BY KAREN ACKERMAN WITTER
Inspiring better health was the motivation for Rusty Jones and business partner Tom Bushkie to create a high-quality beverage as an alternative to sugary drinks. They founded hellowater in 2017 in response to their research, which revealed that nearly 40% of Americans are obese, affecting over 18 million children, and 97% of Americans don’t consume the recommended daily intake of fiber. Hellowater was born as a “fun and fresh delivery system for fiber,” says Jones. “With sugar becoming public enemy number one today, we wanted to offer consumers a beverage that has zero sugar, few calories and a function that is truly beneficial to their daily diets.” Hellowater has five grams of fiber per bottle and comes in five different flavors.
Bushkie is a nutritionist and Jones also has a background in health and fitness, as well as expertise related to marketing and branding. While the company initially started in Chicago, Innovate Springfield was instrumental in growing the business.
Jones had been a member of a local incubator in Chicago, and after he and his wife, a Springfield native, moved to Springfield from Chicago in 2016, he discovered Innovate Springfield. As a transplant to Springfield, he says Innovate Springfield was especially helpful and provided an opportunity to learn, network and collaborate with other local entrepreneurs.
“We’ve assembled a world-class team to grow the brand, and our partnership with Innovate Springfield has helped connect hellowater to the Springfield community,” said Jones. “The culture that Innovate Springfield has created is perfect for small businesses like hellowater. We look forward to adding value to Innovate Springfield with mentorship to other members through sharing our success story.”
Katie Davison, executive director of Innovate Springfield, describes hellowater as an ideal member.
“Rusty Jones does an incredible job building relationships with potential investors and customers,” said Davison. “He utilizes the resources and networks that Innovate Springfield provides while also putting in the work to get the most out of his membership. Being further along in his business, he can impart wisdom and advice to other members.”
Jones says the many diets being marketed often contradict each other, but all of them have three common elements – reduce or eliminate sugar, drink more water and consume more fiber. Hellowater is designed with that in mind and positioned to take advantage of the expanding market of better-for-you beverages. It is pioneering the ready-to-drink fiber-infused beverage category. The fiber is odorless and tasteless, and the flavors come from plant-based, non-GMO sweeteners.
“Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch and others own the distribution models, but they’re not innovating like they should,” says Jones. “It’s up to brands like hellowater to create the future of beverages to inspire these conglomerates to change. Soda is declining, and we’re proud to be a part of that movement. The next generation deserves better.”
Hellowater has experienced a 150% growth in annual sales since 2018, reaching $3 million in annual revenues. According to Jones, only 10% of beverage brands make it to $1 million in annual revenues and just 2% achieve $3-5 million in revenues.
Hellowater is sold at nearly 7,000 retail locations in the Chicago area and beyond, including some Target, Kroger and Walmart stores, and the number continues to grow. Walmart recently launched hellowater kids in the kid’s section of 800 Walmarts.
Jones says in the midst of so much negativity, they wanted to celebrate positivity with the branding of hellowater. SMILE, LAUGH, LIVE, LOVE and DANCE are emblazoned on the bottles, which can be found locally at County Market, Hy-Vee and Papo’s Café.
“We are helping change the beverage landscape,” says Jones. He says hellowater will be a total beverage company by 2022, with plans to expand beyond the fiber category.
Jones is happy to grow his business from Springfield. “Springfield is an amazing community with so much promise,” says Jones. “It is places like Innovate Springfield that are helping build a brighter tomorrow where entrepreneurs have a place to cultivate their ideas and bring them to fruition. I look forward to raising my sons Palmer and Beckett here, and hopefully inspiring them to have a dream big enough to change the world one day.”
Karen Ackerman Witter is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about interesting and inspiring people. Her goal is to connect people, organizations and ideas to achieve greater results. She sampled multiple flavors of hellowater and will be a repeat customer.