Is ‘disruption’ no longer a virtue for start-ups? Newcomer Ryl Co argues an ‘additive’ approach is better for building businesses

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: The Ryl Company
Source: The Ryl Company

Related tags Tea Disruption functional beverage Startup company

Working from a foundational belief that the era of ‘disruption’ is dead, an industry veteran wants to usher in a new age in which start-ups focus on “adding to everything” with the launch of The Ryl Company and a line of ready-to-drink tea that offers extra value for consumers and retailers alike.

“For years, emerging brands have been primed for disruption, shaking things up, and stealing market share from legacy, conglomerate companies; we decided the era of ‘disruption’ focused strategy is over, and our goal at The Ryl Company is to pioneer an ‘additive revolution,’”​ Blodin Ukella, company founder of The Ryl Company and a former executive at the plant-based protein shake brand OWYN, told FoodNavigator-USA.

He explained in launching The Ryl Company this month, his goal is to add “wellness-oriented propositions to higher use case beverage occasions, which offers the modern, health-conscious consumer a better-for-you alternative to drink in [the] tea set, while in parallel offering our partners (retailers and distributors) an incremental consumer that may not currently be shopping tea as much as they are with other health-conscious categories, such as water, clean protein, clean energy, etc.”

The Ryl Company plans to execute this ambitious goal beginning with the launch of four ready-to-drink teas sweetened with monk fruit and stevia leaf extract that offer a zero sugar, zero calorie and artificial ingredient free alternative to the many sweetened RTD teas currently on the market.

In addition, Ukella said Ryl Tea offers added functional benefits by consistently delivering 200mg of tea polyphenols in each can thanks to “proprietary polyphenol technology”​ that is “a hybrid-process/formula tool”​ and “a thorough, internal qualification process that helps ensure our finished products meet the customer expectations every time.”

‘Consistency around functional benefits is critical’

Together these attributes give consumers something that Ukella says is not currently available on the market – an “uncompromisingly delicious”​ beverage that tastes indulgent but which consistently delivers a set amount of polyphenols, including 100mg from catechins, that he says “act as an oxidative stress reducing agent.”

Ukella acknowledges that other teas – both ready-to-drink and those brewed at home – can deliver real polyphenol benefits, but they do not do so both consistently and conveniently.

“Prior to launching the brand, the team did a fair amount of research to understand what the ‘polyphenol ecosystem,’ as we put it, looks like. The unfortunate news? We couldn’t find consistency,”​ Ukella said. “We aren’t here to say that you won’t get polyphenols when you drink something else, we are here to say that we can’t confidently tell you how much, not just in general, but even at the item level.”

He added that “consistency around functional benefits is critical in ensuring that the customer can feel confident in what they sold. That’s why we stand out in the competitive terrain, we work hard to ensure that what you are getting.”

By bringing together “daily wellness via our proprietary polyphenol technology, without compromising taste and flavor,”​ Ukella said “Ryl offers a proposition that aligns with their product attribute need points, thus bringing in an incremental and additive consumer for the tea category.”

An evolving competitive landscape

The Ryl Company’s proposition may “hit the nail on the head”​ in terms of the wants of emerging consumers, or “the grounded-go-getter”​ as Ukella describes them, but they are not the only new brand to offer such a proposition.

Late last year, one of the founders of HONEST Tea, which was later sold to and is now being phased out by The Coca-Cola Co., launched a line of “just sweet enough organic bottled teas”​ under the brand ‘Just Ice Tea.’

The new brand, launched by Seth Goldman and Chef Spike Mendelsohn through their company Eat the Change, promises to “bear a resemblance to Honest Tea,” and will use a “tad” of organic sugar as well as agave and honey for a touch of sweetness.

And, like Ryl Tea, it uses only recognizable and minimal ingredients.

Ukella acknowledged that Ryl Tea is “rightfully competitive compared to a slew of emerging tea brands on the market that feel like similar iced teas of the past with different labels,”​ but he added, “we aspire to build household penetration beyond that legacy consumer.”

To do this, Ukella said, The Ryl Company will leverage $6.7m in capital it raised from strategic investors to support broad distribution out of the gate in the Northeast at major stores, including Wegmans, Wakefern, and select Whole Foods Market New York stores as early as this month, followed by a nationwide roll-out with Sprouts Farmers Market in March.

'The Ryl Company' is not just 'Ryl Tea' for a reason

While the business’ near-term focus will be “providing a valuable addition to the tea category … in a unique and fun way”​ that will help retailers and distributors grow with it, Ukella says he does have “a few tricks up our sleeve.”

He explained: “It’s ‘The Ryl Company,’ not just ‘Ryl Tea’ for a reason, and we plan to challenge the way people think about different beverage occasions while consistently delivering the four pillars of our brand to our consumers: real flavor, real functional wellness, real clean ingredients and real sustainable packaging.”

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