King's Hawaiian parent company acquires Shaka Tea, accelerating growth path for the Hawaiian beverage brand

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Shaka Tea
Photo Credit: Shaka Tea

Related tags King's Hawaiian Shaka Tea Rtd tea

Shaka Tea has been acquired by Irresistible Foods Group, the parent company of King's Hawaiian (known for its packaged sweet bread rolls), to accelerate the distribution and brand awareness of the Hawaii-based beverage company.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the acquisition follows a previous investment made by King's Hawaiian in a $2.3m growth round in 2020.

"Things are just getting started despite our tremendous wins and successes so far,"​ Shaka Tea founder Bella Hughes told FoodNavigator-USA.

Shaka Tea launched in 2016, differentiating itself in the RTD herbal tea set by using lesser-known māmaki leaves, an endemic plant found only in the Hawaiian Islands, as the star ingredient in its products. And over the past six years, founders and husband-and-wife team Bella Hughes and Harrison Rice have grown Shaka Tea from a small Hawaiian beverage brand to an international company stocked in roughly 20,000 doors across all 50 US states and in Japan.

The company has also expanded its portfolio to include functional immunity shots.

"We made a lot of distribution and key account wins in the last year, and we’re rolling out as I speak in national planograms at 7-Eleven and Speedway stores,"​ said Hughes.

Speaking on behalf of King's Hawaiian and Irresistible Foods Group (IG), director of strategy and new venture for IFG, Winston Taira (whose family founded King's Hawaiian in 1950) told FoodNavigator-USA, "In this IFG model, our idea is that each of these brands would operate very decentralized. What we don’t want to do is dictate all the terms and strategy... it’s really a partnership."

As such, Shaka Tea products will remain the same, as will the employees and management team, with Hughes moving into the Head of Mission & Innovation role and Rice moving into the role of President of Shaka Tea.

The company will also maintain its headquarters and operations in Hilo, Hawaii, where it has strong partnerships with the local farming community and where it recently opened an expanded retail and processing facility. 

"The plan going forward is to gain as much distribution as possible to really get the brand out there,"​ added Taira. 

Like-minded impact goals

Aside from its business success and retail growth, Hughes emphasized the importance of its commitment to community and sustainability and that it made a lot of sense to join a like-minded company such as King's Hawaiian/IFG, which has had deep roots in the Hawaiian community for over 70 years. 

"I look forward to the economic and environmental impact we can have together for years to come,"​ said Hughes. 

Shaka Tea practices direct trade farming, paying farmers a premium for their māmaki crop. As a high value crop in Hawaii, planting māmaki also helps restore native ecosystem habitats and as a perennial crop, farmers are able to harvest it year-round, benefitting the local agriculture economy and community, according to the company, which has also begun sourcing other ingredients in a similar fashion such as ʻōlena, referred to as 'Hawaiian turmeric'.

“Shaka Tea represents a blueprint of how to cultivate a successful business while honoring sustainable growing practices and bringing a great tasting, unique, and superior wellness product to people around the world,"​ commented Mark Taira, CEO of King’s Hawaiian.

Building a category of foods from Hawaii

"We believe there are further opportunities to educate consumers on foods and beverages of Hawaii, because there are far and few between at the store, and it hasn't permeated into the mainland as much as some of these other cuisines,"​ noted Taira.

The addition of Shaka Tea to IFG's brand portfolio, which also includes fast-growing Massachusetts-based Grillo's Pickles​, opens the door to future Hawaii-centric and consumer-focused food and beverage collaborations, noted Taira. 

"Irresistible Foods Group has evolved from one brand -- King's Hawaiian -- to a family brands, and we will continue down this path of folding more brands into our food and beverage portfolio,"​ said Taira.

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