Found in bodegas, restaurants, and homes throughout Mexico and Central America, aguas frescos (or frescas, depending on the country) are ubiquitous. These refreshing blends of fruit, water, and just a bit of sugar are just as cool and refreshing as the name promises.
“If you would have grown up in any of the 22 countries south of the U.S. border, you would know what it is, and you would have probably had it at home,” explains Frescos Naturales founder Juan Ignacio Stewart. “You know what I mean? It’s like lemonade or something like that.”
Stewart, who grew up in La Antigua, Guatemala, and moved to Boulder when he was 17 years old, grew up drinking frescos made with fruit like pineapple, hibiscus, and tamarind. But he said it was his son who gave him the idea to bottle them and start selling them en masse in 2018.
“We make [frescos] at the house all the time, and I made him the hibiscus,” Stewart says. “My son would pound pints of it all the time. And one day he just said, ‘You know what? We should bottle is this stuff’—and that’s when the light bulb went off in my head.”
Soon, Stewart was mixing up batches of rosa de Jamaica, a tart and sweet hibiscus drink, and selling it at farmers’ markets in 2019.
Stewart is no stranger to farmers’ markets—he’s been selling traditional Guatemalan hot sauces through his other company, Green Belly, for seven years at approximately 200 markets a year. He also knew that there was an unserved audience thirsty for canned aguas frescos.
“Even today, like in 2021, there is a lot of culture that is still marginalized,” Stewart says. “For example, in the immigrant community, we live in two realities: We have a reality of the mainstream, and then what we have at home. We know that there’s a lot of stuff that is our own. I know that I can call out things [at the farmers’ markets] that a lot of people in the immigrant community will recognize. And they want to see their products and cultures represented in the marketplace—just like me. I feel joy and pride and seeing these things, and I know that there’s a lot of people like me.”
Stewart started selling traditional Frescos Naturales in the markets, but he knew he could expand. Though frescos are historically uncarbonated, Stewart wanted to can a sparkling version. In late 2020, Stewart started self-distributing cans of fizzy frescos. He started with one flavor—the rosa de Jamaica—and he walked the streets of Boulder, “like preaching the gospel,” he says, convincing restaurants and shops to try this new drink. Tamarindo (tamarind) and maracuyá (passion fruit) soon followed.
“I’ll be honest with you, [passion fruit] is actually a drink that I did not grow up with,” Stewart says. “But my brother-in-law, who’s from Peru, that was his signature drink; all these other friends of mine from Puerto Rico, same thing. And then my friends from Brazil, they were like, ‘Yo, maracuyá?’ So yeah, that’s the next flavor.”
Now Stewart’s line of Frescos includes six flavors—piña (pineapple), guayaba (guava), and mango round out the collection. Stewart also has plans to develop non-carbonated versions in glass bottles to highlight the beautiful natural colors of the drinks. There are also more complicated recipes that Stewart wants to develop—flavors that are popular in Peru, Argentina, and Guatemala. He says the opportunities are endless.
With the packaging, Stewart wanted to make sure that his products stand out. The cans are as bright and vibrant as the drinks inside with eye-catching designs in bright pink, green, orange, and purple that highlight each flavor. The labels are also written in Spanish, with the English translation in smaller letters below. Everything is designed to both appeal to a population that grew up with the drinks and stay approachable for curious newcomers.
Frescos Naturales also keeps its ingredients list short, and each drink is made with only fruit, citric acid, carbonated water, and cane sugar. Stewart sources high-quality fruit from around the world and employs a light hand with the sugar—he says it’s like putting salt on your eggs; you should use just enough to tie everything together. The result is an incredibly flavorful, fruit-forward drink with just a hint of sweetness.
In October, Stewart participated in Naturally Boulder’s 17th annual Pitch Slam. The competitive, “Shark Tank”–style event allowed new and emerging companies to pitch their brands—and the judges awarded Frescos first place. The prize includes a free booth at Natural Products Expo East 2022, and a guaranteed opportunity to pitch at the Expo East Pitch Slam. And Stewart is already starting to see some traction, with Frescos Naturales now distributed by Local Foods with new opportunities on the horizon.
Still, Stewart is cautious about his future, maintaining a hustle mentality. “You bet everything you have,” he says. “You go all-in with everything you got.”
Frescos Naturales can be found in cafes, restaurants, and delis in the Boulder area; it’s also available for sale online at drinkfrescos.com.