One of the top food and beverage trends for 2022 (and beyond) is healthier, gut-friendly drinks from companies like wildwonder. You may have see their colorful cans on shelves near you or spotting their fresh new flavors on social media, but do you know the history behind this growing CPG brand?
Join us for an exciting episode that explores how Rosa Li draws from her AAPI heritage to bring “a modern twist on ancient wisdom.” She and Gary discuss how innovation touches everything in the CPG world from ingredients to packaging—and the ever-present subject of sustainability. Her passion for health has propelled her to overcome supply chain challenges and continue to deliver accessible drink options throughout the pandemic. In her words, she’s “all about creating everyday wonders.”
Rosa Li: Innovation comes in different forms and it’s not just about ingredient innovation. It could be form factor, it could be packaging. So, it really depends on what the customer wants.
First and foremost, the products need to be approachable and accessible for everyone—so, that comes through the packaging, the formulation, the taste.
Gary Nowacki: This is C to C where we cover innovation in the food and CPG business from conception to consumption.
Welcome to the podcast, everyone. Today [we have a] great guest, Rosa Lee, who is founder and CEO of wildwonder a really interesting and differentiated RTD beverage company. So, you’re going to hear all about it. Rosa, welcome to the podcast.
Rosa Li: Thank you, Gary. I’m very excited to be here
Gary Nowacki: Maybe to start, can you just give the folks a little bit of intro about yourself and about wildwonder?
Rosa Li: Yeah, sure. So wildwonder is it delicious and bubbly drink that combines gut healing, superfoods and whimsical flavors. I like to say is rooted in culture and tastes like a California produce stand. So, the inspiration is really my Chinese grandma. Growing up my grandma brew these healing tonics with wild herbs and botanicals that were really great for my health. Her tonics worked wonders soothing my stomach, lifting my spirit. And she really taught me the philosophy of food as medicine from an early age. So, I used to work in a lot of stressful jobs and finance, and I started running into health issues that all stemmed in my gut. So, I got my microbiome tested became a true believer in gut health.
Rosa Li: So, it didn’t really hit me the homemade tonics that, you know, grandma brewed for me worked wonders on my overall health. And then there’s a perfect opportunity to apply a modern twist on ancient wisdom. So wildwonder was born, we launched in 2020 and have just been growing since.
Gary Nowacki: So pretty new company launched in 2020. And I’m sure we’re going to hear all about your growth, but this podcast, huge topic here, Rosa is innovation. So, what’s the most significant innovation trend that you’re watching, or you’re curious about right now?
Rosa Li: 70% of our immunity is actually in our gut and our gut really affects all aspects of our wellness from brain health, energy level, you know, inflammatory response, metabolic response. It goes beyond just digestion.
So, I’m always thinking about how to optimize my own gut health. It’s not something that you can just turn around overnight. So, it’s about diet, eating healthy. We don’t currently use this this food in our drinks. But our drinks at the end of the day are, you know, prebiotic and probiotic drinks.
And one of my personal favorite food items is actually mushrooms, which is something that I’ve been consuming since my childhood and medicinal mushrooms have actually been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years because of their healing properties. So, these are powerful items that contain prebiotics, beta glucans, essentially soluble fiber, and a lot of immune boosting properties that are crucial to our gut health.
So, you know, I’m a person. Consumer of, of mushrooms. I cook with mushrooms. I also put some on the more functional mushrooms in my smoothies. So, things like reishi or lion’s mane, and a lot of these more medicinal mushrooms. It can also be consumed in powder form, so it’s pretty easy to boost our immune health these days.
And especially given, you know, what happened during the pandemic. A lot more people are looking into different ways to boost their immune health. Yeah, so these are kind of just things outside of wildwonder that I am currently looking into just all the…
Gary Nowacki: Speaking of personal interest, you seem like you are really an intellectually curious person. What are you researching right now, either for your job leading a company or products?
Rosa Li: Yeah, sure. We, as a company, always want to be at the forefront of innovation. We are the first to combine the two crucial components of a healthy gut in only one can. A lot of the people have been consuming probiotics, you know, ever since kombucha started about 25 years ago. You know, people are now more educated about probiotics. Now we see there’s more education on a prebiotic side, which essentially is the food for probiotics to thrive. And without which, your probiotics aren’t that effective.
