One of 15 startups pitching at Rabobank’s recent FoodBytes! competition in Chicago, TeaSquares makes gluten-free energy snacks from grains, nuts, and seeds in bite-sized squares (four per 100-calorie pack) that are infused with tea, a source of naturally occurring caffeine and l-theanine, an amino acid claimed to help regulate the absorption of caffeine.
Made from a base of puffed millet, almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil and brown rice syrup, the bars provide a low-sugar pick-me-up, particularly during the mid-afternoon slump experienced by many office workers, said founder Jordan Buckner, who said the snacks category was awash with sugar and “unnecessary protein [something most Americans are not short of].”
‘A differentiated product offering, a pioneering go to market strategy, and an authentic brand story…’
Founded in 2016 by Buckner and friends Isaac Lozano, Adi Malik, and Alex Stomp, TeaSquares operates out of its own manufacturing facility in Engelewood Chicago, where it operates a fellowship program to hire young adults and train them in business, marketing, and sales.
Early adopters of the brand have been primarily urban professionals (often in the tech space), college students, and working moms, said Buckner, who initially targeted grocers such as Whole Foods, but is now focusing distribution efforts on corporate offices, airports, universities, and online sales via Amazon and the TeaSquares website, with a wider push into retail, and other form factors such as bars, coming later.
Speaking on the FoodBytes! stage, he said: “We’re at the intersection of a couple of really big macrotrends. The mindfulness and wellness categories are expanding like crazy, and at the same time simple foods and functional foods are growing tremendously as well, and we’re right in the middle, building out a new subcategory within nutrition bars around mental fuel, and that’s where we see a multi-million-dollar opportunity to grow.
“We have a differentiated product offering, a pioneering go-to-market strategy, and an authentic brand story that really highlights what we’re doing in our community… And this has been really successful; in the last year we’ve seen 10x growth.”
Lightweight, crunchy and delicious
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA on the sidelines of the event, Buckner said the bites contained around 35mg of caffeine per serving (to put this in perspective a can of Red Bull has around 80mg) and provided a great afternoon pick-me-up without a ton of protein, sugar or calories.
Put another way, the average office worker probably doesn't need a bar with 20+g of protein mid-afternoon, while many consumers are looking to alternatives to coffee and energy drinks to stay awake, said Buckner, who is now looking to raise some capital to take the company to the next level.
"Protein [bars and shakes] were really designed for people working out, going to the gym, building muscle ... but if you're sitting at a desk all day long, you need something to help with your mental energy to get through the day.
“Our snacks are lightweight, crunchy and delicious with just a hint of sweetness."
TeaSquares has participated in a couple of incubators/accelerators, the Good Food Accelerator in Chicago run by Family Farmed, which helped the company build a "great foundation for our business," and the Chobani incubator program, which was an "amazing experience," said Buckner.
"[Chobani founder] Hamdi [Ulukaya] is such an inspirational person and has really inspired me to make sure that everything I do with the business is also helping our community, and their team has proved to be a great resource for us."