Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?

My name is Elyse Sara, and I am the Founder of Fat Leaf Water, a cactus water based sports hydration beverage.  I began the development process back in the summer of 2018.  We then ran a successful Kickstarter campaign this past summer, and we are launching on Amazon this coming fall season, so it’s a very exciting time for us! 

We currently offer three flavors, all sold in 16.9 oz bottles – Rimrock Red (featuring raspberry and blueberry flavors), Key Lime Mirage (with key lime and meyer lemon), and Mojave Citrus (which contains tangerine, blood orange, turmeric and black pepper).  Since we are just getting in gear to launch, we are still exploring our customer base, but we are aiming to target plant-based athletes, health-minded parents, and those focused on overall wellness.

fat leaf water

Fat Leaf Water lineup of sports beverages.

All three of our varieties are filled with electrolytes, antioxidants and taurine, offering a guilt-free and delicious way to hydrate!  Our brand culture values the joy of movement, sustainability and protecting our environment, which is why we donate a percentage of profits to The Nature Conservancy. 

Up next, we will begin the R+D phase for 2 oz elixir shots and a powdered version to be sold in individual packets for customers who are particularly on the go!

What are your ballpark monthly or annual revenue numbers?

Elyse Sara

Elyse Sara, Creator of Fat Leaf Water.

We set out to raise $30K for our Kickstarter campaign, and we achieved that plus a little extra.  Overall, I think Kickstarter was most useful as an avenue for PR and review generation.  Many of the contributions we received were not for product, but instead were either just straight donations or for our non-product rewards, such as virtual training sessions with former Olympians.  

This actually helped us a great deal, as this helped our margins, giving us more funds to produce a larger run of product.  Overall, we had approximately 450 bottles that we sold via Kickstarter, which helped us for our first large run of 10K bottles.

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


Fat Leaf Water key nutrients.

My main background is as a commercial video producer focused on food and beverage products.  Some of my clients have included Pepsi, Lay’s, McDonald’s, Coors Light and Honey Nut Cheerios.  

I also used to run a bread pudding business in New York City.  That was a total fluke of a business!  It all started when I was practicing some cookie recipes.  A restaurant owner got wind of them and invited me to bake bread pudding for several of his restaurants.  From there, I began selling my bread puddings at the Brooklyn Flea Market and several local grocery stores, such as Foragers, Amish Market and Zabar’s. 

The business was growing very quickly, and all of a sudden, I received two large orders – one from Macy’s Cellar and another from Fairway.  As much as I wanted to be able to fulfill their demand for the price points they needed, I just was not able to, especially since I was still baking out of my apartment and still holding down my day job of producing.  At that point, I decided it was time to close my business, but I knew that one day I would start another food or beverage business when I had access to more resources.

As I gained more experience in advertising, I came across a few ad agencies that also happened to develop their own products (Madwell created RIFRAF, and The Many created Mixwell), which I thought was super interesting, since they were so well poised to market and advertise their product.  So instead of coming at it from the more usual POV of having a culinary background, they were coming at it knowing how to show the product in its best light.  Learning about these launches, I felt inspired to revisit my dream.


Three flavor options.

I happen to be a HUGE beverage fanatic.  I am always perusing grocery store shelves for the newest and most trendy concoctions, and my fridge looks like a 7-Eleven refrigerator with all the range of drinks I stock, so it felt natural to hone in on a niche that I felt was underserved.  I started by thinking about coconut water, and how the category grew from nothing so quickly. 

I acknowledged the demand for plant based beverages, but wanted to offer something different, since I felt that the coconut water market was pretty well saturated. And I also wanted to offer something more local.  Cactus water can be sourced from the United States, allowing for less emissions waste, as compared to coconut water, which often comes from Latin America and Asia.  At the same time, I wanted to offer a product that felt mainstream and not a fringe product.  I wanted to create a drink that could rival Zico and Vita Coco.

I also took inspiration from a drink I felt a lot of nostalgia for.  As a kid who grew up in the ‘80s, I became accustomed to drinking what we affectionately called “Bug Juice”, which was essentially watered down Kool-Aid.  It was a refreshing drink that all the campers would drink from a communal cooler after a long day of outdoor activity.  It was vibrant, tasty and an excuse to catch up with friends.  I wanted to create a version of this for the health + wellness age, so I made sure during the R+D process to keep vibrant colors and a sweet taste (yet with less sugar!) top of mind.

What makes Fat Leaf Water amazing?

I self funded this endeavor up until we launched the Kickstarter campaign.  At this time, I partnered with Ruth Wong, who I met several years prior, bonding over our love of grocery store shopping.  She’s a structural engineer by trade, mother of three, and PTA president, who helped build their school’s first Wellness Council that won the NYC Wellness Council of the Year award in 2018. The start of this partnership and the success of the Kickstarter campaign brought forth the funding we needed to produce our first commercial run.

To date, we have sent out a number of samples to influencers, who have responded positively with reviews, calling out their appreciation for the interesting flavors and nutritional benefits.  Since we have not yet offered our drinks to the public, we are geared up now for a much broader validation phase.

Take us through the process of developing this unique sports drink using cactus water as a primary ingredient. 

cure your daily drought

Cure Your Daily Drought.

I began the formulation process by working with East Breukelen Trading.  I let them know my list of requirements (i.e. all natural, local, bright colors, etc.), and I offered my thoughts on four flavors.  The one flavor that didn’t make the cut was a grape hibiscus flavor that just tasted too salty. 

I’d say that on average, we went through four rounds of samples, tweaking the colors, sweetness levels and other flavor notes with each pass. The one big hiccup that we encountered along the way was that we discovered that the supplier of our prickly pear juice stopped sourcing their product from the U.S. and began sourcing it from Italy.  Since we are dedicated to sourcing our ingredients from local producers, we needed to locate a new supplier and test the formulation again.  Luckily, the new formula tasted even better!

One of our biggest challenges during this phase, and the main reason why it took me two full years to get ready to launch was deciding on our packaging.  We set out to make a shelf stable product, which meant that we would have to use hot fill packaging. The off-the-shelf packaging options for hot fill are limited mostly to glass and a few generic plastic bottles with ridges.  

Since we are a sports beverage, glass just does not make sense for our customers’ lifestyles. In addition, glass is not necessarily more eco-friendly, as it takes longer to decompose if not recycled and creates more emissions waste to transport.  But since we are environmentally driven, plastic also did not feel right.  Aluminum cans or tetrapaks could have been an option for us, but since one of our key attributes is our bright colors, I wanted to make sure that our product would be visible.  

I spent months speaking with materials experts, trying to see if we could create a clear tetrapak or can, but I could not find a budget friendly way to accomplish that.  So, we opted for plastic and just made sure to find the most eco-friendly plastic bottle we could (which is BPA free) and add a bunch of copy to the label reminding our buyers to recycle. 

Describe the process of launching Fat Leaf Water.