Pictured: Inspired by the dizzying selection of alternative sodas at US retailers like Whole Foods and Erewhon, Rachel Castelino is breaking into the competitive drinks market with her new product line Blume.

Rachel Castelino on starting her own drinks brand Blume from scratch

As major US retailers like Whole Foods and Erewhon take alt-drinks to a whole new level, Rachel Castelino wants to bring Aussies on a similar journey with her new prebiotic fizz.

In a 2004 article for The New York Times, former options trader cum philosopher Nicholas Nassim Taleb argued that we ought to reward people, not ridicule them, for thinking the impossible.

As part of Missing Perspectives' female founders series, that's exactly what we're setting out to do.

This week, we met with Blume founder and third culture kid Rachel Castelino in Sydney, to learn more about how she started her drinks brand from scratch, from testing early batches in her kitchen to landing her first big distribution deals with Harris Farm and WHSmith in late 2023.

The drinks category - as it's known in the biz - is undoubtedly competitive (especially given that a fresh glass of icy water is always delicious - and free), but there are signs in the market to suggest that now's a good time to be experimenting.

According to customer research from New York-based flavour house Giovanni Foods, soft drinks in developed countries like America and Australia are declining, while mixers - somewhat like Blume - are in a massive growth phase due to a mix of increased health-consciousness among consumers (meaning people are swapping out soft drinks for mixers), and a wave of younger consumers entering the category with very different habits from their elders (Gen Z are less likely to go out and buy a slab of beer, say, but when they do drink, they want something branded and expensive).

Inspired by brands like Olipop in Whole Foods in the United States, Rachel shares how she's approaching creating her very own drinks brand in Blume.

Missing Perspectives: Can you tell us about your upbringing? Did you come from an entrepreneurial-minded family?

In October 2001, when I was seven, my parents, both lawyers from Mumbai, decided to uproot our lives and chase a new beginning in New Zealand with few networks or jobs lined up. They eventually decided to establish their own law firm in Auckland, driven by a desire for independence.

Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and rewards of their decision. I watched them navigate the uncertainties, work tirelessly, and bounce back from setbacks. Their resilience and determination became my guiding light, inspiring me to carve my own path as a founder.

They taught me the value of thinking outside the box and embracing risks for both professional and personal growth. I learned that being in business isn't just about profits and losses — it's about embodying a mindset of adaptability and unwavering determination.

While not "entrepreneurial" in a typical sense, their journey is a reminder to me that success isn't about playing it safe but about taking bold steps. It's a lesson I carry with me every day as I forge my path as an outsider in the competitive beverage industry.

Where in the US, flavours like "creaming soda" and "vintage cola" are a hit, in Australia, fruits and citrus like Blume's "raspberry lime" land better.

What led you to found Blume? What was the process like, and what was the gap you saw in the market?

While living in the US, a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2019 set me on a path of discovery about the role of prebiotic plant fibres in the gut microbiome. My health journey led me to revamp my lifestyle, but I stayed true to my love for sweet treats and beverages, opting for balance rather than extreme health fads or diets.

When I moved to Sydney in 2021, I found the food and beverage market severely lacking, in terms of taste, functionality, and brand, compared to the US and noticed a gap in the market for fun, delicious, and gut-friendly beverage options.

The Australian scene was dominated by sugary sodas, kombuchas, and sparkling waters. So, I decided to create the low-sugar prebiotic beverage I wished to find in Australia.

I began experimenting in my kitchen, using a soda stream and natural ingredients to create initial prototypes. Taking a leap of faith during lockdown, I approached Frenchies Brewery for production. It was a challenging process, but after months of trials, I finally crafted a prebiotic soda I was proud of, even though I had no clear distribution plan (again, total outsider!).

I started small, introducing my soda and story to my local natural grocer in Surry Hills, Maloney’s Grocer, who became my first stockist.

What has been the turning point for the brand? And are your customers primarily women - particularly from millennials and Gen Z?

Being stocked at Harris Farm Markets and WHSmith was a major milestone for us as it introduced Blume to a wider audience. While Blume is designed for everyone, our primary demographic tends to be women between 18-45.

I believe one of the reasons I've been able to connect so effectively with Blume's target audience is because I am part of that demographic myself. I think people appreciate the authenticity and relatability that come from someone who truly understands their needs and preferences.

Have you faced any challenges as a young female founder?

It’s also not uncommon for people to have biases that assume I’m not the founder or to ask if I have a boyfriend helping me “run the business”. There is still a pervasive perception that women are less capable or serious about business, which can lead to scepticism or dismissal from gatekeepers of the industry. However, I'm very thankful for the initial manufacturers, suppliers, and customers who took a risk on me and embraced my vision for a healthier soda.

Misogynistic comments on the internet are never fun either, but I'm incredibly grateful for the overwhelmingly supportive community that Blume has cultivated.

How do you think we can shift the dial and ensure that more capital goes to female founders?

Continuing to challenge our perceptions and support for women in business is crucial. By celebrating the stories of emerging and successful female founders, we can reshape the narrative and demonstrate that women are not just capable, but exceptional leaders in the business world. This is why platforms like Missing Perspectives are incredibly valuable, especially for women typically overlooked by legacy media.

It's also important to build networks of support and mentorship, creating a foundation for success that goes beyond just financial backing. I’ve gained support and insights from fantastic resources like Glowreel and Female Startup Club that focus on female trailblazers. I'm passionate about fostering a culture where women feel empowered to take risks and pursue their dreams, knowing they have a community behind them throughout their founder journeys.

Rachel Castelino on ... her three favourite drinks

  1. Favourite day time drink
    "I don't want to be biased and say Blume ... but Blume ... or anything carbonated."

  2. Favourite coffee order

    "A strong flat white. In New Zealand, the default when you order a flat white is two shots, so when I'm in Australia I have to remember to order a strong flat white."

  3. Favourite alcoholic beverage

    "I'm going to be a Kiwi again and say any Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand."