The Milk Crate cafe owner’s next venture is caffeinated water for the ‘health conscious’

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Ben Lenart, co-founder of Wellington's favorite coffeehouse Milk Crate, is managing director of Almighty Beverages, the first Kiwi company to bring caffeinated sparkling water to shelves.

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Ben Lenart, co-founder of Wellington’s favorite coffeehouse Milk Crate, is managing director of Almighty Beverages, the first Kiwi company to bring caffeinated sparkling water to shelves.

When you’ve run a beloved cafe, switching to selling water doesn’t seem like the next logical step.

But that’s exactly what Ben Lenart, founder of the late and dearly missed Milk Crate, did.

Its new product is Almighty Active, a sugar-free sparkling water with added caffeine and a hint of natural flavor.

It may sound crazy to us, but caffeinated water has started to take off in the US, with brands such as Water Joe, Limitless and Phocus gaining market share.

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Coca-Cola has added caffeinated options to its sparkling water line, Aha, as has Pepsi to its Bubly.

However, Lenart – who is now based in Auckland – has beaten them to New Zealand shelves.

Sales figures, reported in a University of Auckland study, suggest Kiwis are choosing juices, sports drinks and energy drinks over soft drinks.

Almighty Sparkling Water was designed for people who needed an energy boost but wanted a healthy option, Lenart says. Each can contains 80mg of caffeine, which is roughly equivalent to one cup of coffee, with the caffeine being extracted from green coffee beans.

Almighty Active is sparkling water, containing only natural caffeine from green coffee beans and a natural flavor.

Provided

Almighty Active is sparkling water, containing only natural caffeine from green coffee beans and a natural flavor.

By law, energy drinks sold in New Zealand cannot contain more than 32mg of caffeine per 100ml, or 80mg of caffeine in a 250ml serving.

“We’re not trying to replace coffee,” he says. “He’s been my love for 16 years.”

Ghuznee St Milk Crate cafe closed in late April, just one of a long list of business losses caused by the pandemic and rising costs in the capital.

The team behind the cafe recently released a cookbook, and Lenart says the same people behind the cafe were also the founders of Almighty.

Lenart moved overseas in 2014 and took a step back from running the cafe, but remained a partner in the business.

Lenart launched Almighty Beverages in 2015 and started with organic juices, selling wholesale to hotel outlets in New Zealand and Australia. In 2019, she added naturally sparkling water to her repertoire.

The caffeinated range was born out of major global trends moving away from sugary drinks.

Milk Crate closed in April and the team recently released a cookbook.  (File photo)

Rosa Woods / Stuff

Milk Crate closed in April and the team recently released a cookbook. (File photo)

“We were inspired by the United States,” says Lenart. “Some of our team members spent some time there, saw a lot of stuff there, and brought the idea back to us.”

“People are so conscious of what they put into their bodies, and there is a great opportunity to replace some of the old style energy drinks with something new and modern, suited to today’s healthy lifestyles.”

These drinks would find a niche as an alternative to alcohol, a pre-workout boost or an afternoon pick-me-up, naturally energizing and hydrating at the same time.

“For go-getters or tired people,” he says.

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