Making It

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, June 17, 2007

Between them, Silver Spring residents and longtime friends Gretchen Cook-Anderson and Angela Patterson have two full-time jobs, five children younger than 7, and a sixth demanding, rapidly growing offspring: their fledgling beverage business.

Gretchen and Angela co-founded Saphia Lifestyle Beverages, a company that makes low-calorie, nutrient-enhanced, flavored waters for pregnant and nursing women.

In 2004, Gretchen, a public affairs contractor for NASA, spied a restaurant table full of expectant mothers, all drinking different brands of bottled water. She flashed back to her own difficulty staying hydrated while expecting twins. Someone should make a special water for pregnant women, she mused, and approached Angela, a neonatologist, with the idea. Angela said she had one problem -- "I didn't think of it first" -- and asked to help develop the beverage.

Starting with the vitamins and nutrients important for pregnant women, the team worked with a beverage chemist and a flavor house to create a mix that tastes good and is healthful. Saphia, which means wise, is available in three flavors, and includes vitamins, calcium and folic acid. It is meant to supplement, not to replace, prenatal vitamins, and to help pregnant and nursing women meet their recommended intake of 10 cups of fluid daily. A half-liter bottle costs $1.99.

Gretchen and Angela began selling Saphia on their Web site last July. They have placed it with national chains Mother-hood Maternity and Babies R Us, and are in negotiations with a regional grocery company. Their business, established with $180,000 from savings and investors, has grossed about $100,000 so far.

Gretchen, president and CEO, telecommutes from home for NASA during the day and focuses on Saphia after her three children -- her twin boys are almost 6; her daughter is 18 months -- are in bed. Angela, vice president and chief medical officer, conducts Saphia business by cellphone during her commute to Washington Hospital Center, where she puts in as much as 60 hours a week. Their husbands -- Gretchen's is a high school principal; Angela's is head of private equity at a local firm -- are very supportive, they say. And "we both spend a lot of time with our kids," says Angela, who has a daughter, 7, and a son, 4.

The co-founders are taking on a crowded field. Eight billion gallons of bottled water were sold in 2006, in an $11 billion market that welcomed 140 new products. Gary Hemphill, managing director of the Beverage Marketing Corp., says the industry is so large that it has begun to splinter into areas such as flavored water and fitness water, and "products have become finely targeted to very specific niches." The Saphia concept "seems to make sense, given the current market trends," he says.

Gretchen and Angela certainly hope their targeted niche is responsive. But they want to do more than make money, Gretchen says; they want to educate women "about the importance of hydration for a healthy pregnancy." No matter what happens, they add, they won't regret giving Saphia a shot. "If it doesn't work," Angela jokes, "it was water under the bridge."

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