Braintrust Doubles Down on Tea, Buys Blue Buddha

Blue BuddhaNearly four months after acquiring Inko’s, Braintrust Investments has purchased another tea brand, albeit one with a much shorter track record. Led by former Pabst CEO Kevin Kotecki, Braintrust today announced its acquisition of Blue Buddha, which markets a line of herbal-infused teas, through Braintrust subsidiary Wholesome Tea Company, LLC. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Launched in 2012 by Internet entrepreneur Kris Whalen, Blue Buddha’s ready-to-drink, bottled teas were nearly two years in development, with brand incubator MetaBrand and a cadre of former Cadbury executives on board as advisors. The line made its debut at the 2012 Natural Products Expo East show, with brand positioning rooted in Ayurveda, a philosophy of natural healing derived from Hindu traditional medicine.

Promoted as “5000 Years of Wisdom in a Bottle,” the beverages include functionally named varieties such Vitality and Serenity, each formulated with herbal tea leaves and sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia. Packaged in 14 oz. bottles, the drinks contain 35 calories each.

According to its website, Blue Buddha teas are sold in over 400 retail locations across the U.S., including select Wegmans, Whole Foods and Raley’s stores. Distribution of the products may stretch from coast to coast, but its retail presence is a far cry from that of Inko’s, which markets a line of white tea-based beverages and energy drinks. Inko’s is carried by a wide range of natural and conventional grocers, and at the time of Braintrust’s acquisition of the brand, was operating with $3-5 million in annual sales, according to Kotecki.

In September, Kotecki, who is the primary investor in Braintrust, told BevNET that a primary strategy of the investment firm would be to acquire high quality food and beverage companies and accelerate growth quickly. He praised Inko’s as a brand that enjoyed a “very strong consumer following,” and “a great platform for natural beverages.” He noted while that Inko’s would not be the last acquisition for Braintrust, its purchase of Blue Buddha is somewhat of a curious decision with a portfolio that now includes two naturally focused tea brands.

In a press release, Kotecki expressed a desire to “dramatically [increase] Blue Buddha’s marketing efforts, building broad scale, consumer awareness, and trial,” which, intentionally or not, is a quote identical to that in a statement regarding Braintrust’s purchase of Inko’s.

It is unclear the role that Whalen will have following the acquisition, however, she noted in a statement that she is “very excited to join the Wholesome team,” and “look[s] forward to enhancing our growth.”

“We share a similar vision for the company, and Wholesome’s expertise in beverages will enable us to scale and better serve our customers,” Whalen said.