Having helped break one of the major beverage trends of the 2010s, can Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss do it again in the 2020s?
As the founders of BluePrint, the pair was one of a handful of brands that established the market for premium cold-pressed high pressure processed (HPP) juice at grocery retailers, along with being an early pioneer in refrigerated direct-to-consumer beverage sales. By 2012, six years after launching, the company had pushed past $20 million in sales, eventually landing with Hain Celestial in a $26 million acquisition at the end of that year.
And while their latest venture, Earth & Star, is a sharp departure from BluePrint, the principles of the approach that proved so successful in juice remain consistent as they look to put their spin on a new product: functional mushroom-infused oat milk lattes.
“I think that’s our secret sauce: taking something that is weird and fringy from wellness and packaging and presenting it in a way that is clear and not intimidating and removes the weirdness factor,” said Huss. “That’s what we did with juice. We are trying to translate conversations around wellness and make them feel accessible for everyone, not just wellness people.”
As consumer interest in natural functional beverages has risen, mushrooms have begun to emerge as a potentially fertile gateway to a range of purported benefits, including energy, immune support, mental acuity and relaxation. Four Sigmatic has seen growth in focusing its brand on mushroom-infused instant drink mixes, but the broader ready-to-drink space has been relatively limited to a handful of innovative startups, as well as some branded plays. In the meantime, oat milk lattes have gathered momentum as a category, thanks to brands like Califia, La Colombe, RISE and others.
Sakoutis and Huss initially encountered adaptogenic mushrooms as part of their own personal explorations of wellness trends and ingredients, fitting into a daily coffee ritual. Similar to their experience with juice, their challenge was to streamline the process and thereby encourage consumers to make it a part of their daily routine. In developing the formula, the pair spent a year creating their own oat milk and eventually finding the right balance of functionality, taste and ingredients. The final product contains no gums or natural flavors, with each SKU coming in at under 10 grams of sugar.
The shelf-stable lineup reflects the versatility of Earth & Star’s featured ingredient, as the mushrooms can play across need states and drink formats: Coffee uses Lion’s Mane and Chaga to boost focus, Matcha contains shiitake and Turkey Tail for their anti-viral properties, and Cacao features Reishi for stress relief. Three more SKUs — Mocha, made with cold brew and Chaga; Turmeric, an oat-based “golden milk” made with Turkey Tail; and Vanilla, a cold brew that contains Tremella — are slated to follow.
Each 8 oz. slim can contain 1000mg of mushroom extract, which Huss described as a “truly therapeutic dose.” Benefits are typically felt after a period of sustained use rather than immediately upon taking, adding another factor to the product’s development.
“Instead of trying to prescribe one more supplementary occasion in your food and beverage rotation every day, we are trying to find things that are universally embraced and supercharge them with this benefit,” said Sakoutis.
Rather than its originally planned launch at retail, Earth & Star is available for online pre-orders starting May 4, a shift that Huss and Sakoutis acknowledged was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The line will be available in 4-packs ($20), 12-packs ($60) and 24-packs ($108), with a 15% discount applied for subscription bundles. When the product eventually shifts into retail, the aim is to price single cans at $4.99 each.
Unlike BluePrint, however, Earth & Star brings the new experience for Huss and Sakoutis of seeking out investment, as their prior company went straight into acquisition. The brand is currently running a seed round.