How a Healthy Drinks Startup Flew From the Founder’s Apartment to the Marvel Red Carpet in Two Years

Entrepreneur Sandro Roco, the founder of sparkling water brand Sanzo, on the Hollywood ending to his own underdog story, and playing his part in the rise of Asian flavors and culture in the West.

Words by Pete Samson

Just two years ago, Queens-born Filipino American Sandro Roco launched his brand Sanzo, with a mission to bring Asian flavors to the booming US sparkling water market. Until last year, he was fulfilling orders for his product from his New York apartment. And then this month Sandro – and his brand – appeared on the red carpet of the latest Marvel blockbuster, ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings’ after the entrepreneur personally secured a collaboration with Marvel Studios to celebrate the franchise’s first film about an Asian superhero.

A portion of all sales from these special limited editions cans are going to CAPE, an organization dedicated to advancing Asian American and Pacific Islander representation in the entertainment industry. Here Sandro tells the story of Sanzo’s remarkable rise and the power of community.

Tell us a little about the reason behind launching Sanzo?

We are the first Asian-inspired sparkling water brand, made with real fruit and no added sugar. I was a pretty big sparkling water drinker myself, and still am, but the industry was only representing the same lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors. And as a Filipino American I thought there was a real opportunity here, to tap into the flavors representing the other hemisphere of the world, representing 60% of the world’s population. And I could see a real bridging of East and West cultures happening, which we hadn’t really seen in beverages, so wanted to celebrate that in a beverage brand.

Flavored sparkling water is such a booming industry, it seems like more and more people are embracing it as a healthier alternative to soda?

Absolutely. And the next wave of sparkling water is really preaching a level of transparency on our label. Some of these big brands list their ingredients as something like ‘carbonated water and natural flavors.’ Well, there’s been a lot of questions around what really constitutes a natural flavor, and how healthy is it? We’re using the real fruit so people know this is what a calamansi, lychee or this particular mango varietal really taste like.

Sanzo’s Marvel collaboration

Sanzo’s Marvel collaboration

This collaboration with Marvel is pretty special and must be huge for you and your brand. Weren’t you still fulfilling orders out of your apartment 18 months ago?

Yeah, it has been remarkable, I think we as a brand have done a couple of things correctly. But ultimately I think that we owe the biggest debt of gratitude to the supporters that we have, both within the AAPI community and outside of it. The Marvel collaboration has been quite a ride. In April, we had our first introduction to the Marvel team and they were pretty sold on it. Marvel is in the fortunate position as a marketing team that generating profit is not really in question, so it’s about how they can best engage with their viewers. There are a dearth of brands that speaks authentically to this same message of bridging these cultures, and in the film they play special homage to that, and we were one of the few brands that hit all the notes they wanted to hit. We were able to make a pretty compelling proposal around the community we have, which is super engaged. And, of course, we’re a healthy product that meets Disney’s nutritional guidelines.

What more can be done to continue to improve Asian representation in the US and western culture, and is that something you seeing continuing to improve in the future?

The increase in representation across a variety of verticals kind of builds everything together. So through the work CAPE do, and what we see in this Marvel movie, we are increasing our representation in entertainment. Meanwhile, we are also trying to increase representation in supermarket stores. So our brand collaborating with Marvel, and what that does, is all part of a bigger play for increased representation throughout.

And finally, what advice would you give to other people with an idea on how they can make it happen?

I think the biggest thing is just the value of community. And obviously, that varies depending on the kind of product or service that you’re selling. But in today’s world a lot of consumers are inundated with so much advertising and marketing. There’s a new celebrity launching a product every day, but it’s about developing authentic relationships with the community that you’re in.

Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the world’s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring artists and leaders.

1 Comment

  1. Hi! My name is Ethan. I’m 13 years old, and the founder of Legenade Childrens Fund. It’s a nonprofit that helps kids with education. My brother and I started it since I was 7 years old. We sold lemonade to help other nonprofits. Will our story fit in what you feature?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest from Blog