“This is really a love story,” said Justin Mahy, who launched Kopu Water with his wife, Mindy, about three months ago, two and a half years since they had moved west from New York City. “On our first date, she said, ‘I want to live in Santa Barbara,’” explained Justin, who’d lived here years earlier. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna marry this girl.’”
That happened at the Bacara in 2015, and on their honeymoon in New Zealand, where Justin is from, they brainstormed their own company. Originally from Missouri and formerly a commercial real estate broker in New York, Mindy loves sparkling water, which they learned is the fastest-growing beverage category in America. And Justin, a serial entrepreneur with software and media startup successes under his belt, wanted to promote “Brand New Zealand” beyond the sauvignon blanc and the All Blacks rugby team that most Americans associate with the country.
Since bottled water has such a bad environmental reputation due to aquifer sourcing, bottle waste, and ground transportation, Justin explained, “We wanted to reinvent the category by creating a truly sustainable water.”
So they found an artesian well fed by dormant underwater volcanoes beneath the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island, where his family is from. “It’s water that would otherwise be flowing to the sea,” he explained. “We take a very tiny proportion.”
Then they designed a stylish but lightweight aluminum bottle, which is much better than plastic or glass. “Seventy-five percent of all the aluminum ever created in the history of [humans] is still in use today,” said Justin, explaining that the scrap price of aluminum is $2,100 a ton, while plastic is $6 and glass just $10 a ton. “It pays for the recycling of everything else.” Their blue-and-silver bottle is 80 percent lighter than a glass bottle of the same size, and they cut the greenhouse-gas emissions further by opting for primarily maritime transportation.
Dialing in the flavor was another critical step. “We spent a long time creating what we believe is the perfect sparkling water,” said Justin. “It has tiny, champagne-like bubbles. It’s got a velvety sensation.” That process required customizing their Italian machinery, as did creating the bottle’s 38-millimeter mouth, wider than most.
Kopu hit the market in September and is now on sale at more than 20 places in Santa Barbara and another 20 in Los Angeles. Initial sales have been better than expected, and “our velocity is accelerating,” said Justin. “Our brand truly is able to capture that clean, green, natural, adventure ethos of New Zealand. We wanted to create a product that really delivers that ethos into people’s refrigerators and onto the tabletops of restaurants.”