Natural Products Expo West

Uncle Matt’s turns to teas, workout shots amid continuing citrus sourcing challenges

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Uncle Matt's
Image Credit: Uncle Matt's

Related tags Orange juice Citrus

Uncle Matt's is innovating outside orange juice – including in teas and workout wellness shots - to grow its brand as citrus greening continues to pressure supply chains and a cure for the tree disease might remain years away.

"The industry is always changing. And so, when we look at orange juice, right now, we are ... at a lull as a category, while Uncle Matt's and organic [is still] growing. We're one of the few bright spots in the category," brand Founder and CEO Matt McLean told FoodNaivgator-USA. "If citrus greening is still three, five, [or] seven years away from being solved, we have to be innovative and come up with other things to keep that category and keep the refrigerated cold juice, tea, [and] beverage set relevant to shoppers." 

Uncle Matt’s moves into refrigerated tea, finds an opportunity in workout shots 

At Natural Products Expo West earlier this month, Uncle Matt’s sampled its latest product innovation, made possible by Susan McLean, head of the company’s innovation team and wife to Matt Mclean, who shared the company was “getting out of the traditional tea, lemonade, punch category and moving over into refrigerated so brewed organic black tea." 

Available July 1, 2024, the portfolio of teas will include an unsweetened and sweetened version and a half lemonade and half black tea SKU. Uncle Matt's also revealed a Ginger Honey Lemonade, which is “lightly sweetened with stevia,” similar to the brand’s other lemonades. 

"We're going to do an unsweet, and we'll also do a sweet, but the [sweeteners] will be agave and stevia, so only 10 grams of sugar for the sweetness level per 12oz. serving. Most of your traditional sweet teas are 30 to 40 grams of sugar, using cane sugar and other artificial stuff. So, ours will taste as sweet as those, as my traditional southern sweet tea flavor profile down here, but it's going to be a whole lot better for you and lower sugar — that's what Uncle Matt’s is known for.” 

Earlier this year, Uncle Matt’s expanded its line of shots with its Ultimate Athlete Pre-Workout Shot, a 2oz. shot, formulated with organic beet juice and powder, coconut water, ginger juice and lemon juice. Currently, the shot is available at Uncle Matt's website in a case of six for $24 and will roll out to retailers later in the year at a suggested retail price between $3.49 - $3.99. 

"Beet, coconut, and [orange juice] together ... are good for nitric-oxide production. They're good for hydration and also good for just overall antioxidants and recovery. ... We are eventually going to have a post-workout shot as well," McLean said. 

Uncle Matt's expansion beyond orange juice over the years is all part of the company's plan to become "America's #1, organic, better-for-your beverage company," McLean explained. 

“In orange juice, it is just one staple in that platform, and especially on our refrigerated platform. And so that has been a great spot for us to get in front of the consumer, and that is our expertise, but from there, it can lead you into a whole lot of other innovative ideas. And of course, we have branched out into lemonade, we have recently branched out into punch, also. We have added functional ingredients in the orange juice in the past and so, it makes sense just to naturally continue that progression. We have customers that are asking us for other innovative products, and not just consumers, but also retailers that are challenging us.”

'The cost of goods and the cost of fruit are at record all-time highs'

When it came to sourcing citrus for Uncle Matt's orange juice, 2023 was “one of the most challenging seasons” due to citrus greening, a disease that infects the tree and results in small fruit yields and a diminished taste profile, McLean shared in an interview at last year’s Expo West​.

This year, Uncle Matt’s is continuing to see supply chain issues, as “the largest global supplier of citrus” Brazil struggles with its own citrus greening issues, which is putting pressure on brands like Uncle Matt’s to increase prices, McLean said.

“While Florida has a [slightly] better crop this year, and I think they are going to have a better crop coming up in Mexico ... it is not a big enough difference based on the shortage coming out of Brazil. So, the futures market stays very high. We, unfortunately, have to raise prices again because the cost of goods and the cost of fruit are at record all-time highs. ... I have never seen this two years in a row. So, what already was a high-priced market is going to be even higher here in the next 30 to 90 days, as everybody passes through the new season in Florida and Mexico and Texas.”

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