Tea-ing Off: The Next Wave of Kids’ Beverages

Sometimes a kid wants to see a blue hippo. So Heather Howell, the chief tea officer of Rooibee Red, has launched Rooibee Roo, a caffeine-free tea for children, giving them a glimpse of that blue hippo, who is positioned around the label. For the kids, the tea could be the secondary part of the sell. But not for parents.

“You can be a child that kind of doesn’t color in the lines,” Howell said of the target customer for her new product.

Natural Products Expo West 2014 offered buyers looking for new kids’ beverages several glimpses of new drinks that definitely colored outside the lines of longtime market stalwarts Capri Sun or Kool-Aid. But perhaps the most consistent idea was that some of the drinks featured products that had been repurposed from products or brands aimed for adults.

On the big company side, that meant Odwalla and Honest Tea, both of which have kid-focused sub-lines, and mature entrepreneurial company Vita Coco, which recently expanded its coconut water platform in the launch of Vita Coco Kids.

But the farthest outside the lines were tea hybrids aimed for kids, an idea that takes a drink that’s usually adults-only for its caffeine content and re-stages it as a calorie-reducing blending element with an appealing flavor when mixed with juices.

“The difference between this year and last year for us is, I’m not explaining kids tea anymore,” said Christine Wheeler, founder of Drazil, a line of herbal-tea and fruit-juice blends.

For a long time, as the focus on just plain getting CSDs out of students’ hands became the primary push for health, “a hundred percent juice was the gold standard,” Wheeler said. Now, the emphasis is on calorie reduction.

Wheeler said she has traveled across the globe, lived in Japan and Poland and found children of many foreign countries habitually drinking caffeinated products. But the U.S. has yet to fully embrace the idea of caffeine-consuming little kids, no matter how many teenagers may crave energy drinks and caramel macchiatos over the wishes of parents and legislators. So she formulated Drazil (“lizard” backwards, named after the pet of her sister-in-law’s student) to be caffeine-free.

Drazil’s four flavors — Punch Passion, Grape Bliss, Tropical Burst and Yummy Berry — contain 50 calories and 14 grams of sugar per serving. These numbers represent a push for greater health, but also a compromise that gives kids enough sugar to satisfy pre-established cravings. At $4.99 to $5.99 for an 8-pack, the standard pack size for kids’ beverages in mass retailers, Drazil could be aligned for healthy, gradual growth.

Wheeler, who has been selling online via Amazon, especially on the East Coast, reached distribution agreements with UNFI and Unified Grocers and has begun shipping to Whole Foods in the Southwest, where Drazil will be available in April. At this year’s show and in recent months, she’s gauged international interest from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Korea. All this has happened since Drazil’s launch at Expo West last year. There was a test on Virgin America airlines, and there’s something more — a growing category, one that she says is still small enough that competition helps more than it hurts.

“I actually was, believe it or not, very excited a few weeks ago when I found out about Rooibee Roo,” Wheeler said. “I feel like it’s going to bring awareness to our category.”