self-distributing. He says Frescos Naturales has about 70 accounts, spread out between Denver, Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins. The company has a presence at about 200 farmers' market events per year, which Stewart calls "a huge economic engine" for R&D and sales. In addition to online, the drinks can be found at restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and convenience stores. They're available at Lucky's Market in Boulder, Choice Market and Leevers Locavore in Denver, and at the occasional Latin American bakery or restaurant.
Stewart says his beverages, produced by a "brown-led business," represent "authentic culture," noting that there's "a lot of pride and joy to see your culture represented."
Challenges: "Breaking down more barriers for entry," says Stewart. "I think that sometimes people don't understand what I'm making." Indeed he notes how, "We're not a soda, we're more like a fruit beverage with a Latin American recipe."
Opportunities: Having a unique product that fits into multiple channels, says Stewart. "We're making something totally different," he enthuses.
Needs: "Right now, funding," says Stewart. "I'm definitely looking for investment for growth."