The benefits of staying hydrated with water vary – from aiding digestion and regulating body temperature to carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells – but most people don’t drink enough. More than three-quarters of Americans don’t drink the USDA-recommended eight to ten glasses of water a day, according to a 2021 report from SWNS Digital. The average American drinks only half the recommended amount, mainly because they are too busy or forget.
Tampa-based startup Cirkul aims to solve that problem by providing a quick and easy way to flavor the water people consume. The company makes Cirkul-branded plastic bottles that users can fill with water and then change the flavor sip-by-sip, using flavor cartridges and a dial.
Cirkul offers over 50 flavors – heavy on the fruit, tea, and coffee varieties – and sells starter kits with a bottle and two cartridges for around $20. The beverages use all-natural flavoring, no added colors or dyes, and contain zero calories or sugar. Users can also lower their plastic footprints because the Cirkul bottle uses 84% less plastic and 96% fewer carbon emissions from shipping than single-use, disposable beverage bottles.
Cirkul officially hit the market in 2018 and got most of its early business from direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. Things began to change in early 2021 when Co-Founder and CEO Garrett Waggoner saw visits to his company’s website surge about 400%. As he told Bloomberg in a recent interview, Cirkul water bottles had gone viral on TikTok, with thousands of videos that eventually topped 1 billion views.
Cirkul parlayed that bit of fame into a deal to sell its beverages at Walmart. Since debuting in U.S. stores in April 2022, Cirkul has sold more than 1.5 million units, becoming one of the top-performing items in the retail giant’s home department.
The attention Cirkul got from Walmart and sales at Bed, Bath & Beyond helped lead to a $70 million funding round led by SC Holdings. The round, announced on June 13, boosted Cirkul’s valuation to about $1 billion. In a press release, the company said it has been growing at more than 150% a year since its launch in 2018 and has been profitable for the last two years.
“Today, consumers are driving major shifts in the beverage industry, increasingly focused on health and reducing their environmental impact but aren’t willing to compromise on convenience or delicious flavor,” Waggoner said.
“The sales velocities at Walmart and Bed, Bath & Beyond have been incredible, especially while maintaining strong growth for our direct-to-consumer business. This fundraiser will help us continue to capitalize on the strong customer demand for our products which are tailor-made for today’s consumer.”
The genesis for Cirkul began in 2013 when Waggoner and fellow co-founder Andy Gay were students and football teammates at Dartmouth College and found it difficult to pour electrolyte powder into a plastic water bottle while studying. They developed an idea to make a water bottle that allows you to flavor your water as you drink, without drops or powders, shaking, or stirring.
“That was the proverbial lightbulb moment, and we came up with the concept of a flavor cartridge,” Waggoner told Bloomberg.
The pair’s “water bottle project” was later entered into an entrepreneurship competition at Dartmouth, which led to the initial funding of $16,000. Today, Waggoner serves as Cirkul’s CEO, while Gay is the company’s president.Cirkul has put a big emphasis on sustainability since launching. Its cartridges are made of #5 plastic, which is recyclable in communities that accept it. The inside of the cartridge contains a foil pouch that is not recyclable, but the cartridge can be disassembled for proper sorting of materials. The amount of plastic in the cartridge itself is equivalent to an average standard bottle, Waggoner said, and consumers typically refill their Cirkul bottle six times.