More than 20 years ago, the ready-to-drink (RTD) tea category was revolutionized with the entry of Honest Tea, now a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co. Since that time, there’s been a dearth of innovation within the tea market, according to Josh and Jeremy Issak, brothers and co-founders of Tea Horse Road LLC, Santa Monica, Calif. Instead, healthful new categories like kombucha, high-pressure processing (HPP) juice and plant-based milks have taken the spotlight. The Issak brothers attributed this to the highly sweetened offerings currently on the market.
“As entrepreneurs in the beverage industry, we saw that most teas on the market were not real brewed, used large amounts of [high-fructose corn syrup] (HFCS) and were basically liquid candy,” Josh Issak explains. “Sugar and flavor took the front seat, while tea took a clear back seat.”
As a solution, the brothers set out on a mission to give tea the front seat and bring affordable, organic, real-brewed tea to the people. In 2019, the brothers launched their flagship line of organic specialty teas: Seven Teas.
Next month, the brothers’ goal fully comes to fruition as they prepare to cross over to “mainstream organics” with the launch of their new line of Seven Teas iced teas and lemonades in 16-ounce cans nationwide.
Available in Georgia Peach Iced Tea, Rojo Raspberry Iced Tea, Golden Honey Green Tea, Maui Mango Green Tea, Uptown Half & Half, Roadside Ginger Lemonade and Southern Strawberry Lemonade, the beverages are slightly sweetened, giving consumers the taste profile they want at a low calorie count. Each can contains 70 calories and only five organic ingredients.
By putting their authentic, organic spin on these classic tea and lemonade combinations, the brothers are giving mainstream RTD teas a new meaning, they say.
“We liken our experience to a chef that trained all over the world, only to return back home to elevate the classic ‘burger and fries’ for the mainstream taste buds — a burger so high quality that the standard fast-food burger can never be looked at the same again,” Jeremy Issak explains. “That’s what we’ve done by ‘elevating the classics’ in our line of 16-ounce cans. These classics will never let you look at the mainstream ‘tea concentrate’ offering the same way.”
Additionally, the cans will feature unique digitally printed designs to help set the brand apart on shelf and in cooler sets, he says.
This month, the company also released a new variety as part of its original RTD tea line, packaged in 16-ounce glass bottles. The new flavor, Ginger Acai Mate, is made with organic Peruvian ginger juice. This marks the eighth variety in its specialty RTD tea lineup.
As its brand name suggests, the company’s original RTD tea lineup started with seven teas: White Peach Oolong, Guava Mango Guayusa, Wildflower Honey Matcha, Saffron Mint Gunpowder, Spot O’ Honey Earl Grey, Goji Hibiscus Rooibos and Himalayan Rose Tulsi. The authentic teas each pay homage to their distinctive origins and give back to the planet thanks to the brothers’ commitment to 1% for the Planet. At least 1 percent of sales from Seven Teas’ beverages are donated to environmental nonprofit organizations in order to help drive positive environmental change.
Expansion via sampling
As of this summer, Seven Teas will be available nationwide in both bottles and cans. The company has come a long way in just two years thanks to its strategic distribution strategy.
When Tea Horse Road first began, bottles of Seven Teas were only distributed in Southern California. The Issak brothers knew that in order to expand distribution, they would have to focus on educating consumers about their teas.
“Our strategy when we launched was to ‘go deep, not wide,’ as we knew that would not be our best spend,” Josh Issak explains. “We needed to educate our consumer, and the best way to do this was through a massive sampling blitz in our local market, which is Southern California.”
The brothers’ strategy paid off; it enabled them to expand from Whole Foods to several other grocers and states, including Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.
As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the brothers doubled down and expanded through Providence, R.I.-based distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) to the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic markets.
“To say the least, we are thankful for these opportunities, which would not have happened without the help of our broker [Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based] Yin Yang Naturals,” Jeremy Issak says.
Seven Teas also entered 63 new Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic market through Rainforest Distribution, Bayonne, N.J.
This success helped the company secure national distribution with Naperville, Ill.-based KeHE Distributors LLC, which will distribute Seven Teas bottles and cans in all 50 states this summer.
“By over delivering on quality, taste and packaging, we knew we could be different,” Josh Issak says. “Our plan from the start was to penetrate the market with a multi-step approach by creating a premium ‘natural specialty line’ in our 16-ounce bottles then cross over to ‘mainstream organics’ with our 16-ounce cans.”
By crafting a diverse tea portfolio and making it available nationwide, the Issak brothers are confident they’re “touching all bases.”
“To be able to see consumers everywhere consume a nice iced cold Seven on a hot summer day will be the best feeling there is — and the reason we do what we do,” Jeremy Issak says.