Rosa Li: So, a lot of the people don’t know that. And so what we’re constantly researching, you know, how can we bring more innovative products? Help people on this journey to better gut health. I’m currently very focused on our product roadmap. So, what are some of the new flavors to, I guess, make people enjoy these functional ingredients better? Because, as you know, not all things are functional or tasty.
Rosa Li: And in fact a lot of them aren’t, which is the problem we’re trying to solve is to make the experience of consumer for better gut health, more enjoyable and more… And I’m a huge foodie, so I don’t believe you need to give up taste for health. So, we’re working on some really exciting new flavors I’m at working on some new products that can really best meet our consumer needs.
Gary Nowacki: That’s terrific. And it looks like your company’s a mission-driven company. And so talk to us about the intersection between mission-driven, your company values, and how that impacts your product innovation.
We are all about creating everyday wonders for those undervoiced in our communities.
Continue reading the transcript:
Rosa Li: So, there is that mission piece where we want to not only elevate, people’s being through better products, but also elevating their doing through our, donations and supporting causes that empower marginalized communities and we’re all about bringing better products to the masses and not just for one particular segment, but it’s really for everyone, the everyday consumer.
So, first and foremost, the products need to be approachable and accessible for everyone. That comes through the packaging, the formulation, the taste. I would say the reason we launched wildwonder—at least part of that—is because a lot of consumers we talked to, they do care about gut health. They will love to consume more products for their gut. But the current beverages on the market, a lot of them are, highly fermented.
Kombuchas for example, are drinking vinegars. A lot of customers don’t find those products accessible or approachable, in taste. So, we really want to bring the benefits of kombucha to the masses by taking on a vinegar. So our products actually tastes like a California produce stand. And that’s how I like to say it’s very, fruit-forward, it’s very approachable and it doesn’t have that very fermented taste.
Gary Nowacki: That sounds a lot better than, “Hey, drink this vinegar.”
So, there’s a stereotype about innovation that, somebody sits in a dark room for hours and all of a sudden, the light bulb goes off and there’s an aha moment, but I find speaking to a lot of our guests maybe there is a little bit of a process or routine. Talk to our listeners about that. What have you found as sort of a roadmap for innovation at your company?
Rosa Li: That’s a really good point because we don’t want to launch products that consumers don’t want, even if you know something that’s new. And so we actually are constantly talking to our customers—at least making an effort to, so we’re always conducting surveys. We’re conducting interviews, we’re doing focus groups. We actually recently did a more well planned and thought-out focus group where we sent our target audience, people who aren’t necessarily our customers could be our customers, our products for them to taste and experience over time.
And these are people from different geographies, from different age groups, from different demographic groups. And then we, you know, do interviews, video interviews, with them to figure out how they liked our products and what they didn’t like about our products, and when they consumed our products or to really just better understand consumer behavior.
We also do surveys and interviews with our current customers to just receive feedback. And the team also, we have our brainstorm sessions. It’s not just something that I come up with on my own. We actually get everyone on the team evolved when we look at new products. And we have everyone brainstorm the flavors that they want to see and the flavors they think are trendy. And what are some new products, new ingredients that our consumers care about. We also look at other companies who are doing innovative things in the market. Maybe in the supplement space, maybe in other areas where there’s a lot of different products are for gut health and especially given how popular gut health as a topic is these days.
So, there’s been a super exciting innovation in this space. We have shared Slack and social media channels for everyone to send around, you know, trending articles. Well, things other companies are doing that we can learn from. So, I mean, it’s a constant process. It’s not something that, you know, we just sit down and do once every six months.
Gary Nowacki: Lots of consumer engagement, it sounds like.
Rosa Li: Totally.
Gary Nowacki: Good. So, talk to us about your products and their evolution over time, whether it’s line extensions or new product innovations. Talk to us about the evolutionary process that you’ve seen at wildwonder.
Rosa Li: Yeah. So, for instance, when we first launched, wildwonder was in glass bottles and you know…
Innovation comes in different forms and it’s not just about ingredient innovation. It could be form factor, it could be packaging. It really depends on what our customer wants and customer’s always first.
