Ready-to-drink purple tea ready for prime time, says Kabaki LLC: ‘This is whitespace innovation and we want to be first to market’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ready-to-drink purple tea ready for prime time, says Kabaki LLC
Kabaki purple tea – made from a phytonutrient-rich purple-hued cultivar grown in Kenya – could follow RUNA’s playbook by bringing something disruptive to the US ready-to-drink tea market, while at the same time improving the livelihoods of small growers, says new general manager and investor Vera Adamovich.

When Adamovich – chief marketing officer at branding agency Gammon Ragonesi Associates​ – met Kabaki LLC founder Martin Kabaki at the Expo West trade show earlier this year, she was immediately intrigued by the novelty of his product and the compelling narrative behind it.

However, the branding and positioning needed some work, she told FoodNavigator-USA: “I was walking the show with a colleague, we started talking to Martin, and we just fell in love with him. He had a concept we really believed in, and I was able to convince my agency to partner with Martin so we could look at everything, from market segmentation, logos, sell sheets, positioning, branding, and formulations to a new packaging design.

“We invested in the business and it’s now no longer a concept, it’s ready for prime time. We have manufacturing production ready to go with a co-packer in Detroit, we have other co-packers lined up across the country, we’re talking to retailers, and we’ve built an inventory that’s ready to ship.”

While some US consumers are already familiar with purple tea via the JusTea brand​,​ which supplies purple tea bags and loose tea from Kenya, Kabaki purple tea will be the first ready-to-drink brand to hit the US market, added Adamovich, who said the price would "be at parity with a premium brand such as RUNA​."

She added: “This is true breakthrough white space innovation and we want to be the first to market​. We've had interest across multiple retail channels."

Giving something back

The “earthy​” and “sweet-tasting​” tea – which will debut at Expo East next week with the new packaging and formulations – is derived from a purple-tinged cultivar (TRFK 306/1) developed by Kenya’s Tea Research Institute that has unusually high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols and antioxidants.

It also generates significantly higher revenues for tea farmers than black tea, said Kabaki, who was born on a coffee farm in Kenya, moved to the US in 1999, and has committed to giving a percentage of profits to Kijiji Medical, a nonprofit organization in Naivasha, Kenya, that's on a mission to improve access to basic medical services among poor and underserved communities.

purple_tea_plant-
Kabaki purple tea is derived from a purple-tinged cultivar (TRFK 306/1) developed by Kenya’s Tea Research Institute that has high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols and antioxidants

We are taking purchase orders and we’re ready to ship now

While Kabaki had originally envisaged a PET bottle emphasizing purple tea's attributes, the new look bottle is glass (although there is a PET version specifically for Amazon) and features a design that brings out the story behind the brand and includes Martin's last name (Kabaki), said Adamovich.

The formula has also been tweaked, with high potency natural sweeteners replaced by a small amount of organic cane sugar, which delivers a cleaner label and a superior taste, she said. “All of our ingredients are organic including the purple tea leaves; we’ve filed for the certification, and hope to get that soon.”

The five ready-to-drink SKUs on show at Expo East - Raspberry, Peach, Lemon, Lightly Sweetened and Unsweetened (made with purple tea, juice concentrates and cane sugar) – will also be joined by tea bags, loose leaf teas and extracts (in capsule form), she added: “We are taking purchase orders and we're ready to ship.”

purple tea farmer

The Kenyan purple tea cultivar is grown in the Meru region of Kenya at 4,500 – 7,500 feet above sea level, where the plants are subject to higher UV rays, causing the plants to produce higher levels of theobromine, chlorogenic acids, ECG, EGCG​, and GHG. The caffeine content is much lower than that of black or green tea. 

Health benefits

According to an analysis published in the journal Food Chemistry in 2013​, Kenyan purple teas had higher total polyphenol levels than standard tea varieties, while most purple leaf varieties also had more theanine than reference standard clones. Kabaki purple tea has also been sent to an independent lab for analysis that confirms it has higher levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols and antioxidants, she claimed.

Whether you can draw a direct line from these phytonutrient levels to any specific human health benefit is a different question, of course, and Kabaki tea isn’t making any hard health claims on pack, added Adamovich, who will be promoting the slogan, ‘Purple is the new Green’ ​in marketing materials going forward.

However, there have been some preliminary human as well as animal clinical studies exploring the anti-proliferative effects of purple tea extracts on colorectal carcinoma cells metabolism (click HERE​), their ability to suppress fat absorption and enhance hepatic fat metabolism (click HERE​), and to cross the blood brain barrier (clickHERE​) noted Kabaki.

 “There’s been a lot of research in the past couple of years that goes well beyond analyzing the profile of purple tea, but looks at its effects on weight management and even chemoprevention​. However, we’re not making any claims to this effect on pack.”

Visit Kabaki Purple Tea​ at booth #C4 at Expo East 2017  

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