Finding stevia 'polarizing', beverage brand Petal switches up its sweetener ahead of national retail launch this summer

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Petal
Photo: Petal

Related tags: botanicals, rose water, Startup company

Sparkling botanical beverage brand Petal has had a busy first year as the company doubled its product line with three new flavors, underwent a reformulation (swapping out stevia and erythritol for organic agave), and is now primed for national distribution in the coming months, shared CEO and founder, Candice Crane.

Botanical ingredients such as Petal's 'heroine' ingredient, rose water, continue to be a hot trend in CPG with global sales of botanical extracts used in food and beverage products expected to reach just over $6bn by 2022, according to a MarketsandMarkets report. 

Taking note of a rising consumer interest in botanical ingredients Petal expanded its plant beverage "queendom"​ with three new SKUs: peach marigold with a hint of basil, elderberry white tea flower, and lemongrass dandelion with a hint of strawberry. 

Catching up with Crane at FamilyFarmed's Good Food Expo​ in Chicago last week, she shared the company's pipeline vision:"Our generation one was based on rose water, and now we’re really excited to launch our generation two of other botanicals that we've revived as a modern, clean label, and organic certified beverage and simply added some carbonation."

"Like rose water, these botanicals are filled with antioxidants and anti-aging properties and each botanical and floral has a different health benefit,"​ claimed Crane. 

Petal_new products

Founded in the Chicago​ suburb of Highland Park, Petal has secured roughly 70 accounts in the Chicagoland area where it has showed strong turns and is ready to expand to a number of key markets beginning in May of this year. 

"We proved the concept in the Chicagoland market. We’re launching with KeHe and UNFI ​[in key markets including the West Coast], and we’re quite excited about opening up in 1,000 stores in 2019,"​ Crane said.

Category positioning and reformulation

Described as a sparkling botanical blend, Crane's mission when launching Petal was to create a soda alternative that sits at the intersection of a sparkling water and functional beverage, a niche space that consumers are seeking out as they continue to shun the sugar content found in many drinks from soda to juices.

"As a millennial, we grow up with these high sugary drinks or drinks that had artificial sweeteners, that we believed were healthier for us,"​ said Crane.

"I really believe it’s our generation’s obligation to do better and create better-for-you products."

When Petal first launched its trio of sparkling rose water drinks (in mint rose, lychee rose, and original rose) the company was using zero-calorie sweeteners stevia leaf extract (Reb A) and erthyritol, which Crane felt were the right choice for providing a hint of guilt-free sweetness. However, as many startups experience within its first few months on the market, listening to consumer feedback is crucial to growing the brand. 

Despite its botanical roots which line up with Petal's brand, Crane observed that stevia can be a "polarizing"​ ingredient due to a perception of an aftertaste, despite the industry's efforts to isolate specific sugar-like glycosides from the stevia leaf and rising in the ranks​ ​among consumers as a preferred natural sweetener. 

"Ahead of our national launch we were really able to reflect on our feedback and replace the stevia and erythritol with organic agave," ​Crane noted. 

While the brand can't claim a zero-calorie count anymore, Crane felt that 10 to 15 calories per can of Petal was a minimal adjustment that still maintained its better-for-you image. 

"It still tastes really great, it still offers a better for you beverage profile: it’s 10-15 calories, 2-3 grams of sugar ​[per 12-ounce can],"​ added Crane. 

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