How I Started an Innovative Bottled Water Company

Hello, my name is Seán Moran. I am the founder of EauLab® which a start-up beverage brand determined to evolve the global bottled water category with a range of body-helpful waters firmly rooted in the quickly growing sphere of health and wellness. 

The ‘eau’ part of EauLab® comes from the French word for water and the brand is pronounced: oh-lab. A few things drove me to explore and pursue this space. 

The bottled water sector as a whole has been sluggish in keeping up with a quickly changing marketplace. Little real attention is being paid to growing consumer demand for functionality, water is primarily sold in plastic packaging, and is still being transported thousands of miles. It’s quickly becoming a case of bottled water needing to evolve, or become irrelevant.

The Story of EauLab®

As consumers worldwide seek more from their beverages beyond flavor and hydration, our brand mission is to bring nature and science together. To add real value to water with plant-based functionality and other raw ingredients that are beneficial to the human body the way Mother Nature intended. And to offer those waters in packaging that is both sustainable and mindful of the environment. 

Lineup of EauLab® Healthy Water Beverages.

Contrary to traditional soda development thinking where a drinks range is usually defined by various flavors, our SKUs are developed, differentiated and pitched by body function. When we do use flavor, it is 100% natural and subtle as we are first and foremost, a water brand.

Our market-entry strategy is mostly bold and brave, with a small pinch of possibly crazy. That is, to roadshow this Brand and team up with a multi-national beverage company from the outset who can help bring this Brand to market quickly and in a meaningful way.

What are your ballpark monthly or annual revenue numbers?

Since we are in roadshow mode to get the brand some exposure, and partner, we are pre-trading – as in, we haven’t sold a single can of water. 

The only metric I can offer is the sampling take-rate at our first exhibition, IFE.  The Gut Support Water was such a hit, we had people coming back to the stand each morning for another can.  By the morning of Day 2, our stand stock was completely out and had to hop in a car and cross London to collect more from the AirBnB we were staying in.  In four days, we got through 978 cans. That is a lot of cans to handle – and a lot of talking!

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was born in Chicago to Irish parents and returned to Ireland as a baby.  After university in Dublin, I got on a plane to NYC with an American passport to get into the advertising agency world.

It was a career choice I adored and rose up through the ranks of account management at global agencies Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy, TBWA. No day was the same, each client varied very differently – a meeting for detergent in the morning, and chocolate or cookies in the afternoon. 

This is where I learned about the power of the brand and how it can successfully differentiate you from the competition on many levels. It’s also where I learned about what I believe to be the most powerful concept in marketing – focus. 

Of not being frightened of doing one thing well, of appealing to one type of customer. When a beacon shines bright, like moths to a flame, you will find many other different types of customers being attracted to your brand – they may even represent a much greater percentage of your volume than your core customer.

Arriving at EauLab® was actually quite a journey for me and the process was often shaped by things beyond my control. I created a speciality leaf tea brand several years ago for distribution in major supermarket chains.

At the very start, I spent most days filling my little car to the ceiling with cartons and driving to each individual supermarket, checking goods in, bringing them to the floor and stacking the shelves myself.

A very humble beginning but it sure shows you quickly what’s selling, what’s not, and which are your strong markets. Unfortunately, I ‘d gotten into a business with a partner I didn’t know well and whose behavior was decidedly erratic. The situation became untenable, and ended. It was a very difficult period.

This is when my interest in ready-to-drink tea, rather than tea leaves, kicked in and I started to explore a health benefits angle in an incubator program who found some merit in the initial thinking. I often joke now with the program director that I walked in with one idea which was challenged every way possible and came out with another.

This is where EauLab® was born and that too is a continued process of learning and developing.

Take us through the process of developing and testing your water beverages?

I debuted EauLab® at the biennial International Food & Drink Event 2019 trade show in London which is the largest exhibition of its kind in the UK. Getting ready for it was possibly one of the most challenging and intense periods of my life. 

Next Generation Water.

Having booked a space at the show with an event organizer, I put the phone down and took a deep breath in the realization that there was just 8 months to take an early idea and turn it into a fully flushed out brand, with real product to sample so that others could see and touch the vision.

A classic case of jumping from the high-board and then figuring out what to do on the way down.

With my marketing hat on, I live by one motto – it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.  So how the brand might be expressed was of paramount importance.

I approached a young design team in Poland (we have yet to meet in person) who had helped me on another project and so the process of sharing my vision in very rough sketches began. The desire from the outset was clear – simple, bold, beautiful and act differently from other beverage brands.

