Only 18% of businesses in Canada are owned by women entrepreneurs. Two west-end Toronto women are bubbling their way to the top by their pairing passion with deep research and marrying their shared obsession with health trends with a tenacious willingness to persevere in the complex food world. This is the story of Geez Louise.
Lauren and Carmen, two west-end Toronto friends, have a shared curiosity, bordering on obsessive interest in food, drinks, snacks and wellness.
They find nothing more pleasurable than gushing about their newest food finds and swapping links to research to “nerd out” about the latest health trends.
“Lauren and I are the type of people who could easily spend 10 hours in a grocery store being like, what’s this? This is new. I haven’t seen that before,” says Carmen
While others may long for a beach vacation, these two wax nostalgic about a recent road trip to Detroit, where they prowled grocery store shelves and returned with an amazing haul of weird and wonderful snacks.
The Pandemic Pivot
Like many, pandemic health restrictions led Lauren and Carmen to order most of their groceries online.
Mid-pandemic, they made a pact to work together to reduce their growing wine consumption and to liven up their online grocery orders by adding a variety of sparkling water brands to their grocery lists. They’d talk about the ones they’d tried and chat about what was good and not so good about them.
When Lauren became pregnant, she delved deep into understanding the microbiome: the microbes like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes that naturally live inside us.
While babies get their first microbiome from their mothers during birth (thus, Lauren’s initial interest), adults get their gut microbiota from prebiotics, probiotics, and dietary fibres.
Carmen followed Lauren’s lead and poured over research that showed that prebiotic fibres are essential in helping gut microbes do their job. And when these microbes are at optimal levels, we have healthier metabolisms, stronger immune systems, and better digestion.
Sparkling Water Binge
Lauren and Carmen’s pandemic sparkling water binge and prebiotic research gave them sightlines onto a gap in the sparkling water space.
And so their concept for Geez Louise, their prebiotic sparkling beverage, was born.
In their view, most of the flavoured sparkling waters they’d sampled tasted “weird and artificial – with a hint of flavour that’s more “like a disappointing whisper.”
Also, rather than stepping outside convention, many sparkling water flavours remain “soda adjacent” like cola, orange or black cherry.
Also, most use sugar – or sugar substitutes.
Finally, when the two sampled prebiotic drinks, the fibres left an unpleasant, textured coating on their tongues.
This simply would not do.
In creating Geez Louise, the two set out to create a prebiotic sparkling water that met very specific criteria.
- Zero fibre-based viscosity,
- Unique, bold flavours,
- No sugar or sweeteners.
The 18-month journey to Geez Louise
It took 18 months for Lauren and Carmen to get from concept to product launch. Along their entrepreneurship journey, the two were fuelled by the same curiosity that characterized their long friendship.
The research told them that the functional food movement was having its moment. Post-Covid, people sought foods that boosted their immunity and promoted greater health.
“The question at the heart of the functional food movement is ‘how can I get good things into my body more easily?” says Carmen.
They hired top Toronto University scientists and nutritionists with expertise in plant-based soluble fibres to deliver a prebiotic beverage without viscosity.
They conducted rigorous market research, which pointed to consumers’ growing demand for sugar-free options.
“To this day,” Lauren shared, “sugar is one of the things consumers are curious about. When we sample, we get asked about whether our drinks have sugar. We’re one of the few brands that don’t use any sugar or sugar substitutes.”
While both partners had been entrepreneurs in the past, they admit they weren’t prepared for the complexity of the food space. The two emphasized, “It’s a good thing we didn’t know how challenging it’d be.”
A name and a unique approach to flavours
Carmen says, “The name was one of the hardest things.” Like everything they did in developing their prebiotic sparkling beverage, it started with very specific criteria. They were looking for:
- A fun name,
- A name that gave them “lots of wiggle room” in case they decided to launch other products,
- A name that didn’t focus too much on health benefits. Lauren and Carmen are clear in their brand positioning: ”Health is important but secondary to delivering a delicious beverage experience.”
They landed on the fun, retro name Geez Louise. You’ve got to admit, it’s a good name.
Lauren and Carmen worked closely with a chef and friend to lock in Geez Louise’s first three flavours.
After weeks of tasting and testing, they tried combining fruit and herb flavours. That was their “stop the presses moment.” Finally, they landed on a flavour set that made their drinks bold, interesting and approachable.
And, together with their chef/friend, they launched three very different sparkling water flavours that complement each other and that stand on their own:
They launched their brand with three very different sparkling water flavours that complement each other but also stand on their own:
- Cantaloupe Mint – Juicy and sweet-tasting with a refreshing end note
- Grapefruit Basil – An anchor flavour featuring a beloved citrus fruit with a delightful herb note
- Passionfruit Rosemary – the wilder flavour for those who want to experiment.
For the package design, they worked with a Montreal-based design studio. If you look closely, the G and O in the Geez Louise logo subtly symbolizes a digestive tract! The can’s colours reflect the harmonious blend of the fruit and herb flavours.
As west-end Toronto locals, Fiesta was (of course) their favourite grocery store. The two knew they needed to be on Fiesta’s shelves. So, the partners walked into the store with a six-pack of Geez Louise under their arms and told the first Fiesta staffer they spotted, “We need to talk to the grocery buyer.”
A few days after the impromptu sampling (the drinks weren’t chilled, and they had no ice!) Christian, the Organic/Natural Foods Manager, emailed them and shared that Fiesta would like to stock Geez Louise. They received Christian’s email on Aug 1, 2022, and officially launched Geez Louise on August 17.
As Lauren shared, “When we got on Fiesta’s shelves, we looked at each other and felt like “we’d really made it.”
Beyond Fiesta Farms, check out Carmen and Lauren’s West-end Toronto favourite places and people:
- Best West End Outing: Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market
- Best Restaurant: Sakai Bar, Som Tum Jinda
- Best Toronto Icon: Stuart at Sakai because of how much he knows about Sake