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Blake Johnson, left, and Wade Gronwold are founders and owners of ax-water, a new fitness drink. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Fargo men launch new infused water line with big goals for brand's future

FARGO — It's only been on the market for a couple weeks, but two Fargo men have lofty goals for their new line of infused water they hope will satisfy a growing thirst for healthy beverages far outside this region.

Blake Johnson and Wade Gronwold are the co-founders of ax-water, a premium drink that's similar in some ways to Bai water.

Johnson, an agriculture and biosystems engineer, has farmed aronia berries recreationally for five years. The crop is considered a superfood because it has the highest level of antioxidants for a berry, even more than a pomegranate.

Eastern Europe harvests 55 million pounds per year that are used to make everything from lotions to wine, he said. But the aronia berry is largely overlooked in the U.S., where 1 million to 2 million pounds are harvested annually.

His father, who works in the medical profession, suggested to Johnson that he could create an infused water. After asking for ideas from Gronwold, a friend he met through the gym, Gronwold also suggested it could work as an infused water. Johnson knew it was an idea worth pursuing.

After 15 months of work, ax-water is on the market, and the locals behind it think it could be the next big thing in the beverage industry.

Taste test

Aronia berries may be high in antioxidants, but that doesn't mean the slightly bitter taste is appealing on its own.

"It kind of fell off the radar because the taste of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries were better," Johnson said about the berries.

The business partners worked with a chemist to come up with a sweet-tasting, enjoyable drink that's low on calories and only made with natural ingredients.

Ax-water launched late last month with two flavors, blackberry pear and black tea. An aronia lemon version will be available soon.

Gronwold is an entrepreneur who owns a clothing brand and a design business, as well as a competitive bodybuilder who coaches athletes, so he jumped at the chance to get involved with another new venture.

"After we had some in-depth conversations, Blake and I could see the bigger picture to what this could actually be because it is for everybody," he said.

A 16-ounce bottle of ax-water will retail for about $3 to $4. Gronwold said its status as a premium beverage with no artificial sweeteners or colors makes it well worth the price.

It's bottled in a Virginia facility that can seal the drink while it's hot, which means they don't have to add preservatives. Johnson said his hope is to eventually use North Dakota-grown aronia berries to create new demand for the fruit here.

Even though the beverage just launched, Gronwold said he has "big expectations" for its future.

They've already found some local bars interested in using the beverage in summer cocktails, and they're working with Beverage Wholesalers to get it into stores and establishments across the region.

Gronwold said if things go well, ax-water could potentially work with a larger beverage company to become a household name across the country.

"We want to play with the big boys," he said.

Where to buy it

Ax-water is now available at several stores and businesses, including Hornbacher's, Power Plate Meals, Happy Harry's Bottle Shop, Maxwells Restaurant and Bar, Element Fargo, Don's Car Wash and the NDSU Memorial Union, as well as Hotel Shoreham and Central Market in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and the Maple River Golf Club in Mapleton, N.D. For more information, visit