Bhakti CEO: 'I think consumers get fair trade and organic, but I wish they knew more about what it means to be a B-corp'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Bhakti recruits Annie's exec to drive push into conventional channel

Related tags Tea

Boulder-based spicy chai tea brand Bhakti has recruited CPG industry veteran Sarah Bird as its new CEO as it seeks to build its footprint in the conventional channel and take the mission-driven brand in new directions.

Founder Brook Eddy – who launched Bhakti chai concentrates into foodservice channels in 2007 before pushing into retail with ready-to-drink iced chai beverages in 2011 – said the brand had been growing at around 30% year-on-year each year since then.

This year, however, it has moved into new territory with the launch of a new range of sparkling teas, and forged partnerships with brands interested in using its concentrates in a broader array of products, such as Noosa Yogurt, Eddy told FoodNavigator-USA.

I’ve been wanting to work with someone with experience of taking brands to the next level, really, for a couple of years, and now we’re in a position to afford someone with that kind of experience. I kind of know my limitations and I knew that for us to grow much bigger we’d need to bring on someone that has done this before.”

No one else has that fiery, spicy flavor profile

A food industry veteran with stints at Annie’s, Three Twins Ice Cream, Ecologic Brands, PepsiCo and Nestlé on her resumé, Bird said she was immediately attracted to the team at Bhakti and the brand itself.

She added: “I think Brook has done an incredible job. I also love the fact she wanted to bring in a partner rather than being forced to bring someone in, and we have great investment partners behind us that are committed to growing this brand.

iced bhakti chai
Iced Bhakti chai is made from organic Fair Trade black tea, organic ginger juice, organic evaporated cane juice, organic soy-, almond- or coconut milk, and spices

“As a brand, Bhakti has real soul, and magic, and no one else has that fiery, spicy flavor profile. The sparkling teas are also helping to create a new category, which I think has a lot of legs, plus there are some innovation opportunities beyond that, so I see so much room to grow.

“The Noosa products have also been incredibly well received, so I think there is a great opportunity to take the spice blend, the concentrates we have, and use them in other products, for example a local beer company is using our chai.”

Retailers are focused on cold brew coffee

Bhakti - which is Sanskrit for ‘devotion’ - has broad distribution in the natural channel, and is steadily building its presence in conventional channels via accounts such as Target, Costco and Kroger (Ralph’s and Kings Soopers), said Eddy.

While Bhakti’s distinctive flavor profile gives it a clear point of difference in the ready-to-drink tea market, the explosive growth of RTD coffee beverages is putting pressure on tea brands to justify their real estate on shelf right now, however, said Eddy

“When we started we were competing with kombucha and brands such as Honest Tea, but now all of the retailers are making space for all these grab and go cold brew coffee products, so you have to work hard to keep your space.”

sparkling bhakti
Bhakti's new sparkling teas are made from carbonated organic Fair Trade tea, organic cane sugar, organic ginger juice, monk fruit extract and other ingredients depending on the flavor, from spices to fruit juices and purees.

Bhakti is performing extremely well in the new 365 by Whole Foods Market stores

Being a mission-driven brand does help you punch above your weight, however, said Eddy, who uses fair trade tea and organic ingredients, but has also set up a ‘giving’ platform called GITA​ enabling Bhakti, and its fans to ‘give’ (make donations), ‘inspire’ (inspire others via social media sharing), and ‘take action’ (provide specific support to projects on the site, which are heavily focused on sustainability and empowering women).  

bhankti chai teabags

While tinitiatives like this appeal to a growing number of consumers, Millennials in particular like to buy brands that are really trying to make a difference in the world, rather than simply making money, and token gestures, added Bird.

“We’re doing extremely well in the new 365 ​[by Whole Foods Market] stores, which are targeting Millennials. I think being delicious is what hooks people first about our brands, and then we are adding these layers that show we are doing the right thing every step of the way.”

That said, more education is needed to explain to consumers what brands like Bhakti actually are doing differently, she said: “I think consumers get fair trade, and organic, but I wish they knew more about what it means to be a B-corp​*.” 

*B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Today, there are 1,750+ Certified B Corps around the world, of which 120+ are food & beverage focused, including Ben & Jerry’s, Relay Foods, Bhakti, Peeled Snacks, Mamma Chia, Door to Door Organics, and YumButter. 

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