So, after we launched wildwonder, we started hearing people say, “Hey, you know love the drink, but…” They feel wasteful when they are going through multiple bottles a day. The bottles we use were quite heavy because we wanted to come out as a premium product, given how expensive and just high quality our ingredients are. Everything is organic certified. We put a lot of thought into sourcing as well. So, we want to be perceived as premium and people got that.
At the same time, you know, they wanted to consume wildwonder as an everyday drink, but not just like nurse it over time. So, we basically innovated in form factor. We converted into these 12-ounce cans that are a lot more accessible and it’s easy to carry to work, to a picnic. People don’t feel wasteful. It’s better for the environment as well. It’s lighter, easier to ship.
Gary Nowacki: Yeah. How much did you think about sustainability in terms of aluminum recycling versus glass?
Rosa Li: Yeah, we definitely thought about it. I would say the first priority for us is delivering gut health to people. We definitely care about the environment. We never use plastic. We definitely said no to plastic for that reason. I would say aluminum is more sustainable. So, we liked it, but more importantly, it’s really about, you know, what our customers cared about. It’s how do we deliver, you know, gut health to people in a better format?
Gary Nowacki: Yeah. I have to admit personally when, when I go for that six pack of craft beer now I’m amazed at how much of it has cut over to aluminum regardless of the price point or the differentiator. And I’ve gotten to the point where, you know, I don’t want to buy a six pack with bottles.
Rosa Li: Yeah. You know, I think part of is also during the pandemic, a lot of people started buying things online and shipping glass bottles is very painful and it’s not great, right? So, it was so heavy, and aluminum is definitely lighter and easier to ship.
Gary Nowacki: Yeah. So, any challenges that you encountered that you can share with our listeners? When you either extended your lines or reformulated or launched new things? Anything that you can share in terms of innovation challenges and how you overcame them?
Rosa Li: I mean, there’s a ton of challenges with growing and especially the last few years, as you know, the pandemic really disrupted the supply chain.
So, as we’re growing, sourcing has not been the easiest. And then we actually did a pretty good job managing our suppliers because we would have multiple suppliers for the same ingredient or same packaging source. So that if, you know, one supplier’s factory had to shut down, we could go to another one.
So, you know, it’s really about diversifying our resources and our partners. So, that’s one thing that we had to overcome is to really tackle the supply chain during a global pandemic.
The other part was manufacturing. Because of COVID one of our co-packers actually shut down and we couldn’t make products. So, we were actually out of stock for a long time. And this is, really painful when you’re trying to grow. And you have customers waiting on products after they send a PO. We had retail launches coming up and it was definitely a very stressful process. So, we had to really find co-packers fast and onboard fast and figure out ways to, you know, really get our products to market as soon as possible.
So, I would say, you know, a lot of those are for sure pandemic induced. At the same time, I do think that manufacturing and scaling can be an ongoing issue for people who don’t have the right players lined up. So I, you know, it’s not the easiest to go from producing a thousand cans, to 100,000 cans, to a million [or] over a million cans. So, you have to find the right partners at different stages of the growth cycle.
Gary Nowacki: Consistent theme we hear. Always a challenge working with co-mans and getting that right relationship, right? Yeah.
So, I’m here with Rosa Lee, who is founder and CEO of wildwonder. Check out their beverages. Neat stuff. And I’m excited, Rosa, for your growing category.
We’ve had some prior guests here, like a GT Dave of, of GT’s Living Kombucha. Yeah, the so-called kombucha billionaire, right? And Alison Ellsworth, co-founder of Poppi. Really focused on gut health and, and natural vinegar and all that.
So it’s great. You’re all doing terrific, but it does beg the question: How do you differentiate your brand in an area that yes, it’s growing, but also has a lot of options for consumers?
Rosa Li: Totally. I get a question all the time. I’m a personal believer in gut health and I do consume GT’s kombucha. I think they’ve done a great job with the products, with the brands. In fact, my team actually comes from GT’s. So, I love the products.
I would say, you know, we are actually solving something that can kombucha isn’t solving. So, if you think about the consumer and this… There’s two things that people complain about when it comes to kombucha.
