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Man of the Month: Sandro Roco

by Jacqueline O. |

cardon's man of the month series, April 2021

In our "Man of the Month" series, we feature people who inspire us and are creating positive change in the world, specifically in the self-care space. This month, we are excited to feature Sandro Roco, Founder & CEO of Sanzo.


Sandro Roco is the Founder & CEO of Sanzo, the 1st Asian-inspired sparkling water, using real fruit and no added sugar. Sandro graduated from Villanova University with a degree in Chemical Engineering and previously worked as an engineer at Exelon Corporation, on the trading floor at J.P. Morgan, and as head of growth, then chief-of-staff at Bombfell, an online personal styling service.


Career life

Tell us about Sanzo and what inspired you to create it.

Sanzo bridges cultures by connecting people with authentic flavors. We’re starting with the 1st Asian-inspired sparkling water, using real fruit and no added sugar.

I see Sanzo as a necessary brand to catch consumer goods up with what’s already happening in pop culture -- in music, television, the box office and a wide swath of other consumer verticals. We're inspired by a multitude of watershed cultural moments: the success of several blockbuster films directed by or starring Asians and Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), the rise of Korean pop music, and the ubiquitous influence of Asian popular culture on a global scale. Our goal was to create a beverage that represented this bridging of cultures, East and West.

But we don’t see this reflected on beverage shelves. If you go into supermarkets, the flavors of almost 60% of the world’s population have been relegated to just one tiny part of the ‘ethnic aisle’. And I felt like it was time to change that.

Tell us about your past year and how the pandemic has affected Sanzo - and how it shifted how you thought about the business?

We are very fortunate that the pandemic has been a boon to our business. We saw sales increase upwards of 1,100% in the last year as consumers began purchasing more beverages online. This spike in sales via direct-to-consumer helped us increase our brand awareness dramatically, which has in-turn accelerated our distribution and in-store sales velocities. As well, that brand awareness has led to some fun initiatives, most especially our recent collaboration with Disney in celebration of the release of Raya and the Last Dragon.

What’s been the biggest challenge in starting your own business? What are the pros and cons of being a solo founder?

Being a sole founder is not for everyone. The emotional roller coaster, especially in the earliest days, was most acute for me because I knew so little about the industry and had so little in the way of resources and external validation to help carry me through.

That said, for the right person, being a sole founder can be incredibly liberating. I find I’m able to make decisions much quicker, and as a general rule of thumb, I believe that speed and agility are about two of the only advantages a startup has over incumbents in its earliest days.

What milestone are you most proud of?

After close to two years of being the sole employee of the brand, having the privilege to build out our initial team has been extremely rewarding. I’d been in my own little universe for a while, and so meeting other incredibly talented people with strong core values willing to leave safer roles (many with higher compensation) because they also share strong conviction over the Sanzo brand is something I’m still humbled by everyday.

Building a beverage brand is not easy; it requires a daily commitment. And I’m so proud of the team we have in place that shows up ready to build each and every day.

What are you most excited for in the upcoming year?

I’m excited that we get to keep building and expanding. I have genuine excitement about all of our team’s functions, from the scaling of our manufacturing operations (which feeds the inner engineer in me) to brand building (which feeds my love of storytelling as a quintessential element of the human experience).

And as we continue building, I’m excited for the team we are welcoming and will continue to welcome. It’s probably my greatest joy as a founder/CEO when I can see and feel a team member enjoying what they’re doing professionally and enjoying the experience of being part of this team. And I’m excited that it’s my job to keep them that excited.


Industry Insights

The sparkling beverage industry seems to be booming now, with lots of different brands on the market. What sets Sanzo apart?

On a super tactical level, we’re filling a gap that I believe is widely undervalued. While we acknowledge the wide inequalities within our subcultures, the truth remains that Asian Americans as a marketing demographic represent the fastest growing, highest earning and highest social media-indexing ethnic group in the United States. As well, across the board in this country, you are seeing increasing demand for Asian-inspired goods and services.

But on a more substantive level, I believe our mission sets us apart. Yes our main product is what we believe is the best tasting sparkling water in the market. But much more than that, our mission of bridging cultures by connecting people is one that is far more impactful.

What role do newer brands like Sanzo play in innovating the food and beverage market?

Our role in this industry is to be the source of innovation and in many ways the heart and soul of the future. The larger conglomerates have the infrastructure and distribution that can take the right brands to scale.

But that initial “zero to one” is not traditionally where they thrive. In my opinion, it’s because the “zero to one” types of brands typically tend to either serve an underrepresented population or are creating a completely new category (think kombucha 20 years ago) whereas the large conglomerates are incentivized to only enter markets after there’s some level of maturation where they can put their manufacturing and distribution muscle behind.


Getting personal

How has creating an Asian-inspired brand affected your connection to your Asian roots?

If I’m being really honest, my cultural self-identity and exploration has come much later in life. It was really only when I moved to Queens in my late 20s that I started asking more questions about why things were the way they were culturally. And in many ways Sanzo is the end product of my willingness to go down that rabbit hole.

What’s really excited me about my journey is that along the way I feel like I’ve met so many other folks who’ve gone down the same rabbit hole and have arrived at the same conclusion independently about the bridging of East and West. But how they manifest that bridging of cultures is completely different from what I’m doing.

Sanzo and I personally also benefit from the work that so many before us have done, from food media, to adventurous restaurateurs, musicians, filmmakers and social advocates.

What is your favorite Cardon product and why?

My favorite Cardon product is the OG Daily SPF + Moisturizer. For most of my life, I’ve been pretty [INSERT WORD HERE] about UV protection. I grew up with the mentality that because I had brown skin, I was completely protected. But over the years and yes, after encouragement from my primary care physician, I’ve been encouraged to use moisturizers with real UVA and UVB protection.

How has creating an Asian-inspired brand affected your connection to your Asian roots?

If I’m being really honest, my cultural self-identity and exploration has come much later in life. It was really only when I moved to Queens in my late 20s that I started asking more questions about why things were the way they were culturally. And in many ways Sanzo is the end product of my willingness to go down that rabbit hole.

What’s really excited me about my journey is that along the way I feel like I’ve met so many other folks who’ve gone down the same rabbit hole and have arrived at the same conclusion independently about the bridging of East and West. But how they manifest that bridging of cultures is completely different from what I’m doing.

Sanzo and I personally also benefit from the work that so many before us have done, from food media, to adventurous restaurateurs, musicians, filmmakers and social advocates.

What is your favorite Cardon product and why?

My favorite Cardon product is the OG Daily SPF + Moisturizer. For most of my life, I’ve been pretty [INSERT WORD HERE] about UV protection. I grew up with the mentality that because I had brown skin, I was completely protected. But over the years and yes, after encouragement from my primary care physician, I’ve been encouraged to use moisturizers with real UVA and UVB protection.

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