The brainchild of Canada Enterprises LLC founder & CEO Reuben Canada, Jin+Ja was developed in Canada’s kitchen in 2009, hit local stores in 2011, Whole Foods in 2012, and then started to take off - pretty explosively - in 2013.
Today, the non-carbonated beverage - made from fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, lemon, mint, green tea, and cane sugar - is in more than 1,300 stores, says Canada, a Philadelphia-based electrical engineer-turned patent attorney.
“Revenues in the first three quarters of this year are already three times what they were in the whole of 2013, so we're on track to quadruple our revenues in 2014," he told FoodNavigator-USA.
From 20 stores in early 2013 to almost 1,000 stores by the end of 2014
The product itself has been pretty consistent throughout, and immediately impressed Whole Foods buyers when he first pitched it in 2012, says Canada.
But the packaging has evolved over time, says Canada, who first touted Jin+Ja in small glass "potion bottles" before graduating to large green bottles that made it look like wine (with a price tag to match).
In 2013, Canada ditched the wine bottles, overhauled the label, and - on the advice of Whole Foods - brought out a more affordable single-serve 187ml version, which retails at $2.99-$4.99 depending on the venue.
And the plaudits - and sales - quickly followed. He scooped the Outstanding Cold Beverage Award from the Specialty Foods Association, was picked up by Kroger’s Taste of Tomorrow innovation program for emerging beverage brands, and landed a distribution deal with UNFI.
2013 Outstanding Cold Beverage winner at SOFI awards
Pretty soon, buyers at chains from Albertsons to Jewel Osco started to take notice, and he also started to attract attention from bars and restaurants (Jin+Ja works well as a cocktail mixer and as a standalone beverage for restaurants looking to offer a more sophisticated non-alcoholic option than Coke or Pepsi).
“Every retailer is different, but some of the larger ones have been very receptive and willing to waive slotting fees if they think you have real potential," says Canada. "We haven’t really quantified the opportunity in bars but we’re finding that bars that do order us, are ordering a lot, very consistently."
This has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done
But none of it has been easy, says Canada, who says there have been plenty of moments when he’s wondered what possessed him to leave patent law and try and break into the beverages market, a career choice that for the vast majority of entrepreneurs ends in disappointment and - at worst - penury.
“You learn pretty early on that even if you are gaining traction, you are going to run at a loss for quite a while, and that’s something that investors that didn’t know the food and beverage industry didn’t always seem to understand,” he says.
“They would ask me, 'Do you have a guaranteed contract with this retailer?' But that’s not how it works. More sophisticated investors that knew the industry were more interested in same-store sales growth, what kind of lift I was getting from promotions, and so on. I'm actually now at a break-even point, which is really nice, but to start with, you are just trying to grow your business.
“I think as an entrepreneur you are always going to have those moments when you wonder whether you did the right thing, but, that’s just a part of being the boss, and you’ve got to developing coping mechanisms to manage the fear. But from a personal perspective, this has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”
People I didn't know were prepared to pay for my product. It was super-exciting
His Eureka moment meanwhile, was less of a ‘a-ha’ moment than a dawning realization in late 2009, early 2010, that the cocktail mixer he was brewing up in his kitchen after work and impressing his friends with could open up a new career opportunity.
After putting Jin+Ja into potion bottles he bought online, he started giving away samples, and was blown away by the response. By spring 2010, the tiny bottles were selling like hotcakes at his local grocery store and he realized that this could potentially become the day job.
“I remember the store owner said, I’ve never tasted anything like this before, so let's just try it and see what happens. But don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out, most new products don’t. So we tried it, and he was selling 40 bottles a week, and I realized that people I didn’t know were actually prepared to pay for my product. It was super exciting.”
So who's buying it today?
Customers range from people looking for a more natural alternative to energy drinks to boomers with an interest in natural solutions for digestive health or an interest in the anti-inflammatory benefits of ginger. Others just think it is a great cocktail mixer, he says.
But as the success of Reed's ginger brew as demonstrated, ginger is a hot ingredient, he says, and more and more consumers are picking up on it.