“Millennials like trying new things, but they also put their money where their mouth is,” Nguyen told FoodNavigator-USA. “They love supporting brands with a social mission,” she added, because it makes them feel they can change the world for the better, even in a very small way, through the choices they make as consumers.
“I also think that my demographic, Gen X women in their forties who care about their health and social values, will buy into this product,” predicted Nguyen, who is gearing up for a launch later this year in the Midwest and some southern states of her product, which comes in three flavors: Purple Reign, Mint to Be, and Lemon Bliss. The products are sweetened with cane sugar and contain 60-80 calories per 16oz bottle.
“We want to be a catalyst for good, to sell healthy beverages, but also to build a model around supporting those in the value chain that are the most vulnerable.
You can make six to seven times more as a farmer than as a tea picker
Made from an anthocyanin-rich purple-hued cultivar grown in Kenya that is beginning to generate a buzz in the US in part owing to brands such as JusTea and Kabaki Kenyan Purple Tea, Purpose Tea is designed to help women in the tea supply chain in Kenya earn more for their labor and – where possible - move up the ranks from pickers to smallholders.
Initially, Purpose Tea is dealing with existing Kenyan purple tea farmers and offering them a higher price for their tea than they would get from a domestic buyer. The tea is then transported to the US in bulk, brewed and bottled into a ready-to-drink product at a number of co-packers across the country.
Longer term, however, Nguyen wants to empower the women that pick the tea to move up the ladder and become tea farmers, by offering training in financial management and other aspects of running a business, then identifying individuals that want to take the next step, and lending them money (c.$500) to lease an acre of land for a year to grow purple tea or other cash crops, and partner with tea factories where the leaves are processed, she said.
“You can make six to seven times more as a farmer than as a tea picker, and you can also get access to credit. It’s a way to get out of poverty and contribute.”
We want to be a catalyst for good
She added: “We’ve informally tested the tea with target consumer groups and with retailers and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I see it at a similar price point to Argo, although we are obviously going to support it at the early stages with promotions and discounts.
“I’ve hired a national sales director that is solely focused on building distribution for the product and I have a strong marketing team creating a plan to build awareness and excitement. But the timing is a challenge with some retailers, as category reviews are often later in the year for a spring placement, although some thought leaders are willing to take products outside of those review periods because they want to be first with with new products."
Despite all the hype, purple tea is still a fairly new product in Kenya, never mind the US, so it will take time to build awareness, she observed.
"There are some smaller wholesalers in the US that are now signing contracts with growers in Kenya, and then there are brands like Kabaki and JusTea, so we’re so excited about this opportunity, because tea hasn’t had any great innovation in a long time aside from different flavors and packaging. This is a varietal, so it’s very different.
“Retailers are looking for innovation and to be able to offer something new in the category is attractive. They also love the story, and the fact that we know we can’t just put the product on shelf and expect it to sell, we know we have to support the launch.”
So what does it taste like?
“It has a kind of fruity undertone without the grassiness of green tea, but if you brew it for a while it has the profile of a black tea,” said Nguyen.
Purpose Tea 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, and generates significantly higher revenues for tea farmers than black tea.
Its caffeine content is much lower than that of black or green tea.
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.
There have also been some preliminary 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 (click HERE).