Photo courtesy Kaylee's Culture
Kaylee's Culture cans flavorered watermelon, strawberry lemon, and elderberry.
Third-generation San Diegan Kaylee McLaughlin married her high school sweetheart. When his Navy career sent him to a remote corner of Nevada, she and their two young children followed. For someone accustomed to having ready access to natural and organic produce in Southern California, the most challenging part of the move wasn’t being far from the beach: it was having to do all her grocery shopping at a Wal Mart supercenter.
“It was really tough being someone who prioritized health and wellness and organic and fresh,” she recalls. The young mom eschewed processed foods, preferring to make food and drinks at home, from scratch. For the kids, she would make probiotic-rich kefir water, or kombucha. When a third child was born, she made her own baby food and even formula.
Turns out, the family brought another significant addition back to San Diego with them after two years in the desert: a new kind of probiotic beverage. “That’s where I got this idea for Kaylee’s Culture,” she tells me.
Somewhere between natural soda and kombucha, Kaylee’s Culture balances lightly carbonated water and natural fruit essences in a beverage that provides probiotics without the less kid-friendly byproducts of Kombucha's mixed fermentation process: acidity and low levels of alcohol.
She spent five years coming up something bearing the fizzy sweetness her kids enjoyed, but without the sugars found in soda. So she enlisted the help of a beverage scientist to create a sugar-free beverage sweetened instead by monk fruit. They add shelf stable probiotics and natural fruit essences to create flavors including strawberry lemon, elderberry, and watermelon.
Those first three flavors debut in October, in cans, on the shelves of the Jensen's Foods supermarket in Point Loma. Which begged the question: where do you stock a new category of beverage, anyway?
“I’m kind of in between the kombucha and the coconut water,” McLaughlin says, “We’re kind of finding out where we fit, but that’s been the sweet spot.”
The monk fruit makes it a little sweeter than a La Croix sparkling water, and though McLaughlin had intended it to be a product line directed at children, results from initial rounds of market testing suggests adults are just as likely to drink it up.
“The biggest feedback I got was that the adults loved it just as much as the kids,” she says. “It’s like if you bought your kids Capri Sun, and you wind up drinking all of it.” However, In this case, she stresses, “You don’t have to feel bad if you drink it. It’s good for everybody.” For the latest batch, she decided to update Kaylee’s Culture cans, removing the words, “for kids.”
Kaylee and family will be living in San Diego for now, so her focus will be distributing locally, and working her way up the coast. She’s hoping to establish a strong enough business that, when the Navy stations them somewhere else in two years, she’ll be able to manage it remotely. Which wouldn’t be all that different, for a new beverage line premiering during a pandemic.