With consumption of ready-to drink teas growing 15 times since 2000 and sales estimated at $3.30 billion by the Tea Association of the U.S., New York-based Runa LLC is betting that more consumers will look to specialty tea beverages that offer a sustained, caffeinated boost without coffee’s jitteriness and other side effects.
Runa co-founder and co-CEO Tyler Gage reports steady, 20-30 percent monthly growth in shipping of its line of bottled, bagged and loose teas, which contain twice the antioxidants of green tea and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Guayusa’s South American origin has sparked some comparisons to yerba mate, another specialty tea that is also consumed for its caffeine and high antioxidant content. However, Runa points out that while both guayusa and yerba mate come from holly trees and have similar health benefits, guayusa contains no tannins and therefore it has a sweeter flavor instead of the astringent or bitter taste sometimes associated with green or black teas.”
Runa is grown mainly in Ecuador, where it is consumed for its health benefits, which are said to include increased energy and mental alertness. The leaf contains chlorogenic acid, which may aid weight loss, flavonoids, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and prevent cancer, and l-theanine, an amino acid which may promote nervous system health. Runa launched its guayusa products in 2011, the same year the Sage Group estimated the size of the U.S. tea market at $27 billion.
“Our demographic is young professionals and Millennials, particularly those who live in urban areas and have active lifestyles,” Gage said. Promotion of Runa products, particularly its ready-to-drink bottled tea, has involved event sponsorships and other efforts aimed at distributing Runa samples. “We’re being very creative and dogged in getting samples into people’s hands,” Gage said. “A big part of our strategy is to go a bit more mainstream,” outside of traditional organic or naturalfoods sellers, Gage said.
Runa’s products currently are being sold in about 3,000 stores, primarily on the East Coast, Gage said, but the product is also available across the Northwest and in Northern California. Stores selling the products include Whole Foods, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Vitamin Shoppe, Kings, Fairway, Gourmet Garage, Andronico’s, Natural Grocers and Giant Eagle. The products are also distributed through smaller establishments like cafes and delis, Gage said. Runa’s products are Fair Trade certified and USDA organic. Runa will be exhibiting its line at the Winter Fancy Food Show (San Francisco) in January with a booth in the Ecuador pavilion. The company will also exhibit at Natural Products Expo West (Anaheim) in March, where it will be add new products to the line, Gage said.
Sustainability is central to Runa’s brand. Gage first learned of guayusa while doing linguistic research in the Amazon and in 2009, along with co-founder and co-CEO Dan MacCombie, moved to Ecuador to start a supply chain for guayusa. Prior to Runa’s founding, farmers in the Ecuadorian Amazon had no access to the international market, according to the company. Guayusa has created an alternative income stream for indigenous farmers in the region and says it has “created livelihoods for over 1,700 farmers.” Runa also makes significant investments in community development and environmental sustainability, planting more than 150,000 trees per year. Its partner organization, the non-profit Runa Foundation, works with indigenous communities to design land management plans and “designate conservation areas and forest reserves.”
“While Runa’s for-profit companies drive new income into communities, Runa Foundation works to create the fabric of an economic system that can support indigenous livelihoods in a comprehensive way,” the company stated in a news release.
The market for bottled teas remains strong. According to the Tea Association of the USA, iced tea accounts for about 85 percent of the tea consumed in the U.S., while 65 percent of the tea brewed in the U.S. in 2010 was done so using tea bags, ready-todrink and iced tea mixes make up about a quarter of all tea prepared in the U.S. Awayfrom- home consumption of tea saw an annual increase about 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. The standard, 50-calorie bottled Runa drink is available in four flavors: traditional, hibiscus-berry, mint and lemon-lemongrass, with two zero-calorie drinks, lime and guava, also available.