One is the vinegary taste. As we mentioned before not everyone is able to consume something that’s highly fermented or vinegary. So, in order to deliver the benefits, then we need to make sure people actually enjoy the product and can consume the product.
So, I would say the first differentiation is the approachable taste profile. I would call ourselves kombucha benefits without the vinegar. And, of course, there’s additional benefits in our drink.
And then the second complaint that when we talk to customers, is the sugar content. So, everyone is more health conscious now and, you know, refined sugar is inflammatory. So, kombuchas and, you know, sodas—a lot of the beverages out there have high sugar content. So, we have 90% less sugar than soda and 50%, less sugar than kombucha. So, it’s just like guilt-free a treat for people, you know, afternoon pick me up or maybe it’s, you know, can of wildwonder with their dinner, with their lunch. It really doesn’t cause any inflammation. And we don’t use any refined sugar in our drinks.
And then the third thing I’ll mention is really the holistic approach to gut health. You know, we are now more knowledgeable about probiotics, which has the healthy gut bacteria that you need. And now people are learning more about prebiotics, which is, the food for probiotics to thrive. You need both and your probiotics just don’t work as effectively without the food, right? Similar to humans, we need food to function and to work productively. So, we are the first to put the two crucial components of healthy gut, all in one can. And then I call this “healthy gut in a can.” So just makes it easier for you, and there’s a quantifiable amount of all the functional ingredients in the cans.
We actually put five grams of fiber in every wildwonder can as 20% of your daily recommended value. We have a billion CFUs of live probiotics, and we worked with, you know, microbiome experts to actually formulate and to make sure we’re using the right ingredients. We’re using high-quality ingredients that can actually reach your gut. A lot of the probiotics on the market actually are not that stable. So, they’re they might not be alive or they might not be able to reach your gut to have an effect. So, we thought a lot about the formulation, the ingredients how much to put in. I would say we feel very good about our products’ quality and integrity.
Gary Nowacki: That’s a lot of balls to juggle, you know, reduce the sugar, get the fiber in there, mask the taste problem you have with some of these ingredients. Is juggling all that your so-called “secret sauce”?
Rosa Li: Well, we do care a lot of our product. Product comes first and to serve our customers. So, I would say our “secret sauce” is really everything. So it’s not just about the taste. It’s not just about the sugar content.
Gary Nowacki: Yeah. So, going back to your origin story and the wisdom of your grandmother and being able to make your product taste, as you say, “like a California produce stand.” How do you stay grounded in all of that, but continue to innovate?
Rosa Li: Yeah. So, I would say, you know, Grandma’s wisdom really comes through every single product because of the botanicals and herbs that are driving the gut healing properties. So, we derive the fiber from botanicals and herbs and that’s in every single flavor profile.
At the same time, you know, our goal is to make our products accessible and approachable. So it’s very fruit forward and all the flavors are inspired by being in sunny California, having access to fresh produce. So, if you can see from our flavor profiles, everything is, you know, botanicals plus fruit in all the flavors.
For instance, our newest flavor is Strawberry Passion, and we just launched a couple of months ago. That’s fresh brewed hibiscus flowers and paired with strawberry juice and passion fruit juice. So, you see both the herbal parts and the fruit part, and that’s going to be consistent regardless of what we launch.
Gary Nowacki: Sounds delicious.
Rosa Li: Thank you! It is delicious. I’ll have to have you try it.
Gary Nowacki: So, if potential retail buyers or potential employees or other entrepreneurs want to get in touch with you to chew the fat, what’s the best way? LinkedIn or through your website?
Message us! We will respond. And if retailers and buyers are interested, we can also be reached email@example.com.
Gary Nowacki: Great. And Rosa, before we go into wrap-up, any other words of advice or wisdom you’d like to share with our listeners?
Rosa Li: Well, just take care of your gut. It really affects all aspects of your wellness.
Gary Nowacki: Good advice. Good advice. I want to thank my guest today. Rosa Li who is founder and CEO of wildwonder, a great new gut health beverage. Go look for it in your local store. Check it out. Sounds like it’s not only really healthy, but really delicious. So, Rosa, thank you so much for being on C to C today.
Rosa Li: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
This episode of the C to C podcast originally aired June 29, 2022.