It was mid-December of 2013, and, in New York City, at least two landmark moments in pop culture happened.
First, Brooklyn's first Whole Foods market opened. (Hey, it was a landmark moment if you lived in Brooklyn.) Second, Beyonce Knowles dropped her single, "Drunk in Love"--the song that launched a thousand "SURFBORT" sweatshirts.
Toward the end of that song, you may recall, Beyonce whisper-sings the line, "I've been drinking watermelon."
To Jody Levy, that seemed like an irresistible coincidence. She had been living and breathing--and, yes, drinking--a lot of watermelon. And she was working on placing some drinkable watermelon on the shelves of that very new Brooklyn Whole Foods. Levy's product was called Wtrmln Wtr, and it was the first creation of her fledgling New York City company called World Waters, which she was launching with the help of real-estate entrepreneur Harlan Berger, the founder of Centaur Holdings.
"I think that Beyonce and my story is just amazing in terms of synergy," Levy told Inc. As soon as she heard the "Drunk in Love" lyrics, she says, "right away, I sent a couple cases to her team. And a note."
Levy, who says her intention was simply to "celebrate the synchronicity," didn't get an immediate response from Beyonce, or from Parkwood Entertainment, the umbrella music- and product-production company Knowles established in 2008. (Levy had originally gotten connected to Parkwood through a friend before sending over the samples.)
Levy spent the next year and a half building a supply chain for the healthy cold-pressed watermelon juice drink--and building a dual mission for the business. First, it would help farmers out by using the seedy, sun-burnt, or slightly disfigured melons they'd usually be unable to sell to retail stores. Secondly, it would be a healthy beverage.
Levy's background was in "experience design," which meant she worked with the likes of Chrysler and Toyota--and arts institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art--to develop immersive experiences and tell big, rich stories.
So designing a brand from scratch wasn't such a stretch.
She designed, for instance, full-body skin-tight suits printed like watermelons for her reps to wear when handing out samples. She created promotional cards for the brand--attached to a little pack of watermelon seeds.
Levy also beefed up World Waters as a company. She had already hired a chief scientist to create the beverage, and then put together an executive team to run the business, including a chief executive and a chief marketing officer. With the team in place, Levy says the company began looking to expand upon the company's existing $4 million in funding, which at first mostly came from friends and family.
It would be 18 months before she started a conversation with Beyonce and Parkwood. Levy explains that they "began discussions about potential partnership through investment and identified our aligned mission to empower people to be fit and healthy."
When asked whether she actually met with the superstar, Levy said: "Of course I met with her! I won't let anyone invest in our company whom I haven't met personally."
Was she nervous to meet Beyonce?
"No, not at all," Levy said. "Humans are humans. I love good humans." She said the two bonded over the company's mission as well as the product. Levy was mum on the details of Beyonce's investment, which was made public earlier this week. (A rep for Parkwood did not respond to a request for comment.)
"Our mission to help people be happy and healthy was aligned from the start," Levy said. "Because it was from that care and love that goes into both of our brands--even with the cleverness and sex appeal involved--for both of us it always comes back to the love and our enthusiasm for empowering all people."
Today Wtrmln Wtr is available at 7,500 retail locations, including Whole Foods, Kroger, and Costco; Levy won't divulge specifics, but says 2016's sales are up 350 percent and that the company is on track to cold-press 25 million pounds of watermelon this year. Knowles, who is in the middle of her Formation World Tour, has already carved out significant opportunities for Wtrmln Wtr. According to Bloomberg, "It will be sold at concert venues throughout the tour and was featured in pop-up stores around the U.S. during the rollout of Ivy Park," Knowles's clothing line.
It will also be backstage--so when Knowles belts "I've been drinking watermelon," it will be true.