“We’re not just putting stuff on the market because we want to be trendy,” said Jajja Wellness founder Henry Kisitu. Rather, the impetus of the brand comes from a much more personal and authentic connection to wellness, he explained.
Baobab, moringa, and spirulina are familiar flavors for Kisitu, who grew up consuming these ingredients in his home country of Uganda, often mixed into wellness tonics made by his grandmother, an herbalist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
It was a long journey from Uganda to founding and launching Jajja (which means grandparent in Lugandu) Wellness in Minneapolis for Kisitu, who lost his parents to war and illness when he was three-years-old. At 19, Kisitu received a scholarship to attend the University of St. Thomas where he obtained a general business degree and Master’s in human resources.
A few years later, Kisitu moved to Hawaii where Kisitu revisited his grandmother’s tonic recipes and began selling flavors such as ginger pineapple, hibiscus lemongrass (its #1 selling SKU), and turmeric pineapple, while creating his own flavors inspired by the wellness principles he learned growing up.
Jajja Wellness’ line of tonics also includes spirulina ginger, baobab turmeric, moringa ginger, and agave lemon, which are packaged in 14-ounce bottles.
“When we first talk to people, I don’t want to focus on the taste of the juice – the taste is really good – I mention the fact that these drinks are of an origin of African descent and come from a place of healing,” said Kisitu, who is careful not to make health-related claims about the products. “It’s a very fine line that we are walking. As the market changes, we are changing our language as well."
While many of the brand’s core ingredients such as turmeric and ginger are backed by nutritional studies and growing consumer awareness of their purported health benefits, such as nausea relief and anti-inflammation, other ingredients – baobab, moringa, and spirulina, for example – still fly under the radar in the US market, and Kisitu hopes to shine a spotlight on them.
For instance, baobab, despite being hailed as a nutritional powerhouse (low in sugar, high in fiber and antioxidants), has never quite made it into the mainstream market or reached the
same level of exposure as super food ingredients like turmeric or ginger.
“It’s one of the most nutritious trees on the planet,” and only found in Africa, said Kisitu.
Kisitu believes integrating baobab into a juice form will be an easy entry for US consumers to become acquainted the African superfruit. In fact, its baobab turmeric flavor has become the third best-selling SKU for the brand.
Speaking to consumers’ growing immune health priorities
When the coronavirus pandemic closed the door to product sampling, many emerging brands, such as Jajja Wellness, had to refocus on e-commerce, a shift that hit the new brand hard since it previously relied on demoing to grow its consumer base.
“Most of the people that buy our stuff are repeat customers. The thing is, we have to get new customers,” said Kisitu.
And the most effective way to gain new customers has been through demoing.
However, sales of the tonics also could grow by appealing to the heightened current demand for immune health.
Even before COVID-19 hit, immunity was a top priority for many consumers. In December 2019, Kerry Group reported that nearly two-thirds of the population across 14 countries prioritized immunity, ahead of heart, brain and gut health.
More recent research conducted by MMR Research, which gathered data from nearly 5,000 consumers across the US, UK, China, and South America, found that when given the choice of eight competing health conditions, immunity was always chosen as the number one or two priority in every country.
Many of Jajja Wellness tonic support immune health in some aspect, claims Kisitu, citing the products antioxidant-rich ingredients and high doses of Vitamin C in its pineapple ginger tonic and turmeric pineapple varieties.
Farmers market and outdoor events still vital to the business
Kisitu added that the brand is still pursuing and gaining distribution at local retailers in the Minneapolis area including Hampden Park Co-op, Seward Community Co-op, Wedge Community Co-op, and other independent specialty retailers including Longfellow Market and Midtown Global Market with other retailers coming on board later this year.
However, Kisitu is eager to get back to sampling at local farmers markets where he can connect directly with consumers and communicate the brand’s mission.
“My goal is for people to understand what we do through drinking [the tonics], and that’s my own personal satisfaction,” said Kisitu.