TeaZa Energy, a healthy alternative to smokeless tobacco pouches, took significant strides in 2019 under the guidance of Dr. Brent Agin, a practicing physician, and his business partner, Matt Morrow.
The Clearwater entrepreneurs’ success with the tea-leaf-based product — sold in puck-like containers similar to chewing tobacco, or “dip,” as it’s known — was made possible by a pinch of ingenuity flavored with a dollop of luck.
“We’re redefining what it means to dip — that’s our message.” Dr. Brent Agin, co-founder of TeaZa Energy
The luck? The firestorm of negative press that swirled around e-cigarettes this year left retailers scrambling for products that could replace vaping devices that had been marketed as less harmful, even “safe” alternatives to smoking.
TeaZa was there to seize the opportunity.
“It was just perfect timing,” Agin says. “Now we have all these distributors interested in our product. And retailers, they love the fact that TeaZa doesn’t require buyers to show ID. It’s a nutritional supplement, it’s not tobacco, and it doesn’t contain nicotine.”
In May the company was amid a strategic makeover, tweaking its package design to bear more resemblance, not less, to smokeless tobacco. Since then, Agin has leaned in even more to the comparison, redesigning the logo to include the phrase “healthy dip.”
“We took some information we learned from the tobacco companies,” he says, “which is that one of the hot terms is ‘dip.’ So I wanted to focus on that as far as consumer education. We’re redefining what it means to dip — that’s our message.”
Agin says the move has improved TeaZa’s presence on store shelves. The product had always done well via Amazon and other e-commerce outlets, he says, but now — because of the packaging and messaging shift — consumers are more likely to engage with the brand in a retail, point-of-sale setting. “Within seconds, they see the word ‘healthy,’” he says.
The company’s market research shows the shift has paid off. Agin says TeaZa is reaching a wide spectrum: tobacco users, non-tobacco users and people who just need oral stimulation (e.g., chewing sunflower seeds) to stay alert or concentrate, such as long-distance truck drivers.
Retailers are paying attention, too. Agin says TeaZa is now being sold in 30 7-Eleven stores stretching from Orlando in the east to Brooksville in the north.
Another success was a trip, in early October, to the National Association of Convenience Stores conference in Atlanta, where Agin and Morrow secured orders from multiple distributors. “They just loved the packaging,” Agin says.
In addition to revamping the packaging, Agin and Morrow are also tweaking the product itself, adding a smaller pouch size. Although it’s not yet available, the product will be marketed to people who want to use TeaZa on the job or in other public situations but don’t want their lower lips to bulge out.
“Even though it's not tobacco,” Agin says, “they don't want people at work thinking they're chewing tobacco.”
With refinements to its product well under way — several new flavors, including wintergreen, black cherry and spicy cinnamon, have also been added — TeaZa’s next challenge is to capitalize on the buzz and interest from retailers. Agin says the firm has hired two additional full-time salespeople who will be focused exclusively on retail accounts. One of them will be based in Florida while the other will sniff out deals in the Northeast.
“That’s a big change for us,” Agin says. “We weren't going after retail because we hadn't had any success.”
TeaZa Energy is on track to meet the $1 million revenue goal he and Morrow set for 2019, Agin says. They expect even stronger growth in 2020, when TeaZa strives to expand its relationship with 7-Eleven and look for a distribution deal in Canada, where tobacco products are exorbitantly taxed.
Another big goal? Strike a deal with Major League Baseball, which is in the process of eliminating smokeless tobacco from dugouts.
“Next year is going to be a lot bigger,” he says. “We’re hoping to eclipse the $2 million mark by the end of next year.”