Suja’s Tea Time

Suja TeaIt’s the next big buzzword and it’s coming to a Whole Foods near you: biodynamic.

Suja Juice Co. announced Tuesday the national, Whole Foods-exclusive launch of a four-SKU line of high pressure processed (HPP) teas that features an unsweetened, biodynamic black tea.

But what does it mean? For those not so sure of the word’s definition (you, in the back of the class, listen up), let’s consult Demeter Association, Inc., the organization that certifies biodynamic practices.

A few excerpts from Demeter’s website:

  • A foundation of the biodynamic method of farming is a Goethean observation of nature and its application to a farming system. This encourages a view of nature as an interconnected whole, a totality, an organism endowed with archetypal rhythm.

  • In such a system there is a high degree of self-sufficiency in all realms of biological survival. Fertility and feed arise out of the recycling of the organic material the system generates.

  • In day-to-day practice, the goal is to create a farm system that is minimally dependant on imported materials, and instead meets its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself. It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.

As one might glean from the information above, the practice — often most familiar to U.S. consumers via wine marketing — mitigates the need for mechanical and artificial influence on agricultural products. Or, as Suja CEO Jeff Church says: “biodynamic is basically the next evolution of organic.”

Going to back to the products at hand, the four flavors include Chunmee Tropical, a blend of Chunmee green tea and flavors of pineapple, mango and lime, Honeybush Peach, a peach tea with lightly sweet flavors of honeybush and tulsi teas, Jasmine Pomegranate, a blend of jasmine tea, lemon, pomegranate, tamarind and honey, and the aforementioned Unsweetened Biodynamic Black, a blend of nilgiri, darjeeling and assam teas. The products are part of the Suja Elements line, which is organic, non-GMO and cold-pressured. The black tea is Whole Foods’ first Demeter Certified Biodynamic ready-to-drink tea.

wholefoodsChurch said that while Suja had placed tea on its innovation pipeline, it wasn’t until Whole Foods asked that the line reached fruition. He said that the retailer, which also asked Suja to start its lower-cost Elements line a year and a half ago (released September 2013), is interested in the idea of using HPP methods with tea, among other segments.

“Whole Foods wants to reinvent the tea category,” Church said.

The line represents somewhat of a departure from the majority of Suja’s portfolio, which includes an array of HPP juice and cleanse products. However, Church said that the broadening of the portfolio will bring Suja to different parts of the store and could further develop the brand equity in the minds of consumers.

“We don’t view ourselves as just a juice company,” Church said. “We view ourselves as an HPP beverage company.”

And at the core of this HPP beverage company is its philanthropic efforts. With the release of the tea line, Suja has now connected with 15 different organizations. In the nine months of existence for the Elements line, he said that Suja has donated more than $400,000 to a range of causes.

“We try to match the cause with the product,” he said.

For example, revenue from Suja’s 24 Karat, a blend of oranges and carrots with beta-carotene and Vitamin A, contributes 20 cents per bottle to New Eyes, an organization that gives free prescription eyewear to those who can’t afford it.

The theme of matching the cause with the product continues with the tea line. For example, Suja will contribute 20 cents per bottle sold of the Jasmine Pomegranate tea to The Xerces Society, an organization that aims to protect wildlife and habitats through the conservation of invertebrates such as beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and bees. The tea, meanwhile, counts honey among its diverse list of ingredients.

NikaUnsweetened Biodynamic Black will support Free The Children, which works to “empower and enable youth to be agents of change.” Chunmee Tropical will support the Gladney Center for Adoption’s Superkids Charity, which sends medical volunteers to visit orphan children with special needs. Honeybush Peach will support Nika, which brings clean, drinkable water to those in need (and which was co-founded by Church himself).

As Suja launches the tea line, there are a few housekeeping notes worth considering about the brand. In January, just a few months after picking up an $8 million investment at a valuation of $100 million from Boulder Brands’ investment arm, Suja added Alliance Consumer Growth (Evol frozen burritos, Krave Jerky, Shake Shack) as another key investor. With that capital in tow, Suja announced the release of its third line of cold-pressed/HPP products — Suja Essentials, a five-SKU, more mainstream take on the Elements line. The brand also faces a lawsuit alleging that Suja unjustly labels its products as “raw” because of its use of HPP technology. On the brighter side of things, in April, Whole Foods recognized Suja as its ‘Supplier of the Year.’ This helped Greg Fleishman, the brand’s former chief marketing and strategy officer, leave on a high note. Fleishman has since returned to a full-time role at Purely Righteous Brands, his own consultancy group.

For now, though, Suja has directed its focus on the latest endeavor, which follows Whole Foods’ line of thinking that just about anything can be HPP’d. And if the teas catch on as planned, could this lead to a line extension?

“If we see that there is that brand equity transference between the juices and the teas, and we gain traction and momentum for them,” Church said, “we definitely would look at further development in the category.”