What’s the story behind Kidsluv? Where did the idea for the company come from?
Ashi Jelinek: So, I started the KidsLuv project in 2017. After having two kids, I was aware that there were tons of snack options out there that were healthy, low in sugar, and had added nutritional benefits. But I couldn’t find any drinks in the market that had zero sugar or had any vitamin or nutritional content.
So, one day, when one of my kids was sick, the idea just came to me: Why isn’t there an on-the-go, healthy, functional drink for kids that you can drink everyday that has healthy added benefits with no sugar?
I did a year of research and realized there’s nothing on the market like it. Took me about a year. I worked with some experts—this isn’t something you can make in your own kitchen. The product we have today is a zero sugar, vitamin-enhanced drink for kids. It gives you 80% of your daily dosage of vitamins in a vegan form and pretty much anything you’re not taking in is immediately a natural waste. We have three SKUs—Flying Fla-Mango, Starstruck Coconut, and Peach me, I’m Orange. And we’re hoping to bring a fourth SKU this year.
So, KidsLuv is something that kids can work into their everyday diet without the parents being concerned about it having any sugar.
Ashi Jelinek: Exactly. And also, they’re getting an overdose of vitamins. Essentially, whatever your body isn’t taking in just comes out. And it’s the ratio of the vitamins with water that allows it to not be a full-saturation dose of vitamins.
Normally, kids take vitamins through gummies and chewable forms. Which has other health implications in terms of the mechanism of how your kids are ingesting it. Unless you’re flossing your kids immediately after they take a vitamin, you’re taking the risk of cavities. That’s a known thing among dentists. But there isn’t as much education out there about it, nor around getting vitamins into your kids’ diet without taking it through a chewable form.
When you rolled out in 2018, how did you first reach your customers? What has changed in terms of how you marketed yourselves then compared to how you guys market yourselves now?
Ashi Jelinek: Very early on, while I was trying to establish branding and figure out what I wanted, I already knew creatively what I wanted KidsLuv to look like. But would that resonate with the customer? Because I didn’t have money for field marketing and expenses like that, I set up shop in taekwondo studios and mommy-and-me classes to show people different packaging ideas and names that I had.
We received live feedback from kids and parents on what they were looking for and what spoke to them. I used that feedback to refine the messaging and branding.
With KidsLuv, you’re really hitting up two customers—you are hitting up kids for an emotional connection, and you’re hitting up the parents because they’re the consumers. You have to appeal to both. It’s a balancing act.
I would say the way we’ve evolved more is from an educational standpoint. We’re able to define what actually is the product. At the end of the day, the health attributes of KidsLuv are the most important part of the process, and the most important thing to parents. So, we try to refine that messaging and make sure that not only is it landing on the customers, but that they understand what our messaging means.
I’m glad you brought up the balancing act of appealing to kids and being able to convince the parents what the benefits are. Have you been able to find that sweet spot?
Ashi Jelinek: I think we’re still trying to work on that. It has to be really simple. From a branding and marketing perspective, we’re trying to find things that appeal more to both kids and parents. We’re still working on it now.
I feel like once you’ve built the base of your brand, there’s no going back. You can do a complete packaging refresh. But it’s trying to take all the assets you have and see how you can expand on them. At the end of the day, we want to appeal to both parents and kids from a playful standpoint, but still communicate the health and functional benefits of the product.
Aside from doing that balancing act with your messaging, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you as a beverage start-up?
Ashi Jelinek: The biggest challenge is capital. There are growing pains in every business. Beverage is extremely expensive from every standpoint, from marketing to shipping. Capital has been the hardest thing. Being a woman entrepreneur puts another barrier on things. You really have to think on your feet and get creative around finding solutions. I’ve been fortunate enough. As much as I’ve had a lot of problems, I’ve also had a lot of opportunities early that have allowed me to grow and scale, even if I continued to experience pain points in that process. But, yes, I would probably say capital.
This month we’re focusing on sustainability. I know that you partner with Surfrider for ocean cleanup. Can you talk a bit about partnering with them? How do they complement your idea of sustainability?
Ashi Jelinek: First of all, we are recyclable, resealable, and straw-free. KidsLuv is one of the first kids’ drinks that is straw-free. For me, when I established the brand, it was really important to get behind that. And to make sure that we were not contributing to more waste. Also as a mom, just from a practical standpoint, all these drinks with straws, unless you’re letting your kids drink the entire drink, you’re never going to use it again.
The idea was to package convenience and sustainability in one product. That has always been part of our ethos from the very beginning. As a result, it tends to be on the more expensive side, doing what we’re doing. But it was important for us to be part of that new wave of thinking.
KidsLuv’s partnership with Surfrider came out of the commitment to using less plastic. We wanted to find an organization that does ocean cleanup and who were at the forefront of reducing the plastic waste that makes its way to our oceans. Surfrider had those things built into their ecosystem, so it made sense to partner with them and to have that be a contribution point. So, if you directly purchase from us, we contribute to Surfrider’s ocean cleanup. We actually plan to highlight that sustainability message this year.
