“Typically wheatgrass is consumed as a shot or as a powder, and there is a pretty big market for it and people are pretty familiar with it and its health benefits. But we found that it just really wasn’t convenient,” because consumers either had to go through the timely and messy process of juicing it themselves or go somewhere and pay a premium to have it made for them, said Jared Marks, director of business development for NutriBlade.
In addition, he said, wheatgrass “really doesn’t taste that good, so the people who regularly consume it tend to be the more hardcore people” who endure the flavor and texture by drinking it quickly as a shot.
“But for a lot of people, these two elements made drinking wheatgrass an off-putting experience and so what we wanted to do was harness all the benefits of wheatgrass, turn it into a beverage, make it convenient and make it something that actually tastes good, too,” Marks said.
The company did this by blending two types of wheatgrass – powdered wheatgrass juice and finely ground wheatgrass – with organic fruit juices and other all natural ingredients – into a shelf-stable grab-and-go bottle that consumers could stock in their pantries for up to a year for easy consumption, Marks said.
He also noted that because the bottles are hot-filled they have less risk of carrying a food borne illness or contaminate than freshly juiced wheatgrass which does not undergo a kill step.
Nutritionally, Marks explained that each bottle has the equivalent of five shots of wheatgrass, which means they are packed with 13 vitamins, 12 minerals, 20 amino acids, 2 grams of complete protein and 60 mg of chlorophyll.
While the original flavor launched last September, earlier this year NutriBlade expanded the line to include three additional flavors: Wild Blueberry, Tart Cherry and Sweet Pear – all which blend well with the wheatgrass and make it more palatable for slower sipping instead of a fast shot, Marks said.
Among the new flavors, the most unique by far is pear, which the company selected in part to set its beverage apart from competitors and because pear is gaining popularity as a sophisticated flavor in Europe – which is where trends in the US often find their start, Marks said.
Likewise, the Tart Cherry and Wild Blueberry were selected in part because they already are popular flavor profiles in the US, Marks said. Plus, he noted, they have an added benefit of being well known on their own for their nutrient density, which is something consumers look for, Marks said.
Increased convenience could expand wheatgrass’ appeal
NurtiBlade is targeting the athletes and health-conscious consumers who have always been drawn to wheatgrass by sharing samples at sporting events, such as marathons, and in stores, Marks said.
“We find athletes, runners and cyclists or people who are really active do really like this product. When we were at the LA marathon we had people literally stealing bottles out of the back of the booth just so they could have it before they ran,” Marks said. “That was a real eye-opener for us.”
But he also added that the convenience of the ready-to-drink beverage will expand the appeal of wheatgrass to consumers who may not have wanted to deal with the hassle of juicing or making the drink themselves.
The broad flavor profiles also will help the ingredient reach beyond the “hardcore consumers” to those might have tried wheatgrass by itself in the past and were turned off, he said.
“There is a group of people who don’t even want to touch wheatgrass because they don’t like the flavor or texture, and when we tell them to try it they say no at first but once they do they say it tastes good … so we do have to educate people,” Marks said.
The company also has to educate stores about where to stock the product, Marks said. He explained that some stores stock it in the produce section, others place it with the premium green juices and other still place it with the functional beverages.
Standing out in a sea of green drinks
“People really haven’t seen anything like this, so it gives us a really unique opportunity to come in and get some good attention,” and compete against the increasingly crowded green beverage category, Marks said.
“I definitely think that green drinks will continue to do well in the next three to five years and I think we will see more competition from the perspective of people trying to clean up their labels and offer healthy options,” he said.
But he said he isn’t worried about the brand getting lost in a sea of competitors because no other companies currently offer what NutriBlade does. Plus, the company can offer wheatgrass at a value price point of about $2.99 for a suggested retail price or two for $5 on sales, that is difficult for other players in the green drink category to match.
Looking forward, Marks said NutriBlade will continue to innovate with wheatgrass with the goal of eventually bringing the ingredient to the mainstream consumer.