Hilo, Hawaii-based mamaki tea producer Shaka Tea has undergone a rebranding and is expanding its distribution. Co-Founder and President Bella Hughes shares the lessons she learned in the rebranding process, which enabled her to better showcase her products’ attributes and now the company is primed to execute its vision of connecting local supply with global demand.
Rebranding to Convey a Message
“Consumers buy, first and foremost, with their eyes,” said Hughes.
Walnut Creek, CA-based McLean Design redesigned Shaka Tea’s packaging and expressed that the main color in the original packaging was more pastel in nature and not eye-catching enough. Secondly, grocers from various market segments said the original packaging did not communicate why someone should buy the tea. Hughes took this valuable feedback into account when going through the rebranding process.
“One of the challenges you have when you are the first to market is, as exciting as it is to be the first national ready-to-drink line of herbal teas brewed with Hawaiian mamaki, there is clearly not a lot of awareness on the specific herb,” Hughes said. She and her husband, Co-Founder Harrison Rice, decided to emphasize on the packaging that the product is free of sugar and calories, which are qualities that appeal to a broad range of health-conscious consumers. They also added that the product is plant-based and caffeine-free on the front of the bottle.
Hughes has observed a growing demand for caffeine-free beverages since consumers want something hydrating in the afternoon, which will not disrupt sleep.
Each bottle now has a personalized story narrative that explains the origin and traditional use of mamaki, as well as the inspiration for each of the four blends: Mango Hibiscus, Pineapple Mint, Guava Ginger Blossom, and Lemon Lolekani Rose. The products’ Non-GMO verification was also added to the back of the bottle. People who have never heard of mamaki can quickly learn about the plant’s history and the product’s healthfulness and authenticity.
“We’ve definitely learned a lot,” said Hughes. Whenever first year entrepreneurs who have a unique product about which there is not common knowledge among consumers, Hughes conveys the importance of communicating why a product in special in the first 3-7 seconds in it takes for a customer to pick it up and look at it. “You’ve got to do the selling attributes in a familiar context,” Hughes said, recommending entrepreneurs emphasize the functionality and mainstream benefits of their products.
Supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture is the soul of Shaka Tea’s purpose, said Hughes. The label states, “Our 100% plant-powered teas are brewed with handpicked mamaki, an ancient herbal tea only found one place in the world: the Hawaiian islands. Revered for centuries as a health tonic, our mamaki leaves are sustainably grown in the volcanic mineral-rich soil on Hawai’i Island and come in refreshing, tropical-botanical flavors.”
Shaka Tea’s distribution has also greatly expanded in the last year. Initially, it was exclusively distributed in Hawaii and now the continental United States accounts for 90% of business. The company experienced 650% year-over-year growth between January 2019 and January 2020 and is focused on velocity and market depth. One example of which is its availability in 650 GNC stores.
Shaka Tea also has a licensing and co-packing deal in Japan.
In terms of distribution advice for new entrepreneurs, Hughes said, “I definitely believe there is no stronger salesperson in the early years than a founder. If you’re going to start something, you have to have a tremendous level of passion and dedication.” She also noted the importance of streamlining a sales pitch while becoming familiar with market trends and consumer demands.