The great outdoors can inspire some entrepreneurs to start beverage companies: Cusa Tea Founder and CEO Jim Lamancusa, for instance, found the need for his product on a backpacking trip. All of his friends were drinking Starbucks VIA instant coffee, but he was carrying around soggy tea bags. And that left him thinking: Why hasn’t anybody made Starbucks VIA but for tea? His company has brought that concept to fruition, and the company recently raised $2.5 million in a Series A round that Lamancusa told PYMNTS.com in an interview “will allow us to grow into other categories like functional herbal teas and coffee.”
The company offers its instant teas on an eCommerce website for shoppers to buy as a one-time purchase or as a subscription. It taps into the Shopify platform and lets consumers check out through credit cards or PayPal. (The company also sells on Amazon, which Lamancusa notes is another “easy click and ship option.”) As for why the company offers a subscription, Lamancusa said that products — like those from his company — are consumables. And consumers might use that kind of product, say, every day. “It’s something that you constantly need to have your pantry stocked with,” Lamancusa said.
With a subscription, shoppers don’t have to worry about ordering the product (or remembering to do so). “It just automatically shows up,” Lamancusa said. At the same time, most people have a pretty good idea about their tea drinking habits. They know that they might drink a cup or three cups a day, for instance. As a result, they know how much to order from a subscription standpoint. The company offers a variety of selections including peach green tea, spicy chai tea and lemon black tea.
When it comes to Cusa Tea’s most popular product, Lamancusa noted that the company’s variety pack is its No. 1 seller to this day. For one, shoppers are checking the company out to see what they think. At the same time, consumers like to drink different types of tea throughout the day — they might want to drink English breakfast tea in the morning, in one case.
Steeping Instant Tea
The company uses a cold steep technology to prepare its tea packets. As it stands, the two main technologies for making a beverage instant have some downsides (e.g. they might degrade its flavors). Those methods include a spray dry, which is high-heat dehydration, and freeze drying. But Cusa Tea takes a different approach — and the inspiration behind the method came from Lamancusa’s wife’s eye cream. Lamancusa read the back of the box and discovered it was rose extract. He wondered what rose extract was and how they got rose petals into an eye cream (without high heat or freeze drying).
And the more Lamancusa read about the process, the more he realized it was a viable technology for food as well. As a result, the company teamed up with a botanical extraction firm and modified the technology to use for a food purpose. His process “doesn’t degrade the flavor profile of the tea at all,” Lamancusa said. The packets themselves dissolve instantly into hot water and can take 30 to 45 seconds in cold water. And when the tea rehydrates it has the same taste as regular brewed tea — it can be hard to tell the difference.
Lamancusa also noted the company uses the top tea in the world. And, when Cusa Tea submitted products to the Global Tea Championship, its teas have won silver and bronze medals. (The event happens once a year, and tea sommeliers judge the flavor profile through blind taste tests.) In other words, the company’s tea beat out many loose-leaf and bag teas for flavor. For the products, the company receives its tea from international certified organic tea farms. To find those farms, Lamancusa wanted the tea’s taste and flavor to be incredible and wanted the properties be far away from, say, major roadways. He also wanted to have a good relationship with them and make sure they were treating their workers well.
The Tea Market
The company’s target market includes women between the ages of 25 and 50 who are living a healthy and active lifestyle. “They read the back of ingredient labels,” Lamancusa said. These consumers are looking to reduce sugar and calories from their diets whenever possible. They are also active and exercise three to five times per week. At the same time, they may enjoy camping or hiking in the doors but might go to a gym class during the week to stay fit. And a lot of consumers are moms and the convenience aspect resonates with them because they can have quality and convenient cup of tea.
To help introduce consumers to its products, the company offers a free sample pack. Through the offering, the company provides shoppers with one serving of seven flavors for a shipping and handling fee. (The tea, however, is free.) As it stands, the variety pack has 10 servings, so the consumer gets almost the same number of teas as that item.
Beyond Cusa Tea and its instant offerings, eTailers such as Swift Cup Coffee are bringing subscriptions to instant coffee, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand Voila Coffee also offers subscriptions for the product.
From Cusa Tea to Voila Coffee, DTC brands are aiming to change the way consumers enjoy specialty teas and coffees with the help of subscriptions and technology in the age of beverage innovation.