Cooper Tea Goes National Again


@@img1Oct. 5 – It’s a little déjà vu for Barry Cooper. Three years ago, the founder of Louisville-based Cooper Tea Co. unveiled a concoction he spent years on — an all-natural iced brew tea fit for a fountain machine. Hoping to make a hit with health-conscious consumers, convenience store giant 7-Eleven Inc. took Cooper’s Iced Brew Tea national.

This time around, Cooper has unveiled a drink his company spent the past two years perfecting — a high-energy tea drink. Hoping to make another hit with health-conscious energy drink consumers, 7-Eleven tested it in 30 Denver stores and said it is evaluating the results. On Wednesday, Cooper said 7-Eleven gave the green light, giving his company another national brand.

“The primary opportunity that I see is that the product has natural ingredients in it, in a market that is not known for its natural ingredients,” said Cooper, who has traveled the world during the past 40 years to source and taste teas, including spending more than 30 years at Lipton.

Using a green tea base, Bazza High-Energy Tea combines guarana, cola nut, yerba mate and taurine as “natural energizers,” Cooper said. The idea for the tea came on a trip to Kenya — where he was raised. He wanted a product to embody the “raw energy of Africa.”

In June, 7-Eleven began its test in the Denver market. The question then became: Is it an energy drink or a tea?

“It did well in both areas, but the energy section came ahead by slightly more than a nose,” Cooper said.

7-Eleven’s interest in Bazza came from the drink’s added functionality, said Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for the Dallas-based convenience chain.
“We’ve seen huge growth and big consumer demand for both tea and energy drinks, so it seems like a natural next step to combine the two,” she said.

Wholesale sales of energy drinks jumped 65 percent to $1.63 billion in 2005, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York-based research firm. For 2006, that figure likely will gain about $800,000, or 50 percent, said Gary Hemphill, Beverage Marketing’s managing director.

The growth has spurred a rush of products — from Amp and Go Fast! to Pimp Juice and Buzz Monkey — in the Red Bull-led category.

“The market’s flooded right now with energy drinks,” Hemphill said. “New products coming to market have to have some point of difference to make an impact.”

Some companies added products to meet a broadening consumer demand, he added, noting Tab Energy, a low-calorie drink from soda maker Tab that’s marketed specifically for women. Others offered hybrid products, such as AriZona Beverages’ Green Tea Energy Drinks, to tap into more than one trend, he said.

Despite the energy drink sector’s saturation, Cooper said his product is in a good place because it’s a “healthy alternative,” something that has spurred growth in his other brands. Since its launch three years ago, Cooper’s Iced Brew Teas also are available in restaurants, including Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Rock Bottom Brewery, and convenience stores, such as Exxon Mobil.

The success has spurred both sales and employee growth for the now 22-person company. While Cooper did not disclose sales figures for the privately held company, he said the sales growth “has exceeded our wildest expectations.”

Current endeavors include establishing the Bazza brand, licensing the iced brew teas for distribution in Southeast Asia, and launching a frozen, non-carbonated version of Bazza. Being independent allows for freedom and flexibility to plan the growth, Cooper said.

“As we grow, I’m sure we’re going to attract attention at multiple levels,” he said. “But that’s the nature of the game and we will address those issues as they arrive. But right now … for a small tea company based in Boulder, Colo., we have two national brands, which is pretty stunning.”