Hello Cusa Crew!
Wow, it’s hard to believe as I type this that we’ve been selling tea and coffee for five years! This has been the most challenging and rewarding business experience of my life, and I’m honestly so humbled that you have supported my small business, some of you from day one!
I think a lot of mainstream media gloss over the challenges that businesses go through, so I wanted to take a step back and talk about BOTH the successes and failures/challenges we’ve had in the past five years. I view all of our customers as our community and never mind giving you a look behind the curtain.
Try, Try and Try Again
When I first had the idea to make a better quality instant tea and coffee, I had no idea how hard it would actually be. I spent $75,000 dollars of my own family's savings on a pipedream trying to make a product that I would want to drink. And, I completely blew it. After 9 months of failure, I had to have the hard conversation with my wife that I wasted our money and was going to go back and get a ‘real job’. She supported me completely, which I will be eternally grateful for.
About two weeks later, while I was brushing my teeth and reading the back of her rose eye cream, I saw “Rose Extract” as an ingredient and wondered how they were getting rose petals into an eye cream. That very night I started searching the web for botanical extraction techniques and got inspired to test the process on another plant - tea! It took nine more months and over 100 failed experiments to perfect the process. But at the end of the day, we figured it out, and I officially launched Cusa Tea in May of 2017!
Rethinking How to Run a Business
My career before that had centered around selling products to retailers like grocery stores or outdoor shops like REI, so that’s where I focused on selling Cusa Tea and Coffee for the first 3 years. We grew to being in 2,500 stores, which sounds great, but in reality, we were losing a lot of money. It’s not that people didn’t like the product - it’s that we were completely swallowed in a sea of other brands. We spend a lot of money doing in-store demos and promotions to make a dent in sales, but it was really expensive.
I tell this story because it can sometimes seem like getting on a shelf in a retailer is the gold standard, but most people don’t know the challenges once you are actually there! Not only do the retailers charge you a fee to put your products on their shelves, but they also require frequent promotions, demos, coupons, etc. - all of which cost money and hurt a small business's bottom line. Towards the end of 2019, we made the difficult decision to shift our focus to our online business. So many of you were supporting our website that we felt confident we had made the right decision. It was a scary one, but it was also really exciting to be even closer to our customers. Instead of hemorrhaging money to retailers, we could put those resources back into our customers and make even more delicious products.
It turned out that this was the best decision we’ve ever made. As we all know, the pandemic hit in early 2020, and many of us were stuck at home. Coffee/tea shops were closed, and no one was using office break rooms. People were looking for delicious coffee and tea without all the additives that other brands use. So while our remaining grocery and retail business took a nosedive, our online business exploded. We’ve never looked back.
Overcoming the "Instant" Stereotype
One of the challenges we’ve had since the very beginning is trying to convince people that an ‘instant’ drink can actually taste as good, or better, than drip coffee or tea bags. I’ve always found that once I got someone to taste Cusa, they were hooked. So we came up with the idea to offer free samples to anyone online, asking them to help us with the shipping and handling only, so we wouldn't go out of business from the program. I'm guessing that many of you reading this came from our sampling program, and I am so thankful that you gave me a chance!
What's Next for Cusa
Looking forward, we’ve got some BIG things coming. Today we are launching two new flavors as well as our new Pitcher Packs! The Peach Black and Mango Black Teas are honestly two of the most delicious products I’ve ever developed. I’ve always been more of a black tea drinker, but so many other brands use artificial flavorings in their flavored black tea items. Just take a second to read the ingredient label to see what I mean. When I added real peach and mango fruit to our organic black tea, my taste buds were in heaven. These are absolutely perfect for the arrival of summer iced tea season, but also great as a hot tea for those of you that prefer it that way.
We also have some exciting new products coming this fall that we can't wait to unveil.
Our Pitcher Packs are perhaps the most exciting for me. We’re often asked if we can come up with a bulk/jar option for people wanting to make larger portions, due to the perception that a jar is more eco-friendly than individual stick packs. The main reason that we’ve never launched a bulk jar option is because of the botanical extraction process we use for dehydrating the tea and coffee. The significant benefit of our process is that we keep the flavor, aroma and beneficial properties intact. The downside is that the crystalized powder is really sensitive to humidity. So if we were to put a bunch of tea or coffee in a jar, it would be a solid chunk/puck within a few days. But we always knew there was a better way...
Staying True to Our Values
We take our impact on the environment seriously. Even if it has cost more for us, as a struggling small business, we've made a commitment to minimizing our impact on the environment. From day one, we've made sure to compost the ingredients used to brew our tea and coffee before it's dehydrated. For those single-use tea and coffee packets, we started a TerraCycle program for which we cover the shipping cost for our customers to send them back to us for recycling. And for each other element of our shipping materials or product packaging, we've been able to find a recyclable or compostable option.
And we've never stopped looking for that better bulk option. We looked into using a jar and a desiccant packet to help absorb humidity, but found that a plastic jar large enough for 30 servings of tea and coffee weighs about 4oz empty. If you add up the weight of 30 empty tea and coffee sticks, it's only 2.7oz. So the jar would actually be MORE plastic than the sticks. One of those things that sounds better, but when you look at the details, it's not. Aluminum jars don't seal well, so humidity would still get in, and glass jars would need to be shipped with extra packaging and padding to survive the journey. Not to mention would cost more to ship so would mean we'd have to charge more for them. Not an easy problem to solve, huh?