A Texas-based Indian returned to the country in 2019 to set up a fitness startup that manufactures protein water to help the body cut fat deposits and retain lean muscle.
Founder Ananth Prabhala says Aquatein combines the right amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) for correct protein intake.
“After research and development, I came up with this protein water that is made with 100 percent whey protein,” says Ananth. “It has a certain amount of BCAAs. The glutamines (class of amino acids) in the product enable the body to attain proper nutrition without any fillers.”
An alternative to whey powder — most often the go-to option for increasing protein intake among athletes and fitness enthusiasts — Aquatein is available in strawberry, green apple, mixed berries, and orange flavours. It has no added sugar, is gluten-free, hormone-free, and diabetic-friendly, says Ananth.
The direct-to-consumer startup’s website has a protein calculator, which takes several factors into account while deciding how much protein is needed for your body.
According to a 2017 report by the Indian Market Research Bureau, protein deficiency in India is more than 80 percent, measured against the recommended 60 g a day. Globally, the average daily protein intake is 60-90 g; in India, it is only 10 g.
Formulating the product
A 2011 engineering graduate of Texas A&M University, Ananth worked in the oil and gas industry before setting up a nutrition company in 2016. At that time, he noticed that many fitness enthusiasts were averse to the milk-like consistency and lactose base of powdered whey proteins.
Over the last decade, protein water was gaining popularity in Europe and North America. Ananth figured he could get a formulation to sell in India.
A fitness enthusiast and long-term protein consumer, he says the Indian market needed a protein-rich product that was neither a powder nor a milk-based beverage. So he travelled to Europe and met several food scientists.
He claims that Aquatein was formulated and tested in a European lab led by food technologists. He declines to name the lab.
“The biggest challenge was getting people to accept protein as a simple clear liquid, which otherwise is perceived to be in powdered form with milk-like consistency and part of a bodybuilder’s diet,” says the founder. “To overcome this challenge, we decided to launch a 10 g pack to promote the concept that protein is a major part of everyone’s daily diet.”
Ananth returned to India, set up a base in Mumbai, and launched Aquatein products in May 2019.
As an engineer, the technicalities of product creation and manufacturing came easily to him.
But he soon realised that an FMCG product needed much more than that. The team had to be multifaceted, so in 2018 he got a brand and design strategist on board.
“I was lucky to have found that person in my childhood friend, Mitisha Mehta,” he says. “It did not take more than a conversation over coffee to get her on board with the idea. We started with four people and now we are a team of 12.”
Mitisha is a visual design and brand professional who has work experience of over 10 years.
The next 100,000 customers
Aquatein is available on ecommerce channels in the price range of Rs 65-150 a bottle. One can also buy monthly subscriptions for packs of four, eight, or 24 with weekly deliveries.
Over the last two years, the startup has onboarded 2,700 users and claims that 56-60 percent are recurring customers. Key customers are fitness enthusiasts, people looking to maintain a healthy diet, and those seeking a hassle-free substitute for their protein intake.
With the fitness culture spreading in India, Ananth is aiming for 50,000 customers by the end of 2021 and another 50,000 next year.
“Our product has high protein content with amino acids,” he says. “It is fat-free, sugar-free, carb-free, and lactose-free. It is available in 500 ml serving for faster absorption and provides adequate hydration.”
He says that like any other FMCG brand, factors including production, logistics, and distribution play a
role in Aquatein’s profit margins that are in the range of 20-35 percent. The products are manufactured in Mumbai and the annual capacity is around 1.1 million bottles.
The startup did not want to disclose its revenue. Aquatein has raised Rs 1.5 crore from undisclosed angel investors, says the founder. A majority of the investments have gone into product research and development, testing, brand building, and marketing efforts.
Aquatein competes with ZagoLife, which offers protein-based shakes, and brands such as Alpino.