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Special edition: Authentic Tea Tastes

The next kale? Carela conquers bitter melon with beverages for sugar-conscious consumers

By Rachel Arthur+

01-May-2015

Carela's tea and coolers embrace Asia's bitter melon
Carela's tea and coolers embrace Asia's bitter melon

Tea and beverage company Carela says it has taken the ‘horrendous’ taste of Asian bitter melon and turned it into attractive beverages for millions of Americans who are worried about their sugar intake. 

Carela Foods’ products are centered around its trademarked slogan ‘soothes glucose levels,’ and the Connecticut-based company says it is taking aim at the ‘massive processed sugar epidemic’ in the country. 

It launched its first products – tea and coolers – in February. With the conviction that bitter melon is set to follow the meteoric rise of kale, Carela believes it has an important head start on the market.

From karela to Carela

Carela – which is named after its key product ‘karela’ (bitter melon)  – took three years to develop its launch products. Co-founder Daniel Casanas told BeverageDaily.com formulation was a long, hard, but fulfilling journey.  

“Bitter melon – they should call it horrendously awful bitter melon,” he said. “It’s so pungent, to most people’s palate it tastes pretty awful. In Asia it’s used in cooking and frying, but they try and take out the taste by soaking it.

"The American palate is raised around things that are sweet.”

However, the company has produced a drink with ‘a refreshing and slightly sweet taste – and absolutely no bitterness.’ It uses trace amounts of sucralose as one way to balance the taste.  

Casanas believes Carela can use the tricky ingredient to its advantage –  having successfully formulated the difficult product, it hopes it is 24 months ahead of any competitors who enter the market.

Casanas says this will let Carela establish itself as the brand for bitter melon, even if the ingredient takes off and has the success he predicts.

Carela currently offers tea canisters (infusions such as berry blossom, jasmine joy, and earl grey) and bottled coolers (cranberry cooler and peach cooler). Its next step will be to expand into K-Cups.

‘Soothes glucose levels’

Carela’s marketing is centered around its slogan, ‘soothes glucose levels,’ and it’s the sugar-conscious American the beverage is trying to reach.  

“US consumers are really beginning to embrace bitter melon, especially those with diabetes,” Casanas said. “Pre-diabetics and health-conscious folks are really beginning to understand the need to lower their sugar intake and take proactive steps to ensure they are drinking and eating the right combination of food and beverages.  Americans who have travelled in Asia or are Asian themselves are more likely to understand why Carela was created.

In fact, it’s hard to find an American who isn’t concerned about sugar, or knows someone who is, he added.

Bitter melon

“All Carela founders have an intimate knowledge of blood sugar concerns – either through family members or close friends.  A diabetic within the family was using raw bitter melon to control glucose levels in addition to his medication, and while he claimed the taste was horrendous, he continued anyway because of the efficacy.  We saw an excellent opportunity there.

“We cannot and do not claim to lower glucose levels. However, we needed to be transparent with what the natural properties of bitter melon are: bitter melon has well known and well documented natural hypoglycemic properties that benefit many individuals.”

What does it taste like?

Casanas positions Carela’s coolers on the shelf next to coconut water, RTD teas and health drinks. “Our peach cooler – people have been saying it tastes like diet peach Snapple [tea]. It’s slightly sweet – we wanted to appeal to people who go for high sugar (which is most Americans) but with no sugar involved.”

“We want to wean people off this enormous sugar kick they get after most drinks. It’s a clean and refreshing with no after taste – a lot of by-products in beverages give awful aftertastes.

“Our cranberry is light and crisp, and doesn’t have a bite.”

Carela realizes that consumers’ sugar concerns are not limited to America, and says the brand has already garnered some international interest having taken its products to the Gulfood tradeshow in Dubai this year.  

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