It’s not what you do. It’s how you do it.

There were two important aspects in creating the EauLab® Body range. Firstly, I looked at hot topics in the health and wellness sectors such as gut health, immune wellness, healthier energy, free-from, vegan and clean label in order that a range had consumer relevance.

Secondly, and by far the biggest challenge was to find a company who could produce a minimum beverage run for sampling at the trade show.

Capacity of canning lines in the UK is seriously stretched so finding a slot was a massive challenge. I could afford to produce one drink so we decided to go with our Gut Support Water because it was a hot topic that would be fresh storytelling at IFE, and so it was.

Gut Support Water.

I saw photographs of real product for the first time on a Friday afternoon standing in the airport security line getting ready to fly from Ireland to the UK for IFE as the cans were being packed into the boot of my sisters car…with the trade show starting two days later on Sunday.

It was a bit of a shock to see that the white background of the can sleeve artwork had not been printed but I was just relieved to have something to sample…the show must always go on! And, the mistake gave me another idea. 

Describe the process of launching the business.

Intellectual property (IP) was one of the first things on the to-do list.  From the moment the EauLab® name was a eureka moment, trade mark applications would be submitted whenever the money would allow. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this aspect for any business.  

EauLab® Logo

Long before a product range and packaging design were nailed down, social media for EauLab® began. I felt it was essential to start the story as early as possible.

It’s a bit like talking about your café long before the doors have opened. It’s a great opportunity to explain why you are doing what you’re doing and to slowly unfold the brand point of view. It also means that your postings are building up which brings a certain amount of gravitas when others have a browse. They can get an immediate feel for the brand and how it is different.

Screenshots from https://www.eaulab.com/

We use a website template from Wix which can easily be customized and maintained ourselves. It offers control, flexibility and can be changed easily as the brand evolves and as we get a little smarter.

How we do it.

A big lesson in the process so far is not to wait until everything is ‘perfect’. 

I am a Virgo and have perfectionist tendencies but balancing this with speedy execution is crucial. Are things ever perfect? I think not. But the faster you execute, the quicker you will learn and be able to tweak and push on.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The World Food Innovation Awards (WFIA) are held in conjunction with the IFE trade exhibition and I felt it was a terrific opportunity to test the brand and see what 14 independent judges located all over the world had to say. I also viewed it as a marketing effort and a great way to get the brand some attention. 

With budget restraints, the brand was entered into just 3 categories and the judge’s response was goosebump-making. 

EauLab® achieved finalist for the three categories it entered: Best Brand, Best Drink Concept and Best Health & Wellness Drink. I still get goosebumps. 

From that, interest in the brand by retail buyers and distributors from all over the world has ignited which is a great vote of confidence and a nice way to open a dialogue. Journalists too, latched on very quickly.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

To go from 0-60, quickly, involves finding the right partnership from the very beginning. So energies are now spent getting the brand out there, engaging in dialogue and seeing how we might partner.

We have created something highly differentiated, utterly relevant and stand out in a cluttered space – which I think will appeal to a big company who seeks to be innovative but where the corporate environment doesn’t always lend itself to creating something fresh and unique.

Just after IFE 2019 in London, we were approached by Ecotrophelia Next Food Generation and invited to apply to showcase at Anuga October 5th-9th, 2019, which is the largest food and beverage trade show in the world taking place this year in Cologne, Germany.

Ecotrophelia Next Food Generation aims to gather the most innovative food concepts and after a rigorous application and selection process, we just found out that EauLab® was successful in being selected to exhibit in the future trends pavilion.

We are slotted for the Anuga Horizon 2050 space within the show which highlights the major food trends we will experience by 2050 with new technologies – and visionary thinking. A huge honor. 

We will present the debut EauLab® Body range, but the product development thought process never ceases. More than ever, I believe a brand of stature must be able to compete in a multi-channel environment.

To figure out a way that fits within a master brand construct yet manages to be relevant to very different consumer segments by offering solutions that are tightly tailored to them. We will take the Anuga opportunity to introduce EauLab® Athlete and EauLab® Kids with body-helpful waters firmly rooted in plant-based and natural raw ingredients.

Smiling Water.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the future, I see a world where we will all choose a water for a physical, mental or emotional need. For a time of day. For a mood. To tackle stress, to sleep, to focus…perhaps even to remember. A water that will vary upon our gender, our genetic disposition, our stage of life.

What. Why. How.

