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Harrisburg entrepreneur finds niche in flavored water space

Sean Banks, founder of Krisp Drinks LLC, created the Harrisburg-based flavored water company after finding that many flavored water products are still made with sugar and artificial sweeteners. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Harrisburg-native Sean Banks had an epiphany when he was restocking a cooler at the local convenience store he managed — one that would lead him to starting Krisp Drinks LLC, a beverage company with the goal of providing a healthy alternative to sugary sodas and flavored waters.

Banks, an entrepreneur who previously started his own clothing line, noticed that he was restocking the flavored waters in his coolers multiple times a day. When he asked customers what compelled them to buy the products, many told him it was because of their perceived health benefits.

Upon researching the most popular flavored waters in the store, Banks said that many of the drinks that customers believed were a healthy alternative to sugary sodas weren’t as healthy as those customers may have thought.

“I started conducting research on different types of waters — their pH, flavors and their perceived benefits,” Banks said. “What I found was that most flavored waters are full of sugar and artificial ingredients.”

Banks then had a second epiphany while ordering those drinks for the store. Out of all of the drinks he stocked the coolers with every day, none of them were produced by Black-owned companies.

“The one thing I kept noticing was that there were no brothers on the shelf,” he said. “I could be that person to help make change to bring about some diversity in those coolers.”

These two realizations culminated in a budding business for Banks after his mother was diagnosed with diabetes and she had to swiftly change her diet, which he said was difficult for her because of her love of sugary drinks.

“She loved sodas and sweet tea, but knew she had to make a change,” he said. “That’s when I knew I had to make a drink that was diabetic friendly, organic and sweet enough for those used to sugary beverages.”

Banks quickly got to work on Krisp Drinks LLC — a flavored waters and drinks company that donates two percent of its profits to charities serving youth in underserved communities.

Beverage companies spent $1.04 billion in 2018 to advertise surgery drinks and energy drinks, according to a report released last month from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Of those ads, Black preschoolers, children and teens viewed twice as many TV ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks compared to White youth in the same age groups.

Banks saved what he could while working at the convenience store and called a Shenandoah manufacturer that gave him a list of things he would need before he could move forward on the manufacturing of his product.

Within two months, Banks completed the manufacturer’s list and soon found a partner for the venture.

Krisp produces three beverage lines: Krisp Flava, subtly flavored spring water; Krisp Fruitish, spring water made with additional flavoring; and Krisp natural spring water. Both Fruitish and Flava’s formulations were created in Banks’ dining room with the help of friends and family members.

Banks said that while the purpose of his drinks are to provide a beverage option in stores that offers zero sugars, zero net carbs and ten calories a bottle, he created the Fruitish line for customers like his mother, who wouldn’t normally purchase flavored waters.

Krisp Drinks currently has three product lines. “Fruitish” is the company’s organic, zero sugar, zero calorie flavored water. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

“(Fruitish) is flavored water but it isn’t organic. It’s designed as an entry point for people used to sodas and sweet tea,” he said. “When we were working with our flavor house that does the professional formulations, I said I needed more sweetener in it. If it doesn’t taste like Kool-Aid, the underserved minority communities won’t like it.”

Banks’ venture was helped along through one-on-one consulting with the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center of Pennsylvania. Martin Bill, a program manager of international trade and agribusiness at the center, said that Sean thoughtful, thorough and methodical in the creation of his company.

“His approach to business and design shows talent,” he said. “He does his homework.”

Krisp first found its way into local convenience stores after Banks began going door to door to local businesses. He said that he found a break in the form of an agreement with Dave Riswold, owner of Harrisburg-based D&F Distributing, who gave him a list of stores his company distributed to and offered to purchase a pallet of the flavored waters and take the drinks to any stores that purchased the product.

Krisp looks to soon expand out of the local market.

The company is currently sending products to big box stores such as Rutters, Giant and Wawa with the hopes of getting the drinks approved and placed into coolers in time for the spring, when most companies reset their products and introduce new ones.

Banks recently signed an agreement with Cascadia Managing Brands, a Ramsey, New Jersey-based food and beverage brand management firm, to take an equity position in the business.

Cascadia is working with Krisp to provide Banks with an avenue to national distribution.

Early in the creation of his company, Banks struck a friendship with leadership at the firm who helped him ensure he was driving the brand in the right direction. He said they were stunned that he had created the product, partnered with a local manufacturer and brought the product to local convenience stores, all on a $35,000 budget.

Now that he is able to fully partner with the firm, Banks said he hopes to begin hiring to have four full-time employees by the end of the year and have the products in over 200 stores in the same time frame.

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis covers health care, the gig economy, cannabis and technology. Email him at [email protected].

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