When Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana, a physician and creator of Ayala’s Herbal Water, looks at her Philadelphia-based company, she sees more than a balance sheet and cases of water – she sees a mission.

“We have a bigger mission than herbal water and moving people from sugary drinks to a healthier drink,” says Laufer-Cahana, a former pediatrician who focused on genetics. She retired from medicine to work full-time on her herbal water line. Laufer-Cahana says that her company’s greater mission is to educate the public honestly about healthy eating and living.

As a physician, Laufer-Cahana was concerned with the amount of sugary drinks children consume, and she cautioned parents to provide alternative drinks, such as milk or other non-sweetened beverages. Laufer-Cahana also was crafting alternative beverages for her family in her kitchen with herbs from her garden.

“I was just making them to pair with meals, and I was using all kinds of combinations to reach a balanced, tasty drink that has nothing but herbs in it,” she says. “There’s really no beverage out there that relies completely on herbal ingredients.”

Recognizing a gap in the market, Laufer-Cahana launched her herbal water in 2007, and currently distributes six organic varieties nationwide, mainly in specialty stores like Whole Foods Markets, she says.

Water from an artesian well in Virginia is mixed with herb extracts to create the product. Ginger Lemon Peel, Lemongrass Mint Vanilla, Lavender Mint, Lemon Verbena Geranium, Cloves Cardamom Cinnamon and Cinnamon Orange Peel varieties compose the line, which is certified organic and contains no sweeteners.

Herbs distinguish themselves from other natural flavors because the whole extract can be used instead of just a carrying note from fruit essence, Laufer-Cahana says.

“Herbs are really nature’s flavoring,” she says. “They are really the gift that nature has given us in providing a really complex, sophisticated amount of flavor with no calories. … With herbs, they are naturally calorie-free, and it’s really the most unique and natural way to flavor anything. It’s surprising actually how underutilized it’s been in beverages.”

Ready for growth
Distribution has been a challenge for Ayala’s Herbal Water, but an equity investment from a larger company and plans to increase distribution on premise now has the company active in more than 2,000 distribution points, Laufer-Cahana says. Earlier this year, Sunsweet Growers, Yuba City, Calif., made an equity investment in the company and will help with marketing, selling and distributing the herbal water.

Although the Ayala’s Herbal water line is already in select on-premise locations, the company plans to coordinate a more widespread launch to go along with with the release of a larger glass bottle this summer in Philadelphia and New York. The product currently is available in individual 16-ounce PET bottles, but the company is considering developing multipacks as well, Laufer-Cahana says.

Herbal water has a core group of customers who care about living a healthy lifestyle, Laufer-Cahana says, but her company is trying to break into the “mainstream.” The company has tried to appeal to a wide base of its customers through online marketing, including Twitter, Facebook and a blog that Laufer-Cahana writes herself.

As a relatively young startup, marketing has been key to Ayala’s Herbal Water’s early success, Laufer-Cahana says. The blog, she says, is the cornerstone of the company’s online marketing and has given it an outlet to achieve its greater mission of educating the public about healthy beverage ingredients.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about nutrition,” she says. “I think providing a voice that is both knowledgeable and also the deep referencing of studies and the scientific literature and perspective that I provide in the blog makes the blog very interesting to people that are into health and a healthy lifestyle.”

Ayala says that excessive and fictitious health claims from drink manufacturers that purport to be healthy have flooded the marketing world and that she wanted to take her drink in another direction. The company does not assert health claims about its herbal water. It does emphasize that flavoring with herbs is a calorie-free method to flavor water and is part of the basis of a healthy diet, along with fruits and vegetables.

“Health is about an overall thing,” Laufer-Cahana says. “It’s about how you eat and how you take care of yourself and how you exercise every day. It’s a lifetime thing. It’s a habit. Giving the notion that if you sprinkle a few nutrients in the drink it’s going to be the fountain of youth is not a way we wanted to go.” BI

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