We also think of sustainability whenever we’re creating something new. If I’m creating another SKU, it’s important for me as a mom to make sure that sustainability is part of any message we’re putting forward. And to say that any little impact that we can make, we should.
Lastly, our partnership with Feed the Children became a thing during the pandemic. People lost their jobs. Schools were closed. How were kids getting access to healthy foods if they didn’t have access to those options? We were in discussion with them for a while, and we agreed the best for us to participate was to donate our products to their feeding programs.
It’s clear that you guys are living out sustainability as a business in meaningful and critical ways. Is it also part of your brand to make it a teaching point to your main consumers, to the kids who pick up and enjoy your product?
Ashi Jelinek: Absolutely. There’s a kid we partnered with named Ryan Hickman, who is all about recycling. We’ve worked with him before. I think he was nominated for Times Kids to Watch Out For.
I also think that, sometimes, for kids, they see it as a daunting task, like another homework and bullet point on the list of things they have to do. We try to encourage that with our kids, to make them engage more and more. As we develop new SKUs, we want to potentially reach an older audience, kids in highschool and college, to encourage them to get involved. We’re really focused on our blog, contributing things around the subject and keeping it grounded in my own experiences, as a mom and as the creator of the product.
I was actually browsing your blog recently. And there was a line that I came across that really struck me. You said that keeping a balancing act has ‘always set you up for failure.’ People often overlook the sustainability aspect of the having-it-all mindset. Can you explain that a little more?
Ashi Jelinek: I think with that blog I was talking about trying to be everything and be everywhere at the same time. Which is totally not possible. Looking at social media, at how we present ourselves on Facebook, and at the media articles that maybe even I’m in, things seem perfect and rosy. Everyone’s able to be everywhere and be everything for everyone.
But a lot of the time, people overlook the fact that all of that takes so much energy and time. And there’s only so much time in a day. And you set yourself up for failure trying to do everything, which is something I do to myself, even now, all the time. There are things that I’m not able to get done. And I end up feeling disappointed.
With sustainability, it’s really about making conscious and mindful choices. Take recycling, for example. People will oftentimes take something and throw it away without thinking about where it belongs. It takes a lot of small steps to get to the point where it comes more naturally. Big ideas can be daunting, but if you take those small, mindful steps, you can find a more meaningful path to take. Maybe it’s more of living a life of ‘unbalance’, in that we just do the best we can in the way that matters most.
You were on Shark Tank. Tell us what your experience was like.
Ashi Jelinek: It was a crazy time. I had a six-week old baby and she was sitting in the trailer while I was running back and forth, trying to remember all these different things. It’s TV, so they cut and make it look a certain way.
I joke around that I got PTSD from Shark Tank, but (laughs) I kinda did. So, now, when I pitch, I expect people to rip me to shreds. And when I experience the opposite, I’m always so relieved.
But, honestly, I learned a lot from the show. I joke around that if I go back to the show, I would probably get a DL, because I’ve been able to prove a lot of them wrong. I have learned to become a more detailed thinker. And now I know the numbers like the back of my hand.
It was a once in a lifetime experience. Even to this day, I get so many amazing business relationships that I’ve been able to develop from that show.
Did it change anything for you guys in terms of recognizability as a brand?
Ashi Jelinek: 100%. It put KidsLuv on the map in a different way. We secured distribution and some great opportunities from it. As they say, all press is good press. That has been my experience, for sure.
I don’t know how you feel about regret, but if there’s something you wish you did differently that you would like to pass on as advice or a lesson for other entrepreneurs, what would that lesson be?
Ashi Jelinek: I would say, start lean and keep lean as long as possible. At KidsLuv, we’re a very lean machine. I think that helps communication. It helps in terms of hiring and how you hire and who you hire and bring in. For a while, I had a bigger team, which I rolled back a bit. And it’s been so much better since I’ve done that.
Oftentimes, people start out by spreading themselves too thin. They think that because they have to be big, everything needs to be big. It’s actually the opposite. The smaller and the more you can take on and do yourself, the better off you are. I would say to take control of things in a way that’s closer to your vision, and to stay as lean as long as you can.
My final question is, what are you guys looking forward to the most this year and where do you hope to see KidsLuv in 2022?
Ashi Jelinek: We’re looking forward to some of the launches that we have this year. We’re launching into Target and H.E.B, a large grocery chain in Texas. And we’re super excited about these partnerships. We see a lot of growth there. And we’ve learned a lot from the pandemic. So, now, we’re focused on the digital space, exploring ways that we can capture our customers and provide for our customers.
The pandemic has put a lot of people in a bad situation. Even for us, it has been a juggling act. Personally, I’m just hoping to grow KidsLuv. There’s a passion project within the company that I would like to pursue—it’s another SKU. It’s not a drink. I’m really excited for whatever the roller coaster is going to bring in terms of the brand, and to continue to connect and grow with our customers.
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