This summer, Coca-Cola will become one of the first major beverage companies to launch a new category of Aguas Frescas beverages. Introducing Barrilitos Aguas Frescas, an award-winning beverage making a big splash for those looking for a refreshing, yet subtly sweet, great-tasting drink.

New on the market, Barrilitos Aguas Frescas – a line of flavored, non-carbonated water beverages with a hint of sweetness – is already causing quite a stir.

“From a national category point of view, no company has defined authentic Aguas Frescas yet, so we are leading the way,” says Mike Hagen, group director of category strategy and innovation at Coca-Cola. Hagen and his team are the masterminds behind the new Barrilitos Aguas Frescas line.

Making a Splash in the U.S.

Aguas Frescas or “fresh waters,” are fruit, seed, flower and water-based drink combinations with roots in Mexico and Central America that date back thousands of years. Over time, these beverages and their ingredients have evolved based on consumer palates and/or geographic regions.

Barrilitos Aguas Frescas have an extensive Mexican heritage. In 1938, Barrilitos first launched as a bottled sparkling soft drink in Monterrey. Seventy years later, Barrilitos became part of The Coca-Cola Company. This line of Barrilitos Aguas Frescas is the brand’s first launch since joining Coke’s portfolio in 2008.

“It’s an exciting time here in North America for our company, customers and consumers. Our team has had an opportunity to innovate in a unique space over the past year... we’ve joined a new category, built a new Barrilitos brand visual identity and crafted new products from scratch,” says Melinda Pritchett, senior manager, category strategy and innovation, Coca-Cola North America.

After a year in the making, Barrilitos Aguas Frescas will launch seven non-carbonated flavors throughout the summer: Pineapple, Strawberry Hibiscus, Mango Lime, Pear Cucumber, Watermelon, Horchata and Tamarind.

Containing 3 to 5 percent juice, most of the flavors are under 100 calories per 12-oz. serving, and all are caffeine and gluten free. The new product will be available in two formats, Bag in the Box (BIB) and frozen concentrates. Down the road, the brand is looking to expand into ready-to-drink options, Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain machines and other channels. It all comes down to creating more choice.

“We want to evolve our choices for consumers and offer new things that people didn’t even know existed,” says Pritchett. “That’s ultimately what we hope to do... create new beverage consumption opportunities.”

Subtly Sweet Taste, Very Sweet Award

The brand may be new, but it’s already making a name for itself in the beverage industry. Barrilitos Aguas Frescas won a 2017 Food and Beverage Innovation Award (FABI), marking the first time The Coca-Cola Company has won for a product. The prestigious honor presented by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) recognizes progressive food and beverage innovations that will make a significant impact in the restaurant industry.

Launching the brand took a tremendous team effort, says Hagen, who credits every person involved from conception to launch.

“There are so many functions that have been involved with the launch," Hagen explains. "Everyone from Venture & Emerging Brands (VEB) and contract manufacturing, to customer teams building the flavor profile. That’s the reason for its success... the amount of talented people who have touched the concept.”

The 2017 NRA Show in May wasn’t all about winning awards, it also served as an opportunity to win over fans. The Barrilitos team offered samples to conference attendees. The taste lived up to the hype, making the award that much sweeter.

Consumers naturally anticipate a pretty sweet first taste because Barrilitos is so brightly colored, but were pleasantly surprised by its sublety. The team says once the expectation is set that it’s a flavored water beverage and not a juice, they get it.

“It’s obviously very rewarding to be in the position we’re in,” says Hagen. "No one really knows how many iterations we tested and the pain and heartache that went into creating this incredible product. So for people to see it for the first time and love it… it’s more than we could have ever hoped for."