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Why Yanni Hufnagel, Lemon Perfect’s Founder And CEO, Calls His Fruit-Infused 5-Calorie Water, “Magic In A Bottle”


Enhanced water beverage Lemon Perfect has just 5 calories and zero sugar and is certified organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free. In addition, Lemon Perfect’s bottles are aimed at environmental protection. They’re made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or rPET, a plastic sourced from previously recycled plastic bottles. The company is also certified Plastic Neutral.

From the Lemon Perfect Company’s headquarters in Atlanta, Yanni Hufnagel, founder and CEO, says, “The bedrock of the brand from day one has been the idea of great flavor that’s also good for you. There’s nothing in the category with our flavor profile, the freshness of our flavor profile, our nutritional deck, and zero sugar.”

Hufnagel calls the beverage “magic in a bottle.” When he set out to produce healthy, fruit-infused water in 2017, Hufnagel wanted to create delicious, low-calorie water infused with lemons. He felt this beverage could disrupt a market dominated by high-calorie, high-sugar options.

“With water, organic lemons, and an unbelievable sweetener and flavor system, we got there,” he says. “It’s a deliciously refreshing product with zero sugar. We truly believe that when someone drinks a Lemon Perfect, they’re making a decision that’s better for them. How cool is that?” 

Yanni Hufnagel, Founder and CEO of Lemon Perfect, Created Flavored Water with Lemonade’s Sunny Taste

Lemon Perfect’s flavor revives memories of picnicking in the park, a cold bottle of lemonade sitting in the basket amid potato salad, napkins, and croissants. This is by design: Founder Yanni Hufnagel worked with a boutique beverage producer who translated the flavor notes of lemonade into Lemon Perfect’s award-winning formulation. He wanted Lemon Perfect to “deliver the joy of flavor in every sip.”

To process Lemon Perfect, a bottler extracts the juice from half an organic lemon for each bottle through cold pressing. Via this technique, a bottler controls a hydraulic press that extracts the maximum amount of nutrient-rich pulp and juice from fresh organic lemons. Since cold processing doesn’t involve heat or oxygen exposure, the method preserves the highest nutrient levels of lemons’ antioxidants, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Further, the company also processes Lemon Perfect beverages via flash pasteurization, or HTST, an eco-friendly technique that best maintains freshness without preservatives.

Luck and the right timing are two variables that affect every entrepreneurial endeavor. The launch of Lemon Perfect in 2017 was luckily timed in tandem with consumers’ thirst for low-calorie, keto-friendly, convenient beverage options.

Since its debut, Lemon Perfect’s flavors have multiplied to eight, all infused with organic fruit. The original SKU — with lemonade-like flavor — is called Original Lemon. Additions to the lineup include Strawberry Passion Fruit, Dragon Fruit Mango, Pineapple Coconut, Kiwi Star Fruit, Blueberry Açaí, Peach Raspberry, and the newest flavor, Watermelon.

How Yanni Hufnagel Developed a Delectable Beverage Without Refined Sugar or Artificial Flavors

Before taking the enhanced water market by storm, Yanni Hufnagel coached basketball at top universities for 10 years. Surrounded by health-conscious basketball players, he noticed they quenched their thirsts with flavored waters, which inspired him to push back against high-calorie, high-sugar options with his breakthrough beverage.

Like the athletes he coached, Hufnagel embraced a healthy lifestyle. Every morning, he sipped water blended with the juice of a squeezed organic lemon as part of his ketogenic diet. But he felt his basic, tart recipe wouldn’t carry mainstream national appeal.

“I knew from the beginning we were going to try to win everywhere, from Beverly Hills [California] to Baton Rouge [Louisiana], from a taste perspective,” he says. “I wanted to create something that had a big total addressable market.”

When Yanni Hufnagel worked with his California-based beverage producer, his goal was to focus on taste and nutrition to create a zero-sugar and low-calorie formula from organic flavors and plant-based sweeteners. He wanted the drink to impact the health of the American consumer.

Hufnagel and his beverage development team wanted to steer clear of any artificial ingredients while using natural sweeteners. As Lemon Perfect’s main competitors arrived on the scene using synthetic versions of the natural sweeteners erythritol and stevia leaf extract, Lemon Perfect boasted the real thing. All the infused waters in the Lemon Perfect line are sweetened with a combination of healthy, plant-based sweeteners — stevia and erythritol — that are certified organic and non-GMO.

Both natural sweeteners have been used in thousands of food and beverage products. Organic stevia extract is a zero-calorie sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. In South America, native peoples have used stevia for hundreds of years. People in Japan and Paraguay have used stevia for decades.

Erythritol is an all-natural, non-nutritive sweetener made from non-GMO corn. It can also be found in fruits like grapefruits, pears, and watermelons.

Not to be outdone by anyone, Lemon Perfect is certified vegan by Vegan Action, gluten-free by The Gluten Intolerance Group, and kosher by OU Kosher.

Yanni Hufnagel Aims High as Lemon Perfect Seeks to Disrupt the Multibillion-Dollar Enhanced Water Category

In many interviews, Yanni Hufnagel has compared sending Lemon Perfect into a competitive market without a beverage distributor’s backing to “trying to win the street fight without a weapon.”

When configuring his business plan for The Lemon Perfect Company and the formula for the initial beverage, Hufnagel knew his competition was stiff. Forerunners Bai, Hint, and vitaminwater ruled the functional water category — but Hufnagel felt there was room for a competitor in this growing category. According to food and beverage market researcher Fortune Business Insights, analysts expect the global functional water market to grow from $13.80 billion in 2021 to $22.97 billion in 2028.

In interviews, Hufnagel has told many journalists he “had no idea what [he] was doing” when he set out to create a multifaceted health beverage. That doesn’t seem 100% accurate; he crossed every T and dotted every I, from taste to sustainability. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was just a matter of figuring it out.

[Image by freepik.com]