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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 12, 2021 10 months ago

Area venture aims to bring sparkling CBD water to consumers

Plans for Aquarian Sky include focusing on a few states at first, but ambitions run high and include full-scale, national distribution.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Since Matt Cornelius started drinking CBD sparkling water Aquarian Sky in place of beer, he says he’s lost about 40 pounds and has slept a lot better. “Part of the reason I get geeked about selling this product is it’s made my life a whole lot better,” he says. “You have to believe in anything you’re selling to some extent if you’re going to do it the right way.”

Cornelius is proprietor, executive of development and CEO of Aquarian Sky, a Bradenton-based venture to produce and distribute CBD sparkling water. Aquarian Sky seeks to gain traction in the CBD products space, an industry on a roll: Everything from gels and gummies to extracts and supplements with CBD has been competing for shelf space in recent years. CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, are natural compounds derived from the cannabis plant. The core difference is THC has a psychoactive part. 

Courtesy. Ed Chiles, who owns area restaurants Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista, is a partner in Aquarian Sky.

Under the Florida regulatory system, Aquarian Sky has a permit to sell ingestible CBD products. Cornelius' partners in the business include Ed Chiles, who owns area restaurants Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista. (Chiles’ father, Lawton Chiles, was a U.S. Senator and governor of Florida.) Business and tax attorney Ted LaRoche is also a partner.

Cornelius, who declines to disclose the investment in Aquarian Sky so far, is no stranger to entrepreneurship. His parents, Ellen and Bill Cornelius, own and operate the Sarasota blues bar, grill and live music venue Blue Rooster. And since 2013, Cornelius has focused on growing distribution for Darwin Brewing Co., a Bradenton craft beer company. Cornelius met Chiles by supplying his restaurants with Darwin beer. “Our relationship kind of sparked this project and this company,” Cornelius says.

Cornelius and Chiles’ plans are to grow the company’s distribution by first honing in on a few states. “Initially, we’re focusing on Florida, Georgia and Tennessee with the product as an initial footprint,” Cornelius says. “The goal is to go national, and we’ve already had discussions and been approached about doing that with major distributors. My goal is to have these products on the cold shelf at Publix or Kroger nationwide.”

‘You have to believe in anything you’re selling to some extent if you’re going to do it the right way.’ — Matt Cornelius, Aquarian Sky  

Chiles shares Cornelius’ positive outlook and ambition. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to take what we have developed and to be in this space and to work with Darwin breweries,” Chiles says. “We would love to see it in a broad spectrum of retail outlets and restaurants.”

Cornelius and Chiles think the product will strike a chord with a diverse group of potential customers. Demographics could range from younger people who want to drink less alcohol to seniors suffering from arthritis. “It has general appeal,” Cornelius says. “The most important reason being it’s for people who want to be healthy and care about wellness and who appreciate a good product in terms of taste and refreshment and might be looking to substitute something that’s unhealthy for them.”

The product has benefited from research Chiles is involved with at Middle Tennessee State University on the health benefits of THC and CBD. He has a company that makes a CBD product called Tanasi that will be used in Aquarian Sky beverages. “We’ve been working on this for over a year, and they’ve been doing the research on it for a shave under a decade,” Cornelius says. “There’s a litany of health benefits that are backed by science.”

Courtesy. Aquarian Sky will offer four flavors — original, grapefruit, black cherry and mojito.

Aquarian Sky officials say potential benefits from drinking the beverage will be key selling points. “It’s a natural anti-inflammatory,” Cornelius says. “Things like arthritis, chronic pain, migraines — people point to CBD as a natural remedy for those sorts of ailments. It also produces a bit of a calming effect.” Some people use it to help them fall sleep or in situations that induce social anxiety, he says.

Another Aquarian Sky selling point? Taste. “It tastes unbelievable,” Cornelius says. Aquarian Sky will offer four flavors — original, grapefruit, black cherry and mojito. Cornelius credits Darwin and Aquarian Sky’s brewer, Blue Hellenga, for the taste. “I honestly think the sky’s the limit with this,” he adds. 

Aquarian Sky is available at Darwin Brewing, and Cornelius expects the product to launch in more locations by the end of March. Beyond Darwin, the first restaurants to serve Aquarian Sky will be Chiles’ restaurants and Poppo’s Taqueria locations in the Sarasota-Manatee area. 

The drinks will be available online, too. “We also plan on selling in stores variety packs of all four flavors as well as standard packs that have four of same flavor,” Cornelius says. “We already have the product. It’s just the question of packaging and developing the consistency of actually having what we advertise — 20 milligrams of CBD in each 12-ounce can. Now we’re in the final stages of development, and we have just a bit of equipment we’re expecting this month that ensures it’s exactly as advertised.”

Through the Aquarian Sky e-commerce website, six packs will be sold for $30 including shipping. Retailers are expected to price the product at about $17.99 to $19.99 per four-pack.

Cornelius is optimistic about the months ahead. “I would love to see Aquarian Sky as a household name in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and states beyond that as well,” he says. “We think 2021 is going to be a great year for us.”

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