REBBL CEO Hawken: Botanical Intelligence Can Grow a Brand

He’s kept a low profile since helping sell early acai competitor Bossa Nova to Sunny Delight Beverage Co., but REBBL CEO Palo Hawken hasn’t been completely out of the beverage business, he’s happy to say.

In fact, on a chance visit with ZICO CEO Mark Rampolla, Hawken suggested that the company consider using earthier flavors for the emerging coconut water brand. The result, confirmed Rampolla, was ZICO Chocolate, currently the brand’s standard bearer.

Hawken contacted BevNET recently for a conversation about the brand, which was conceived of as a for-profit beverage company that could manufacture a set of naturally functional beverages from  natural herbs and botanicals. Those herbs and botanicals will come from supply lines set up by  the nonprofit organization Not For Sale to provide opportunities for indigenous populations who might otherwise be economically vulnerable to a growing international slave trade.

“It’s sort of the brand concept I’ve been working on for a lifetime,” Hawken told BevNET.

He added that being affiliated with a nonprofit supply line doesn’t mean that REBBL itself isn’t intended to be a profitable, conventional beverage brand, albeit one that has a real sense of place and functional power. To that end, it seems to follow in the initial work he did with Bossa Nova.

That company was one of the first companies to harness the Brazilian acai berry – and eventually other rainforest “superfruits” —  for use in functional beverages. But REBBL, which will be cold brewed for more than 24 hours with all kinds of ingredients, including guayusa, cats claw, hibiscus, and many other plant-based components, is expected to have what Hawken called a “much higher level of botanical functionality.”

“In essence, this will be the first product to take botanical intelligence and really do it justice,” Hawken said. “Everything you taste in the bottle is the whole plant extract. There aren’t flavorings tricking your taste buds.”

While the initial launch of REBBL was a one-flavor preview for donors who helped support Not For Sale’s efforts to shore up its Peruvian supply line, Hawken plans a four-flavor launch featuring a series of “tonics” from all the geographic locations targeted by Not For Sale, including parts of India, Siberia, and Thailand. From an ingredient standpoint, the lines will all have a regional connection; they are currently branded with an animal representing each region: Along with the Peruvian Hummingbird (a kind of Hibiscus Mint Tea), India will have an elephant, Siberia a bear and Thailand a tiger. Initial distribution will be through UNFI and Nature’s Best, with retail launches largely in California.

Hawken said that for the brand to succeed, the product must be a good one, not just one that represents a good cause.

“What will make me feel like we’re doing justice for everything is to put product first,” he said. “The secondary message is who we work with, what our values are.”