EauLab® has also ignited interest within the beverage industry. I’ll be going directly from the Anuga show and flying to Dubai as an invited guest speaker at the Global Bottled Water Congress.

It’s a veritable who’s-who in the space and it will be exciting to talk about the brand and see what opportunities or partnerships might exist ahead.

Through starting the beverage business, what have you learned?

I’ve learned the most by making mistakes.

One particular mistake has always stuck with me. It was a first and very important meeting with the grocery buyer of one of the largest retailers in the UK and Ireland.

While the product was superlative to anything on the shelves at the time, the brand concept we’d ended up with after a lengthy exploratory was rubbing me the wrong way. My gut just felt it wasn’t right and as with many start-ups, we didn’t have the time, budget or resources to do some independent research.

The internal debate raged within the team until something had to give way to avoid an impasse. So I agreed that we would present the brand as it was…on condition…that we would have alternative direction in-hand which I developed within days.

In the meeting, the buyer nodded all the way.  Agreed on the ‘why’ and ‘what’. But when it came to the ‘how’, she shook her head and said it wasn’t a direction she was comfortable with.

I knew full well that this moment could be the only opportunity to continue a dialogue towards attaining a listing and getting on shelves. I reached under the table and placed the alternative concept on the table. The buyer instantly smiled and exclaimed “Yes, that’s more like it!”

So, what I learned from this – firstly, even with the best intentions and skillset be prepared to get it wrong. Listen to your gut instinct. Don’t be afraid to change direction, quickly. 

And, most importantly, always remember that buyers are captivated by brands as humans, not as buyers.

What platform/tools do you use for your business? What kitchen or cooking utensils or equipment you couldn’t live without?

My greatest luxury of the day is that first coffee in the morning.  Refusing to embrace capsule-culture, I use a classic stove top Bialetti Moka Express first designed in 1933.  

The Bialetti Moka Express in all her glory.

I work from the west coast of Ireland with a phone and laptop which make the world seem like a small and connected place. I thank Steve Jobs, daily.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts?

That’s easy – The Do Book Company, a publishing house based in London who produces inspirational pocket guides for creative entrepreneurs, makers and doers. ‘The idea is a simple one: that people who do things, can inspire the rest of us to go and do amazing things too.’ 

The Do Book Company

‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ is also a favourite pick-up from time to time. I was very fortunate to meet David when working at Ogilvy NY.

I was first introduced to him as he waited for the elevator wearing a well-worn tweed jacket, characteristic red suspenders (‘braces’ over here as suspenders mean something altogether different), and leather briefcase with an exquisite chestnut patina.  

“Are they paying you enough?”, he asked. Taken aback and flustered, I uttered “Yes, I think so.”  He smiled as the elevator doors closed and off he went. Amusing that this book cover now has a strapline “I hate rules.” That was David.

‘Ogilvy on Advertising”

Advice for other food and beverage entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

My foodie friends obsess about…the food. That is a perfectly natural and necessary. Make it delicious, make it wonderful, make it the best that it can be.

However, as a brand guy, I’d have to profer that this is just a jumping-off point if you are starting a business.

Many moons ago, I learned and have never forgotten an old saying in the advertising agency business and it applies beautifully to anyone starting a food business. Elmer Wheeler coined it in 1937 and it’s brilliant in its relevance today: “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle”

So start to look how you are going to make the experience different. This can be little things like presentation which cost little, but are noticed by your customers and speak volumes that you care.

One little café that just opened near where I live offers the most amazing picnic box to-go with Irish cheeses, Irish cold meats, sourdough bread, chutney.  All delightful. The icing on the proverbial cake is the recycled brown cardboard box, recycled brown paper napkin, the eco-friendly wooden utensils, all tied up with a little piece of brown string. Tiny detail, massive positive perception…and absolutely nothing needed to be said.

My parting words are this: opportunity exists in even the most well-trodden spaces. It is our job as creators to craft something new in even the most crowded or tired sectors. Because a clear and highly unique expression rises like a phoenix from the ashes…and your customers will see as it utterly fresh, and different. And so the cycle continues. 

Always remember, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. 

Where to learn more

About Support Staff

Brett Lindenberg is the founder of Food Truck Empire and Food Empire Pro. Brett's mission is help to entrepreneurs start and grow profitable food businesses. Since 2014, Brett has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on the Food Empire Pro podcast and written hundreds of blog posts on all aspects of food business. Brett has been quoted in media outlets like Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC, and The Washington Post.