Herbal infusion Wanku offers functional benefits for consumers and producers

Wanku founders Nicolas Estrella and Juan Giraldo

The Andean herbal infused beverage Wanku combines the functional health benefits of kombucha with the refreshing flavor of the increasingly popular plant-based waters and none of the downsides of the two categories, claim the young brand’s co-founders. 

“Wanku is an herbal infusion of 20 herbs and flowers that is locally known in Ecuador as ‘el agua que cura,’ or the healing water that has been consumed for centuries in these parts of our country because of its health properties,” co-founder Juan Giraldo explained to FoodNavigator-USA.

Specifically, he adds, “it naturally sooths the body, helps the digestive system, and has anti-inflammatory properties.”

But rather than tasting medicinal or having a sharp tinge that often characterizes functional beverages and can be off-putting to consumers, Wanku “has a fruity and aromatic taste with a hint of lemon. So when it is chilled it is really delicious,” said the company’s other co-founder Nicolas Estrella.

The complex flavor comes from the combination of herbs, which include lemon balm, linseed, sweet-scented pelagonium, white basil, lemongrass, oregano, chamomile, fennel and many more. It also has a touch of sweetness.

Estrella added that “a lot of people who have tasted our beverage have told us it is like kombucha, but with a good taste.”

He explains the comparison is not far from the mark given the beverages functional benefits, and as such, he adds, the drink will target many of the same consumers as kombucha and plant-based waters, including those who “care a lot about what they are eating and care a lot about the ingredients of the products they have and want a natural, healthy lifestyle.”

Carefully crafted claims for a carefully crafted beverage

A major challenge for the young company, which is currently raising funds for its first manufacturing run on pieshell.com, is communicating these functional benefits while still safely remaining in the beverage zone, rather than the herbal supplement space, the young men said.

One way they will do this is by letting the beverage's historical and cultural roots explain its functional benefits, while still avoiding any direct health claims, Giraldo said.

“We are positioning Wanku as an herbal infusion locally known as the healing water in the Andes mountains where it is used to naturally sooth the body and help the digestive system,” he said, adding that on the front label the call out will read “healthy tradition” rather than specific health claims.

The duo hopes this carefully balanced wording will meet the regulations and is still attractive for consumers at the same time, Estrella adds.

Benefits beyond those in the bottle

Wanku’s benefits go beyond the bottle to support Andean smallholder farmers at fair trade prices, the co-founders said.

They explain that the idea for the brand actually is grounded first in helping Ecuadoran farmers make a living wage.

“Our vision with the farmers of Ecuador is that we learned from them that one of their main problems is they don’t have the means to get their products to local markets or to bigger markets. So, they have to sell their product to intermediaries who given them a fraction of the real market price, which is why they are living with really low incomes right now,” Estrella said.

“So, the first thing we thought is we could provide a market driven solution and by creating demand for the product with Wanku and then buying directly from them at fair prices,” he added.

But the duo doesn’t want to stop there. They also want to help the farmers help themselves by organizing them into farmers’ co-ops that have more leverage to negotiate prices and support the farmers, Giraldo added.

Wanku epitomizes togetherness

But to achieve these lofty goals and bring the Andean beverage to the US, the men first need to raise sufficient funds to blend and bottle the infusion, which is why they launched a crowd fundraise page on pieshell.com.

The campaign launched July 12 and as of July 26 had raised $7,606 of the $10,000 goal with 16 days to go.

“So far the response of the crowd has been amazing. We have put a lot of effort into making this great,” and have worked closely with consumers to build a brand and product that they want support, Giraldo said.

Optimistic that the company will reach its target, Giraldo says it will use the funds to pay for the initial manufacturing run, which allow them to sell their product on Amazon and the company’s ecommerce website. Eventually, though, he hopes to sell the beverage in specialty stores in the Boston area where the company is based.

Ultimately, he said, everything from the crowdfunding to the partnerships with farmers to the co-founders’ friendship epitomizes Wanku’s basic tenet.

“Wanku as a name means together in English and the reason we decided this name is because the herbs and flowers work together, we are working together with independent farmers and we are hoping consumers will work with us” to get our product off the ground, he said.

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